THE MISSING DIARY OF THE PORTRAIT OF LISA AND ELLA
James Wegh, in his own words, as interpreted by Alex Juhasz
Storytelling came naturally to me. My grandfather was a storyteller. On holidays we went to the village. People were glued to their seats listening to him and would stay for days or even months. My father and uncle were soldiers. They tell stories about how the wars were fought and what they needed to do to survive.
I want to use film to tell African stories in ways never told before.
The world is evolving. We have new traditions. Audio-visual storytelling is new.
We can all collaborate to tell African stories.
Just like the story of the hunter and the prey.
Each tells the story differently.
We need storytelling from an African perspective while allowing people from other places to tell your stories from your perspective.
This is how we will find that thin line that defines and connects us.
That is art.
How can we do this so that no one feels bruised?
My story for Doing Things with Stories traverses a similar line.
It is infused in an African mythology about twins: they are one unique being.
Each is very, very different.
This is an African story placed into a modern African analysis of climate change.
This story conveys my person.
I was channeling myself in relation to the climate, the world, and the spirits.
I had a hard time growing up. I thought I was from the spirit world.
I saw beings; no one believed me.
It was a world between reality and the spiritual.
The hospital could not cure my ill health.
So, I went to the village. I was schooled and healed there.
The life of an activist is hard in Africa and particularly in Nigeria.
You are understood with suspicion; you are at risk.
So, we do what we do—focusing on domestic violence or rape—so that people will listen.
We tell stories that matter at this time to provoke government policies.
So that they will listen. This is key to me.
If I can contribute to the changing of policies, that is the joy of telling stories.
NB: This is an environmental story inspired by the movie EPIC 2013 animation fused in the fibres of African Mythology. Kindly find the lines where they pair.
The wind blew in gently; specks of dust gently hovered around the unchanged room. A wooden bed frame lay unhinged, creaking gently when the wind came too strongly. It was hard to imagine that this was Ella’s room; everything remained in the order that it was in the weeks after the news broke.
It was a timid morning then. When the sun gently raided its protest on the harmattan wind, everything was either stale or dried, but the dullness seemed crested. For a while that day, everybody waited under the guise of the living room’s space, impatiently waiting for Ella to appear, but she never came!
When after a long while the waiting seemed foolish, they all gently trooped to her door, standing gently robbing its surface, trying vainly to implore her to join their morning ceremony. They waited and waited, but Ella never opened the door. Hours later, the door was broken and there she lay, prostrated in a humble rebellion towards whatever it was that ate her up. Yet that is not her only story. The story of Ella is misleading because it starts at her end, in that hidden space of taboos and the world she was born into.
That is not to say that her life was pointless. Far from it, for Ella was a mysterious child. It was more better to say that her near-death brought meanings to the puzzle of her life.
But caught up in the lines of the story we seek is Lisa, a twin left alone to gaze the lines of the world. It is in Lisa’s memory that our most important story stays; the story of Lisa is about the mystic of the African world, its deluge and refusal to recognise its scars. This is not a fantasy story or a realm of imagination, but a recollection of the mysteries that lay herein, a mystery we feel safer when we cannot explain, and people we deem fit to believe exist only in the fables of the past that’s simply fading to westernisation.
That morning as Lisa stared blankly at the unmoving form of her sister, her countenance was not of grief but of anger. As the compound filled up with mourners, Lisa became more reclusive, often disappearing for hours on end until she was discovered and brought home. To the parents, it felt easy to downplay the circumstances of the near-death of their child. It was easy to swindle a story because when Ella’s room was broken into, only a few privileged people were blessed with the sight of horror that gently lay on display.
At the beginning, it seemed as if it was the way of a close sister seeking the refuge of the world after losing an anchor, yet as time slowly counted its days away, it became much more harrowing. Her eyes began to lose their sound, blinking less and staring endlessly, her sprightly maiden body began to emaciate to a sickly form, her once curvaceous body was a ruin. She stayed indoors, slept little and hardly ever ate more than a mouthful of whatever food she saw.
Mr. Simon stayed home less than he usually did. Next to Lisa, he was the one person whom the incident had taken a devastating toll on. Even on the days when his presence was homebound, his mind seemed to be missing from the essence of what he represented. He talked little with his wife, and immersed himself into the world of work; he sought whatever duty that could take his mind off the reality of a daughter that lay mutilated on the floor of his own house. That same image had raised a past for him; it seemed a curious déjà vu sprawling back across his face and its truth nauseated his wits.
While we were growing up, Ella was the troubled twin. She had these moments where she would drift away and would not be seen for hours. She was an insomniac and grew to be afraid of sleep because it presented her with nightmares. She talked about seeing people and shadows and hearing voices, all of which were things I never had to face until that day when most believe she died.
Hours after Ella’s body had been referred to the emergency room, the doctor came out to meet us, and he seemed drained by the process and unsure of what his news might mean to a father who had hoped the news would be the death.
I sat along as Daddy got the news, occasionally looking back, surprised at how much I knew of my sister’s state. Everyone who had seen her believed she was dead, but I could not. The doctor revealed to him that her injuries were fatal but that her pulse was still faint when she was rushed in, and amidst the work they had done, it was necessary to take her into a medically induced coma to aid the recovery of her wounds.
It was then that the puzzle became clear to me. ‘Two parts of the same’ was me and Ella, twins who followed the same ‘path’ to life. The problem is that one is almost dead and it meant a troubled life for the one who will survive. But how was I to sustain such a tedious strain. I could not recognise the relativity of life or how everything could fit into space, but I was beginning to understand the world that Ella was immersed in. I understood why she needed that solace of death. To talk to its redeeming gloom, hers was a world in which she was never just part of one dimension; she was both spirit and human, immortal in a path and mortal in one, each of these spaces constantly seeking her essence.
Lisa’s Point of Narration
In Africa, or African mysticism, it is often believed that twins are magical; some cultures believe that twins represent the strength of a cosmic channel so strong it needed two bodies in order to be brought into the earth. It is often widely agreed that these twins come with mythical powers, a divine access to the pantheon of mysteries buried in the earth. In most accounts, the twins are said to be split personalities of a whole person and are normally different in temperament but difficult to separate. The Ibeji figures of Yoruba origin owed a lot to the belief in the spiritual relevance of twins, and the death of one side of a twin figure usually meant a bad omen for the living twin and their parents.
Yet in these whisperings of the night, it is often said that sometimes, when the twins travel through the world of the unborn into the world of the living through the womb of their mother, they share their gifts. It is while sharing these gifts that sometimes their natures are determined. Some twins reach the doors of the living unevenly balanced, with one seemingly bearing more spiritual light than the other. It is these kinds of twins that draw our interest in this story.
The shadows always move, not like a silhouette that hides in the secrecy of confined time and space. The shadow is like a being without a form, a figurine of air, staring constantly into the space that becomes both its depth and its gain. For a while, I stare at the shadow too.
In some twisted work of fate, I believed she would not fully die, for I felt her around the indiscernible spaces that she stayed. I had always felt my sister when she was conscious. It can happen that I could be asleep but I would wake up with a nauseating feeling because she was having nightmares. In a way, while staring at her scarred body that morning, I expected to not feel her essence around, but I did; I felt her strongly from a point I had never done before. It was as if in that battle of time, her shadow was trying to inform me of her presence. I didn’t move, I only stayed there staring, hoping it was just a moment when everything that I had seen was precognitive and could be avoided. But it was not, and as time softly moved, I began to see the shadows again.
‘Is she not the one?’ an old woman with the hair of root asked the other two shadow women. They both turned and stared at me. Their eyes were hollow, deep and empty, like a dark bottomless hole. ‘Yes she is,’ one of the two, who had three arms and a leg made from guava branches, answered. Her affirmation seemed to spark a massive interest in me. They moved closer and I stepped away. they moved again and I screamed. For a brief moment after I screamed, the room fell silent and I could feel their hands on me. They were pulling me and I was pulling back. The more I pulled back, the less I could breathe. My body began to contract simultaneously. The light from this world began to fade step by step till there was nothing and I fell into a deep sleep.
When I woke up, the three shadow women were standing over me. Their demeanor was that of a people enthralled by me. I tried to move, but I could not feel my limbs. I tried struggling, but the only thing I felt was being stuck to a space. The women who had turned away for a secret conversation came back again. The one with the hair of root gently moved closer, stopping when she sensed my fear.
‘My child, there is no harm in our place, we only wish to help you.’ Her voice seemed calm and the others nodded in choreographed agreement. I was confused, dreamy, caught up between reality and insanity, and I could not discern what these women wanted from me.
‘Where am I?’ I finally mumbled. The space seemed quiet and the background that was full of trees turned into a garden of lilies, infinitely beautiful, gently waving from side to side.
‘You are in the space of your essence, an embodiment of your nature, a drift between what you are and what you were,’ replied the hitherto silent one. Her face was slightly more appealing and she was built like a human. Yet as I stared carefully, I saw that she had no arm.
The answer she gave me was a riddle, but I could not get myself to think. I kept focusing on the lilies in the background and the endless circle of decay and blossoming that they constantly repeated. In that sequence, I saw the futility of life, a constant repetition of the same gruesome process, a process of timid beauty ending in tragic mire. But as hard as I focused on the lilies, the woman’s words rang out in my ears.
‘Why am I here?’ I finally asked. The space changed with the question and the lilies disappeared to reveal a scourge of bodies around. The woman with the hair made of root gently lifted me up to my feet.
‘The question, my fair one, is why are you not?’ Silence immediately covered the space as she thoughtfully considered whether to speak again or not. ‘Long enough in the mist, you walk as a shadow, two parts of the same body, coming afloat in the light. Can a shadow appear without its body? No, no, it cannot! If you are the shadow, where is your body?’ she gently said.
She kept her gaze on the bodies that littered the floor. Sadness covered them all. I moved towards them, but no matter how fast I walked, the spaces between us remained constant. I tried hard to understand their words yet nothing seemed logical. It seemed like existing in a mad dream, trying to wake up.
The silence between us remained there for a long time. I searched around their words for meaning, but none seemed clear. I begged for their clarification, but they remained transfixed, lost in their space that seemed divided from me. I tried hard to move away but everything stayed the same. It was while I was in this struggle that I heard Ella’s voice from within me.
‘Two parts of a myth, one in two paths, divided at birth, yet existing as one, my shadow and my essence, who are we again,’ her voice softly said. And as her words rang out, I saw her, right around the space that the mysterious women sat. She was smiling at me, showing me she was somewhere. I moved closer and a stormy wind began. It threw fits and scars and violently roared, and in a split moment it carried me. The rest of the events seemed blurry; I only woke up to find a concerned father staring at me.
‘Where am I?’ I weakly questioned when I could not recognise the room I was in. Daddy stared gently at me: ‘You are in a clinic. You fainted after seeing your sister and had to be rushed here,’ he explained while holding my hands.
I felt his warmth and felt his pain. He had lost so much in life, yet he seemed strong and unhinged. ‘Where is Ella now?’ I asked and he gently stood up and walked towards the window. He stood there, silent for a while debating whatever situations played out in his head. ‘She is being readied for the mortuary,’ he replied while still staring.
I should have stopped there, but I did not. I remember going out of my way to tell him that Ella was not truly dead. We argued so much, both trying to convince the other about our state of realities. The truth is that I should have given up, but I went on arguing. I argued vehemently till he was forced to play the only card he had left. He agreed that if the doctor was to come in and declare her dead, he would go ahead with his plans, but if there was a hint of life in her, he would accede to my plea.
And so we waited anxiously at the emergency room as the doctor ran test on test to ascertain what state she was in. The longer the time ran, the more that daddy felt confused by his own reality. For him, it should not have taken all but five minutes to declare a dead corpse, but as time lingered, the more he doubted his previous stance. He began to pace around hopefully, hoping that in some wild twist of fate, my rebellion was true. I watched him silently, closing my eyes whenever I felt the shadows lurking. It seemed strange, but everything that Ella struggled with was what I was facing now. I guess the previous statement made no sense but I would explain.