Beverly “Bev” Chukwu is a Nigerian American writer, filmmaker, and script consultant. Her producing projects have screened at the Women in Horror Film Festival, Cine Las Americas, AGLIFF, and more. Bev’s screenplay, PRINCE OF LAVENDALE STREET, was the feature winner in the 2021 BlueCat Screenplay Competition, and her video essay “Sometimes Black” is now used as educational material at the University of Texas at Austin. She has spent over seven years working in various mental health arenas and nearly a year providing behavior therapy to neurodivergent youth and adults. Bev has received fellowships from the Black List x WIF Episodic Lab, YouTube Originals, and the James A. Michener Center for Writers, where she also received an MFA in screenwriting and fiction. Bev writes grounded “genre” pieces that center around assimilation, the allures of groupthink, and mental health advocacy for people of the Black diaspora. Follow Bev on her website, on Instagram, and Twitter.
PRINCE OF LAVENDALE STREET
by Bev Chukwu
A 12-year-old romantic’s life goes from fairy-tale to nightmare as he clashes with his widowed Nigerian mother in order to find his princess and fulfill his father’s dying wish.
INT. BEDROOM - DAY
A bare bedroom, hardly lived in. Unopened moving boxes provide the only decor.
WE STAY ON AMOBI NJOKU (12), the kind of kid who's always looking at something other than what’s right in front of him. He sits on the floor, staring at a BLANK CANVAS.
A kit of painting materials lay beside him.
M ga-agwa gi otu akuko. (clears throat, starting
over in English)
I’m going to tell you a fairy-tale. I know this isn’t exactly what you were expecting today.
He hesitates to pick up a pencil, leans forward.
But I’m going to tell you anyway.
He begins a drawing of the VERANDA: outlines of PEOPLE in vibrant clothes and large ICHAFOS (head ties) dancing.
ON THE CANVAS:
The sketch gains color, the people coming to life, as we’re propelled into--
EXT. NJOKU ESTATE, VERANDA - DAY
The GUESTS -- we sense that everyone here is “family” -- dance on the veranda. Almost hidden by the long legs of adults in Ankara cloths, Amobi makes his way around the party. He holds a drink tray for visitors.
CHYRON: (OWERRI) IMO STATE, NIGERIA - 12 MONTHS EARLIER
A moving, stenciled sketch of EZE (KING) CHUK NJOKU (47). He wears isiagu, a traditional pullover top, and pants. An invisible hand paints him to life as he approaches Amobi.
Chuk surprises Amobi by grabbing the tray with one arm and scooping Amobi up with the other. Amobi laughs blissfully.
Once upon a time, there was me, a young prince who greatly loved one person in the world: my father, Eze Chuk Njoku. The King.
Chuk goes into a fit of coughs and sets Amobi down. Amobi takes the tray, watches his father closely.
EZE CHUK! They are ready.
Chuk puts on a smile for Amobi and breaks away.
EXT. NJOKU ESTATE, BACK OF THE HOUSE - DAY
A foldable table has been placed between Chuk and two men: SAMUEL AND IKEMBA OKORO (50s).
Note: All italicized dialogue to be spoken in Igbo.
Nigeria isn’t like the UK or Norway. The kings or Ezes or Igwes, or whatever you want to call them, aren’t rulers of our country.
CHIEF KWENTO (60s) appears to be Chuk’s next-in-command and stands off to the side. He gestures for the men to speak.
Samuel and Ikemba step forward.
Eze Chuk. Please, there isn’t more to be said.
You see! My brother’s been waiting for my father to pass, so he could claim all the land for himself.
If anything, they mostly handle civil disputes like this one.
Chuk raises a hand to silence the brothers. He turns to whisper into Kwento’s ear and sees Amobi standing by the side of the house.
Chuk motions for his son to go away when a song plays: “LET ME LOVE YOU” by Bunny Mack.
But even though my father was a busy king and respected man in our town, he always made time for me.
Chuk turns his ear up to the music. To Amobi, he mouths the words: Do you hear that? Amobi looks to the sky and nods.
EXT. NJOKU ESTATE - DAY
Amobi and Chuk run.
They run past the veranda with its tall, marble pillars. Past the arched, black gates, open for passersby.
EXT. FIELD - DAY
They stop before crushing a small shrub at the center of the field. Two YELLOW TRUMPET FLOWERS bloom amongst the leaves. Chuk bends down, grazes them with his hand.
I never get tired of these.
Amobi looks at the flowers then at the grass around them.
Can we play the game? (off Chuk’s nod)
I’ll go first! Imagine that this whole field is covered in-- What are those again?
Yellow trumpets. I see them.
Yellow trumpets grow outward from the shrub, around their feet, until they span the every inch of the ground.
I hear our song playing.
The lyrics to “LET ME LOVE YOU” fill the air.
We’re dancing. The sun is impossibly bright.
Amobi and Chuk shield their eyes, dancing as the sun OVERPOWERS them.
In the distance, A SKETCH OF BLESSING NJOKU (35, reserved, conservatively dressed) is drawn by the unseen hand.
Blessing’s sketch gains color, becoming real as she walks to the edge of the field. Amobi waves enthusiastically at her.
Mum! Play with us!
Blessing shakes her head. Chuk looks as though he’ll ask her again, but he doesn’t. He’s put off by her rejection.
Blessing watches them, her face hard to read.
People told many stories about mum.
-- BEGIN MONTAGE --
INT. NJOKU ESTATE, LIVING ROOM - DAY
Blessing stands in front of FIVE YOUNG GIRLS who wear tutus and pointe shoes. They try to imitate her as she moves her feet into First, Second, and Third Position.
They’d say my mum had many talents. She was always, ALWAYS dancing.
Blessing pliés into an arabesque. She notices the girls intently following her, and suddenly, she shimmies. The girls laugh and shimmy with her.
INT. BEDROOM - DAY
A WEEPING MOTHER stands before a crib. She holds a cold compress to her BABY’S head. The girl won’t stop coughing.
She could heal people just by touching them!
Blessing rushes into the room. She hugs the mother then gently presses her palms to the baby’s chest. Blessing’s hands GLOW BRIGHT. The baby exhales one last cough from her lungs. She giggles.
INT. STAGE - NIGHT.
BLACK. A single spotlight illuminates Blessing. Her tight curls have been let loose, and a white dress sparkles along her body. She approaches the MIC.
My dad even claimed that she was the greatest singer in the world. Sang just like a bird.
(emulating Whitney Houston)
/ And I will always love you /
She points to the only person in the audience: CHUK. He holds BABY AMOBI in his arms, tears in both their eyes.
EXT. FIELD - DAY
BACK TO WHERE WE LEFT OFF: Blessing’s indiscernible face.
She doesn’t do any of that anymore.
Off Blessing, who forces a smile as Chuk and Amobi finish their dance--
INT. NJOKU ESTATE, LIVING ROOM - NIGHT
Amobi and Chuk sit around the TV.
They watch an old Nollywood rom-com, Keeping the Faith, on the Africa Magic Channel. The two of them lean forward as the on-screen lovers share their first kiss.
Is that what you and mom’s first kiss was like?
Chuk glances at Amobi, a mischievous smile on his lips.
Do you really want to know? (off Amobi’s reaction)
Well...in order to answer that, I’d have to tell the story.
Chuk struggles to rise from the couch. He dramatically wraps his blanket like a cape over his shoulders.
For centuries, a horrible feud kept our two families, the Njokus and the Echebelems, at odds.
The sound fades out as Chuk continues. He moves erratically from side to side.
My father must have told that story a million times. Looking back, I’m surprised I didn’t realize he’d taken the tale of Romeo and Juliet and changed all the names.
Chuk pretends to caress a woman’s face and give her a kiss.
Eeew! Papa, stop!
Chuk releases the invisible woman. On his way down to the couch, his leg HITS the coffee table. The average person would recover quickly, but Chuk’s knees grow weak and buckle.
Before he can fall, Amobi rushes to his aid.
I’m fine... Amobi?
Amobi doesn’t hear him. He concentrates on guiding Chuk onto the couch. He tucks the blanket around Chuk.
Amobi tucks the blanket tighter.
I want to tell you something.
Amobi stops moving.
Love is the most important thing in life. You should remember that.
Believe it or not, it has been your mother’s love that kept me alive this long...
(touching Amobi’s face)
Your soulmate, the person you’ll want to spend the rest of your life with, is somewhere out there. And I need you to promise me--
You need to rest, papa.
Promise me that you’ll find that person. Your true love. Promise.
Amobi is reluctant, but he looks at his father’s body. Chuk’s pale skin. His once strong arms that droop slightly.
Chuk relaxes and closes his eyes, so Amobi continues.
Please, don’t worry. I can find a soulmate. I’ll be Eze Amobi, she’ll be my beautiful wife, and we’ll have a big house like this one-- No, it is this one. We’ll be here. I’ll be here. Do you see it, papa?
Amobi looks down at Chuk. He’s asleep. Amobi exhales, smooths the blanket around his father.
INT. NJOKU ESTATE, AMOBI’S ROOM - NIGHT
Blessing kneels before Amobi’s bed in plain pajamas, her eyes closed in prayer. Notice she wears a NECKLACE: a silver encrusted turtle with emerald eyes.
Jesus I love you. All I have is dine. Yours I am, and yours I want to be. Do with me whatever you...
Off-screen, someone sniffles. REVEAL Amobi on the ground beside Blessing. Several sheets of canvas around him. Like Blessing, we get a glimpse of his drawings. A crowded veranda... The yellow trumpet field... Chuk sleeping...
You sure you don’t want to join me?
Amobi nods without looking up. He cries softly.
Amobi, please, stop crying.
How can you be so calm?
Old age. My tear ducts have dried.
Amobi doesn’t laugh. He adds shades to Chuk’s drawn face. Blessing makes a decision, scoots closer to him. She slowly unhooks her necklace. Dangles it in front of Amobi’s face.
You should hold onto this for me.
Amobi frowns, skeptical, but he takes it.
My mother gave it to me when I got engaged. She said that turtles symbolize long life and persistence, despite any odds.
Why did she give it to you?
...She knew I needed the reminder.
Amobi is ready to ask more questions, but Blessing turns away. Returns to her prayer.
INT. CONVENTION CENTER - NIGHT
A WAKE KEEPING. Cloth-covered tables littered with chin chin, suya, and other appetizers line the outskirts of the stage where...
Amobi and Blessing try to smile. They sway and hold large, blown-out PORTRAITS OF CHUK. MEN, WOMEN, and CHILDREN dance around them to commemorate Chuk’s death.
There’s a scratch in the traditional Awilo Longomba music. Heavy drums with sweet lyrics begin. It’s Bunny Mack’s “LET ME LOVE YOU.” Amobi stops dancing. Blessing puts a hand on his shoulder.
We’ll make them change the song.
Amobi shrugs her hand away, pushes out of the crowd.
He finds an empty table, mopes as the song ends. On the dance floor, a LAWYER (50s, sweaty) approaches Blessing. He whispers into her ear.
They walk away. Amobi rises to follow them, but a few MOURNING ADULTS block his path.
INT. CONVENTION CENTER, KITCHEN - NIGHT
Blessing bites her nails as the lawyer paces the kitchen. He’s miraculously bald, making it easy to see the perspiration gleaming on his head. He clutches a backpack.
Tell me what it is you want to say.
Madame... Have you had a chance to speak with Lotachukwu Njoku?
Chuk’s sister? That woman would rather die than talk to me.
The lawyer finds a napkin and pats his forehead.
I am at a loss for how to say this, but Mrs. Lota has made it clear that she will take the estate.
WHAT? She can’t do that. I am Chuk’s wife. We raised Amobi in that home!
I understand. But she is willing to go to court. I’ll admit Chuk left you the house, but customary law deprives widows of inheritance rights. His immediate family takes priority. Lota will win.
Blessing presses her head against the freezer door.
Oh Lord, what does his father want?
In his will, Chuk was very clear. He said Oba will want to help, and since he will be receiving a fourth of Chuk’s fortune--
A fourth? Tell me something. Is the estate all I get?
The lawyer falls silent. His hands shake, reaching into the backpack and retrieves an envelope.
He offers the envelope to Blessing. She brushes it away.
He didn’t know Lota would try to take the estate.
No. Chuk was smart. He would have seen this coming. Now tell me.
Without the house and without his family’s portion, what is left for me and Amobi?
There’s a CLANK against the door, and a FEMALE COOK enters. Unaware that she’s interrupted anything, she moves past Blessing to open the fridge.
The lawyer whispers to Blessing, his voice grave.
You must understand this was out of Chuk’s control. As Chuk’s only heir, Amobi will receive his half of the money on his 18th birthday. And you, Blessing, get nothing.
Blessing grabs the envelope, chunks it into the trash.
INT. CONVENTION CENTER - DAY
Blessing exits the kitchen. From across the room, Amobi locks eyes with her.
And just like that...
--Chuk dramatically telling the story of Romeo and Juliet.
--Chuk scooping Amobi into his arms on the veranda.
--Chuk and Amobi in the field of yellow trumpets. END QUICK FLASHES.
BACK TO Amobi’s face; he registers that something’s wrong.
Torch Literary Arts is a 501(c)3 nonprofit established to publish and promote creative writing by Black women. We publish contemporary writing by experienced and emerging writers alike. TORCH has featured work by Toi Derricotte, Tayari Jones, Sharon Bridgforth, Crystal Wilkinson, Patricia Smith, Natasha Trethewey, Elizabeth Alexander, and others. Programs include the Wildfire Reading Series, writing workshops, and retreats.