By Anote Ajeluorou
“Finally, I have a new book of poems, Cat Man Dew, to commemorate my marriage to a wonderful lady, my wife, Prof. Helen Nwagwu”. These were the effusive words contained in the text message he sent out to select friends. They were words of immense love and devotion to the woman with whom he has lived his life in the past 50 years.
The small ceremony to commemorate this consummate love took place in Awka last Saturday, when their marriage clocked 50.
Indeed, Nwagwu’s love for his wife is legendary. In 2009, he penned Helen not-of-Troy, a poetry collection he dedicated to her. In a string of dedications of his literary works to the women in his life, Nwagwu also dedicated his prose work, My Eyes Dance written in 2010 to his late daughter. The work itself was inspired by one his grand-daughters in London, who wanted a story from her grand father. It is a unique book of love both of women and Africa’s ways of life, written with a peculiarity of idiom that is startling deep and philosophical.
My Eyes Dance is novel of immense power that places Africa in a position of giving spiritual direction to the rest of the world, with its deeply philosophical and earthy way of looking at life from the realms of love that seems to have deserted the rest of the world, especially Western Europe. It is as much the Igbo worldview profoundly expressed as it is a wholesome view of humanity even with all its imperfections, but with a willingness to find the right balance in nature and God and all the elemental forces God has placed in man to make earth his abode.
In the said text, Nwagwu had continued, “It (Cat Man Dew) will be presented at the University of Ibadan (where he previously taught before retiring to pitch tent with Paul University, Awka) Staff Club in late July but we will have some copies before June 30 so I can give my wife one as a present, and my friends, too”.
Nwagwu, a professor of Biology, who took to writing after retirement in 2002, published Forever Chimes in 2007 and dedicated it to his grand daughters – Akunne, Oluchukwu and Uzoamaka.
According to him, “Mr. Iboma was my contemporary in UCI in 1957 - 1960, and our honeymoon was with him in Opobo. Dr. Philip Atanmo has been with my family since 1966. Prof. Madubunyi and wife are close friends from the 1970s”.
Forever Chimes has My Eyes Dance as sequel and a collection of poems, Helen not-of-Troy, which is also dedicated to his wife, Prof. Helen Nwagwu, a professor of Psychology. Both are retired professors from University of Ibadan, but now avail Paul University, Awka, with their wealth of scholarly experiences.
AND, the Nwagwus’ big day arrived. With just a handful of friends, they set out to reminisce, to travel back in time to 50 years ago, on Saturday, June 30, 1962, when they tied the nuptial knots in Owerri. At a little past midnight the night before, Nwagwu presented a copy of his verses to his wife, Helen in the magic of midnight.
With University of Nsukka retired professor of Zoology, Larry Chuka Madubunyi and his wife, Edith lodged at The Olde English Hotel, Awka, having arrived from Nsukka the previous day, the day started for the Nwagwus’ anniversary with breakfast and a Champagne toast.
So, between Nwagwu and Madubunyi, there was so much to share and wrangle about in good-natured banters that got the wives reeling in laughter. Although Nwagwu was ahead of Madubunyi both at St. Patrick College in Calabar in the 1940s and at University College, Ibadan in the 1950s, they wind up in the same discipline and had been inseparable ever since. Indeed, they seemed the cartoon pair, Tom and Jerry, as they found every subject to disagree on. Then they down it all in a glass of wine and beer. They find sheer joy in poking fun at each other.
But before the Champagne, Nwagwu took time to read poems from his new collection, Cat Man Dew to both to Madubunyi and his wife of inestimable value, Helen who inspired the collection. For Helen, he read ‘When you turned nineteen’, Helen’s age when they wedded, and ‘1944’. For his friend, Larry, he read, ‘Larry’s Landscape’ and ‘In timeless joy’, which are dedicated to him.
Even before the day started proper, the Nwagwus had gone for early morning Mass as staunch Catholics. The effable priest had dedicated the Mass in celebration of the couple in what he called a celebration of love songs. And it seemed Nwagwu had been denied his quiet Mass and morning. But he said it felt good to be so remembered by one’s spiritual father on an auspicious day like that.
By 1.30pm, they had been joined by Iboma and Atanmo and two others. The train moved to the Nwagwus’ home about a kilometre away for Prof. Helen Nwagwu’s famous ugba, which everyone relished. Final stop for the anniversary party was at Freedom Bar, just behind the Nwagwus’ home. There was much food, drinks and a cake present from Freedom Bar management to bring to a roaring end a day two souls were consummated in eternal love some 50 years ago and still waxing ever strong.
Of his old, dear friend and his wife, Madubunyi said, “The man is a Zoologist who has turned his hands into writing fiction and poetry, for which he has a flair, which I didn’t know. It’s a pleasant surprise. He has a very lucid mind and has no problem expressing his himself. If you don’t understand him, you will see him as a horrible man; that’s why I can crack all jokes with him. Life is very interesting; people of the same mind do flock together.
“I’ve known them together since the 1980s and has been with them. He’s like an open book to his wife, and his wife knows him. They are a model couple. They disagree as people that love each other and their children have done well because of the environment they were brought up in. They believe in God. What I see in them is something that should be emulated”.
At Madubunyi’s hotel room at The Olde English Hotel at 9pm, Cognac and wine chased each other down gullets that had seen so much in a final farewell to a day God made perfect in Heaven for the Nwagwus, whose gratitude to their maker for finding each other 50 years ago remain boundless!