Posted in Contemporary, Life commentary, Short story

Fool’s gold

Fool’s gold                

© Folakemi Emem-Akpan

Barbara stood in their ultra-modern garage and admired her glistening car. Today, she’d had one of the office boys take the red Ford Kuga for detailing, and it shone like new.

Going through the door that connected the garage to their kitchen, she couldn’t stop smiling. Life was good. She was in line for the top position of her company, just waiting for good old Bob to retire. On days like this, when she was bone-tired from work, she was doubly glad there were no children to demand her attention. And then there was Mike, her husband of many years. She loved him more than a thousand children put together, more than the top dog position of S&L, more than life itself.

Mike, of the gentle disposition. Mike, the humorous. Mike, who loved nothing more than being at home with her. Mike, who’d finally accepted that a child wouldn’t be a part of their lives.

The kitchen was as modern as the garage, every gadget known to man displayed on gleaming surfaces. This was Mike’s territory. As a child, he’d been raised on fast food by a carefree mother and an irresponsible father. As a man, the place he found peace most was in the kitchen. He owned a restaurant downtown and doubled as both manager and head chef. Each evening, he usually had dinner ready for her, heavenly and hot.

But today, there were no smells from the kitchen. No piping garlic smell. No oily smell of frying fish. Nothing.

Suddenly frightened but without knowing why, Barbara dropped her bag on the white counter and stooped to unstrap her high-heeled sandals.

“Mike, I’m home.” The house was silent, eerily so, and her heart began a crazy and uneven race. The living room was dark but a lone light shone from the flight of stairs.

She was on the fourth step when she heard it. The sound of a wardrobe slamming. “Michael.” She ran up the stairs, hitching up her skirt. The door to their room was wide open, the huge bed buried under an avalanche of clothes. On the floor was a huge suitcase.

Michael was pulling out clothes from the walk-in wardrobe, his face contorted in concentration.

“Michael, what’s the matter? Where are you going?”

He looked her way but seemed not to see her but through her. Then he shook his head and returned to his chore.

“What’s happening here?”

When he replied, his voice seemed to come from a faraway place, from within his very soul. “Going away, that’s what I’m doing.”

For a full minute, she stood statue-still, the words refusing to form on her lips.

“Eighteen long years, Barbara. That’s how long we’ve been married. I was barely twenty-three, you twenty-two.” His eyes turned dreamy, as he pulled them both into remembrance. “I wanted a little baby immediately, but you had to go to college. And after college, you wanted to take professional exams…”

She started to interrupt but he held up a hand to cut her off. “And after that, you had to start a career. And after that, you had to establish the career. Honey, it just dawned on me that you never meant to be a mother. And if there’s anything I desire more than life itself, it’s a child. One that we can call our own, one that we can love and give all the privileges we were denied as children.” His eyes glistened with sudden tears.

She struggled to rise from the cobwebby depths to which she had fallen. “But Michael…”

“Forget it. You’d only give more excuses why we should wait. But we’re no longer kids. I’m forty-one, and some men my age are already granddads. I can’t take it anymore.”

A wall of grief sprang up from her stomach, rising to her chest, constricting, cutting off the words she should speak, the pleading she should do. She stood there, arms stiffly at her sides, the tears cascading from her eyes.

She stood there, watched as Michael finished packing, watched as he lugged the suitcase out of the room, and listened as his car purred to life outside.

Then she sank to the floor, still not speaking, but weeping like a dam damaged and untended.

 

Posted in Short story

From the lips of babes

From the lips of babes

© Folakemi Emem-Akpan

Ahmad holds his younger sister by one hand, drags his school bag behind him with the other. The sun is high up in the sky and relentless in its heat. Beads of sweat line the ten-year-old’s face, and the skull cap sitting atop his head doesn’t help matters at all. For a brief moment, he wonders how hot and miserable Adijat, his seven-year old sister must be underneath her black hijab.

Theirs is a Muslim school; it is mandatory for both boys and girls to keep their heads covered. Their headmaster, who is also an alfa, would literarily beat the demon out of whosoever dare disobey school rules. Their own father would do worse; he’d once beaten their mother to near-coma for welcoming a visitor with her head uncovered.

As they round the corner to their home, a squat ugly building that they’ve lived in forever, Ahmad’s heart begins to ricochet inside of its cage. Without his father’s knowledge, he’s made a new friend in the building just before theirs. The other boy is also ten years old and is an infidel, a Christian. Ahmad’s father would kill him first and ask questions later should he ever see his son talking to Philip.

“Go on home, Adijat. If Mama asks for me, you know what to say.” It is an inexcusable crime to let his sister walk home alone, but their father is off to work, and Mama would never tell on them. If anything, she tries so hard to protect her children against their father’s irrational anger.

Philip is waiting, as previously arranged. There’s a smile on his lips, as if there’s nothing more he’d rather do in the world than converse with Ahmad.

“You’re early today.”

“Yes.” Quickly, Ahmad pushes his friend into the doorway. There are neighbors who would love to tell Ahmad’s father that he’s now friends with a Christian boy. Better take precautions.

The living room is small yet manages to convey an impression of space. Faded easy chairs are arranged at opposite ends, and on the far wall is a painting of Jesus on the cross. Four other children are waiting, and for the briefest of moments, Ahmad is surprised to see Quadri, a much older boy from his school who lives farther down the street.

Dropping his school bag, Ahmad falls into the nearest seat and yanks off his skull cap. Overhead, a fan is slowly rotating. In no time, his sweat dries and relief courses through his body. Philip begins handling out Bibles.

“Last night, my dad read to us from John at our evening devotion. He made some notes for me when I told him we’d be meeting today.”

The Bible feels soft and familiar to Ahmad. With unease, for he’s not had much practice, he opens to the book of John. As Philip reads the from the third chapter and then turns to his father’s notes for further explanations, a surge of unexplainable joy courses through Ahmad’s body. Even though he’s young, he knows with an unshakeable certainty that he’s found the true religion, the only true God. He sits there, learning about sin and redemption, and even though Philip is as young as himself is, there’s no doubt in his heart that this is the right way.

When they finish, Ahmad pulls his new friend aside and whispers to him, “Can I come back for more, let’s say tomorrow?”

When Philip says yes, Ahmad quickly hugs him, waves bye to the other children and slips out of the house. But not before he remembers to wear his cap.

Outside, the sun is still as scorching as ever. He can see his mother at the entrance to their home, shrouded in a billowing black gown. He loves this woman so much. Perhaps when he’s old enough to get away from Papa, when he becomes a Christian, he’ll take his Mama along with him. And Adijat.

Hijab – A large religious scarf worn by Muslim women

Alfa – A teacher of the Quran

Posted in Christian fiction, Short story

Still searching

 

mothers love

Still searching

© Folakemi Emem-Akpan

The first man stole my money and dignity and left me with an unwanted baby.

The second drove all my friends away and turned me into a recluse.

The third…well, the third man put my daughter in the family way and made me an untimely grandmother.

I have stopped searching. What’s the big deal about love anyway? I am all of my thirty-four years and will not be fooled anymore.

How can a man whisper love to you, yet rob you and turn tail when your shared love produces a child? Or, how can a man profess love when he’s all consumed by jealousy and can’t bear to share you with others, not even your family and friends. And how can you talk about love when a man heads over heels in love with you makes a baby with your fifteen-year-old daughter?

They tell me I’ve become a cynic. Overcautious, skeptical, too wrung out.

Perhaps yes, perhaps no. All I know is that I’ve finally grown up, and grownups use their senses, and not their hearts.

“Hello mum.” Femi, my daughter bounds into the room with Bolu slung over her shoulder.

“Hi.” I return, reaching out automatically for my four-month-old granddaughter. When I allow myself to think of the circumstances of her birth, grief paralyses me and my heart almost always threatens to explode out of my chest. So I think less often of how she got here and more of how much I love her.

It’s been a long, sad year but the sadness and the tears and the pain has driven Femi and me back together. We’ve spent the past one year weeping and growing together.

“I just finished feeding her. Would you mind watching her awhile? There’s a youth group meeting in church this afternoon.”

Femi has just gotten herself religion, the kind of which I have never seen before. Church on Sundays and two evenings a week. No more mini-skirts and tank tops. At age sixteen? I can’t for the life of me imagine how. Or why?

“You’re not studying as hard as you used to anymore.” I chide her foolishly even though she made straight As in her last exams.

“That’s not true, Mum. You know I try to get in some extra hours when Bolu falls asleep at night. And youth group makes me happy. I’m really learning a lot. Last meeting, our instructor talked about love.”

“Love?” I look up from burping Bolu.

“Yeah. How that one can only find true love in Jesus Christ. He said it is useless trying to find love in things or even in people. Things get destroyed and people change, he said, but only God’s love stays constant.”

“What?”

She sighs and falls into the chair beside me. “I think it’s true talk, Mum. If not, why did all your friends abandon us when I fell pregnant for Uncle Dave? And my friends too? Why is it that the neighbours don’t greet us anymore? Why, if not for the simple reason that people only love you when you do good?”

I find that I cannot talk, that there is a huge ball the size of Lagos in my throat.

Femi went on unrelentingly, “If God didn’t love us unconditionally, He would have killed me for what I did to you…”

“It wasn’t your fault,” I cut in for want of something to say, “Uncle Dave forced himself on you.”

“The first two times, Mum. Afterwards, I gave in willingly.” There are tears in her eyes. For the last one year, she has done nothing but apologise, and I have forgiven her. In fact, I have never blamed her.

Dave was a grown man who had somehow convinced my fifteen year old that he loved her, and that she was the one for him. He had raped her at first, and then somehow gotten her to believe that he was in love with her, and that she was in love with him reciprocally.

“Perhaps it is true what the youth leader says about God and love, Mum.”

I reflect. No one in my life has ever loved me unconditionally. Not one single person. “Go ahead, tell me more.” I tell my daughter.

“He also said that it is only God who is able to put good people in your life who will love you despite anything. Faithful husbands, good mothers. Caring friends.”

“Hmn?”

“I think I’m going to give God a trial. Sounds like a good bargain to me. I love Him; He loves me and puts good people in my life. And I think you should do the same. Then we could perhaps ask for a husband for you?”

“Femi?”

“You’re still young! Only thirty-four. You shouldn’t spend the rest of your life looking after me and Bolu.”

“I think you should go now. Or you’ll be late.”

She wipes the tears from her eyes and smiles broadly, that mischievous smile that is uniquely hers. “Okay Mum, but promise me you’ll give it good thought. It’s going to be worth it.”

I hesitate to reply. No one’s ever loved me unconditionally, so why would God?

“Promise, Mum.”

“Okay, I promise.” I say as I bounce Bolu on my knees. My heart is racing in my chest but perhaps God is worth giving a try, if He would take me, baggage and all.

I will give Him a trial.

For her sake. For Bolu’s sake.

For God’s sake.

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Christian fiction, Romance, Short story

Not such a stupid thing

Not such a stupid thing

© Folakemi Emem-Akpan

 

It was such a stupid, simple thing to do. They all sounded beautiful, and if there was one thing my life needed at the moment, it was beauty and a little simplicity. And they were all so very far away, and I needed to get very far away from routine.

I tacked the maps of Greece, Ethiopia and Australia to different angles of my library wall, Greece because I was born there, Ethiopia because it sounded exotic and Australia because…well I don’t know.

I spun on my feet, gathered momentum and whirled with all of my strength. It was a good thing I was all by myself at home; women approaching their fifties do not spin and whirl and gather momentum like yoyos. Why, it is downright unladylike.

When I finally stopped, I was facing the map of Australia.

I sat at my desk and very quickly, before I convinced myself to change my mind, called my travel agent who was also my good friend.

“Christie, I need you to book me a flight to Australia. Yes, yes, and I need to leave by next week.”

I hung on to the phone as she asked me why I wanted to go to Australia, which exact town I was going, and how long was I staying.

I bit my fingers down to the quick as I responded to her questions. I didn’t know why I was going to Australia, except perhaps to relax, escape away from the madness of living in New York. I needed to take a break after the craziness of my thirteenth book reaching the bestseller list.

“Take care of everything.” I said.

I arrived Brisbane in mid-March, on an afternoon so hot that I didn’t need divine guidance to remove my jacket, roll up my sleeves, unhitch my cap.

I proceeded to search for my name on a placard.

Christie had only said that someone would be waiting for me, making no mention of the person’s gender or race or age. Why hadn’t I asked?

Fifteen minutes later, sweaty and fuming, I could not still find the person who was to pick me.

Shaking my head disgustedly but determined to give myself a proper holiday, I started to make my way to the entrance of the arrival lounge, my one box rolling not too smoothly behind me. A red-bandanaed man was just swinging open the door as I bent to straighten the tyre of the errant box.

I couldn’t have scripted it better myself.

The door caught me squarely in the face, and I thought I heard the sound of smashing bone. A thousand stars lit up behind my eyes and I felt myself falling through space, falling, falling, falling…

When I came to, the man was fanning me with his hat. And of all things to consider at a time like that, I considered his bald head. Pink, as smooth as a baby’s buttocks, as if he’d not just gone bald but had been so all of his life.

“Are you okay?” His face was a mask of worry.

I groaned. “I guess so. Is my nose broken?”

Fear lit up his eyes and he reached out very tenderly to touch my nose. It was then that I confirmed that it wasn’t broken. A lot bruised, but not in the least bit broken.

“I guess it’s all right.” Then I realised that people were watching us. I was still lying on the floor, and he was still kneeling beside me, fanning me still.

Laughing at the absurdity of the situation, I allowed him help me up. “Are you sure you’re okay?” He asked again.

“Yes I am. But I’m going to need a taxi. Someone was supposed to pick me but he hasn’t shown up, and my friend Christie said he would be here.”

“Are you Evie? From the U.S.?”

“Yes. And you are?”

“Arthur. I’m Christie’s brother-in-law. She called me at the last moment to be here. The guy who was supposed to pick you originally got sick and Christie tried to reach you but you were already in transit, in the air. She had to call me to come pick you.”

For the first time, I noticed that Arthur was quite handsome. He had a straight nose, full generous lips, and eyes the colour of the sea, filled with the wisdom of the life experiences he had gathered over his fifty-something years of living.

And there was something regal in his bearing, something dignified, the same quality Philip, my late husband had unconsciously exuded.

I smiled as we shook hands. He wasn’t wearing a wedding band.

Perhaps coming on a whim to Australia had not been such a stupid thing after all.

 

Posted in Christian fiction, Short story

A patch and a hope

A patch and a hope

© Folakemi Emem-Akpan

 

My back groans in protest as I heave myself to my feet. It’s been a grueling two hours, weeding, trimming, planting. Yet, the sorry excuse of a garden looks forlorn.

Actually, it mirrors the despair in my heart, the terrifying loneliness, the pain.

 

“Mom, haven’t you finished yet?”

 

Pushing tangled hair away from my face, I am assaulted with my daughter’s image. My heart lurches into its familiar dance of pain. At twelve, she’s the size of a three-year-old. Sadly, she can’t even do what three-year-olds do. She slides on her rear end instead of walking, messes up her face while eating, and I have to clean her up every time she has a bowel movement.

 

She hasn’t always been this way. I haven’t always been a widow.

 

Five years ago, I had a husband and Teresa was like any seven-year-old. We lived a simple but happy life. One bright Christmas morning, we loaded our old car full of food, intent on dispensing cheers to as many people as we knew. We started with my mother, wove our way to Mark’s childhood home where his father still lived, then down to an elderly woman Teresa’d adopted.

 

Tired but happy, we set for home at night. The stars weren’t bright enough to light our path and the car’s headlights were weak, had been weak for ages. I will forever regret the fact that I was talking too fast and that Mark was listening too intently.

 

The next bend came round too soon. Our screams rent the still night air as I felt myself dropping through space, the metallic taste of blood on my lips. Then there was nothing but darkness.

 

When I came to, my mom was staring at me with a look that told me all was lost. She was reluctant but I was eager, so the story unfurled. Mark was dead on impact, Teresa was alive but her condition was critical.

 

The memories flood my head this dry afternoon and cause my head to ache. I reply Teresa. “Yes, I have. I am done with them.”

 

“Will they grow fine?”

 

I look at the tomatoes I’d just planted, doubt if they’d grow at all, if my heart would ever be at peace, if tomorrow would be any better than today.

 

“Will they?”

 

“Maybe. Let’s go have breakfast.”

 

She slides along beside me in obedience. I can’t get her to use her wheelchair. She hates it with a passion, and this was the same passion that had made her live, that had made her come back home to me, even though she was still broken and I couldn’t fix her.

 

The prognosis was bad. If she lived, she’d be a paraplegic. She lived, she wasn’t a paraplegic, but for a reason that confounds medical science till tomorrow, her frame began to shrink. The bones, the skin, everything but her head.

 

“Will the tomatoes grow?”

 

Her repeated question crowds my head and before I know it, I’m snapping at her, “I don’t know. Leave me alone.”

 

Life’s been hard and unduly unfair. Before Mark’s death, I didn’t work, only dreamt of one day becoming a writer. After his death, I was coldly thrust into the breadwinner’s field. We are surviving, but barely so. Teresa’s medical bill gulps money faster than the dry patch of garden outside gulps water.

 

In four years, I’ve toiled endlessly in the garden and have only been rewarded by two harvests. Two miserly harvests.

 

I don’t know how I reached my conclusion; the important thing is that I have a conclusion. Either God doesn’t exist or cares nothing for us.

 

Teresa’s eyes fill with tears but she presses on. “I hope the garden grows this time.”

 

I plunk a plate of rice in front of her and begin to play with my own food. She eats in silence while I sulk at a God I’ve ceased believing in.

 

***

 

The sound of horse hooves on the roof jerks me out of an uneasy sleep. What is going on? Jumping off the bed, my first thought is of Teresa’s safety. My heart begins a long and uneven race as I barrel out of the room.

 

She meets me at the door. “It’s raining.”

 

The horse hooves I had imagined mellowed to pelts of rain, and my heart stops racing.

 

“Mom, it’s raining.” She repeats as if I am deaf.

 

It’s not rained in a year.

 

***

 

Teresa slides noisily into the room. I look up from the script I’m trying to write.

 

“The tomatoes.” She’s fairly bursting with excitement.

 

I don’t understand her when she gets this way.

 

“They’re growing. I saw them.”

 

With a speed I didn’t think I had, I was running out of the door, into the rain that’s been falling for two days. Into hope.

 

 

Posted in Christian fiction, Girls, Short story

This wish

This one wish
(c) Folakemi Emem-Akpan

An achingly cold night. The Harmattan wind buffets my face, stings at the frozen line of tears there. I hurry on, my slippers plat-platting on the sidewalk, my heart beating at the frantic pace it almost always does these days. Mrs. Brown next door had called thirty minutes ago, saying she had to go out, could I come back ASAP?

I stop to catch my breath at the entrance to the apartment. Our tenement is a huge, squalid structure. Populated by more rats and roaches than people, it should have been torn down years ago. But this is home, has been home for two years.

It was to this building that I fled all those months ago. It was here that I clocked eighteen, here that Kate was born. Katie, the unbelievably lovely product of that one night gone wrong.

“Hello there.” Mrs. Brown is dressed, ready to go. The coat she wears was once fashionable. Now it is just old and frayed. Yet, it is still more adequate protection against the cold than my own thin jacket is.

“She’s sleeping. And I’m sorry I had to call you like that, but it is really important that I go out.”

I am not paying her, so what rights do I have to her time, to her help. “Thanks.” I say and put on a smile, so that she will know that I am not mad, even though I am dissapointed

She hands me the key to my room and waves me bye, picking her way through the perpetual flow of garbage in front of room three. I open my door, glad to be somewhere warm for the first time  that evening.

Kate is asleep indeed, curled up on the thin rug in front of the television. She was twenty two months last week, has a heightened sense of observation and has recently taken to the television. I don’t want her to watch so much, but with me working most of the time and Mrs. Brown stepping in as an adopted grandma, there is nothing I can do about it. For now.
It was on the TV that Kate first saw a Christmas tree. At least six feet tall, with gleaming balls and red bows. The presents underneath the tree must have been at least a hundred. Big packages, small packages, tiny packages, all done up in elaborate dressing.

Kate’s eyes had gone wide, then she’d clapped her pudgy little hands together and looked at me with her piercingly dark eyes. “Mama, tree.”

As I watch my little angel sleep, silent tears wash my face. I have been saving for as long as I can remember towards a present, perhaps two for Kate this Christmas season, but not in a million years would I be able to afford a tree.

Pulling off my jacket, I walk over to the far corner where the hot plate and eating bowls are. In one of the bowls, I lift out my egg nest, all of two thousand Naira.

I don’t know what to do. I don’t know if I should pray at a time like this or just give in to the overwhelming emotions and cry. I am only twenty years old. I shouldn’t be saddled with decisions like this. I am a child myself, so how can I be a mother? Why would God entrust me with Kate’s life, her upbringing. Why?

I sink to the floor, desperation clutching at my breast. My daughter is only a little girl, a baby with a past she didn’t create and a future she can’t decide.
An unseasonably warm September night, and I’d been out alone. Running late, I’d cut through the alley, hoping that I’d be home before Dad. The unexpected blow to the back of my head. Two boys with shaven heads and dead eyes. That was the night I lost my virginity.

It took two months to realise I’d lost more than that. I sunk into murky depths. Who would believe that my pregnancy was the fallout of a rape, one I’d never even spoken to anyone about?

No one did, and Dad was very quick to show me the door.

Jagged sobs rouse me out of my reverie and it takes a while to realise they are mine. Kate turns over, a contented snore issuing from between her lips.

I should be able to provide for her, give her the beautiful things she deserves. I should be able to stop the world for her, offer it to her on a platter. Something as little as a Christmas tree shouldn’t be so hard, so unreachable a goal.

There is a very soft knock at the door. Wiping my tears, I stand to open the door. It’s Mrs. Brown.

“Back so early?”

She smiles, a soft motherly smile. “I didn’t go far, just around the corner to the second hand shop. It’s Christmas Eve, and every little girl should get their wish.” With that, she steps aside.

That’s when I see the tree.

It is short, and sporting a few miserly decorations. But to a toddler, it would look like a giant, and a very beautiful one at that.

My vision swims for an instant, and then clears so that I can see the angel in front of me. Hope surges into my chest afresh, lifts me up, envelopes the whole of my being. I look again at the angel sent to me and say the only word I can at this time, “Thanks.”

 

***

Whatever your situation at this time may be, I plead with you not to give up hope. God sees it all and answers our prayers, no matter how small (irrelevant) or huge (impossible) they may be.

 

***

And please remember to stay safe. This evil virus too shall pass soon.

 

Posted in Contemporary, Girls, Life commentary, Short story

Fourteen

fourteen

FOURTEEN

(c) Folakemi Emem-Akpan

Fourteen, bedecked with jewellery borrowed from sisters, aunts and cousins; made up with dark kohl and pink lipstick; grim-faced from lack of sleep; my heart everywhere but here.

But I kneel as I have been asked to, kneel in front of my brand newly-minted husband, offering him a drink from the calabash of palm wine. But my eyes are turned away from him, hidden from anyone underneath my veils, and desperately searching the crowd for the love of my life.

But he is not here. How can he be?

The tears come to me then, rising from a deep dark hole in my soul, spilling down my cheeks quietly. They are bitter, salty, corrosive but do nothing to ease the ache in my heart.

The future is doomed, I say to myself, because I cannot imagine a future without Audu, the very best friend I have ever had, the one I daydream waking up besides, the one who knows me best.

But I had known that he wouldn’t be here. We are all wrong for each other, had been from day one, and my mother had always given him the evil eye when she saw us together. But she had been too much of an ally to have revealed our friendship to my father, who would have turned berserk that I, his precious daughter, soon to be married off into wealth, was talking to a boy without his permission, one who was from a chronically poor family as at that.

I was fourteen, more than ripe for marriage by the standards of my people. Audu was fifteen, too young by the same standards to be married. My father was the village chief, very influential, had been on Hajj, drove a Volkswagen Golf. Audu’s father was the village cobbler, the husband of three wives, the father of twenty plus children with no means to care for them. I had been briefly educated in the western way until my father said that the modernization was getting to my head and pulled me out of school. Audu was illiterate; his father couldn’t even afford to send him to the Koran school where boys learned to read Arabic and do minor sums.

But Audu was the love of my life, and he hadn’t seen it fit to come bid me goodbye as I became the wife of another.

My new husband is forty years old, husband to three already, father to twelve children, the only other person in our little village apart from my father who owned a car. So, it had been a good match, by my father’s standards. I had pleaded, I had wept, sorrowed, threatened suicide, asked for just one more year before getting married.

“To do what?” He’d asked. “Your mother says you’ve been a woman now for more than two years. You are going past your prime.”

At that moment, I’d wished I’d never seen a period, wished I had been born mentally handicapped like my immediate elder sister was. At least no one was pestering her to get married.

So, get married I am, to a man I have not even exchanged two full sentences with.

I swallow back my tears, hearing my heart crack and break into a thousand shards.

This is my new reality, I tell myself. This is life, and now the tragedy begins.

 

Posted in Girls, Life commentary, Short story

Unprepared

young-black-girl-cartoon

(c) Folakemi Emem-Akpan

Who knew life could be so chaotic, so fun-filled, so unpredictable, a veritable stretch of parties, of alcohol, of wild boys; of unbridled freedom.

Before now, your life had been extremely sheltered. You were raised on DSTV, chauffeured drives, and overseas summer holidays. There was always a chaperone; at home the house maids and the security men, and the hawk-like ever abiding presence of your mother. And in school, the teachers, the Catholic principal and still the security men.

Before your sixteenth birthday, you’d never even slept someplace without your parents’ knowledge, never even been kissed by a boy.

Now you are seventeen; you are in your first year at the University of Lagos. You live on campus and your wings have been unclipped.

You have not seen so much freedom in your life, and you don’t quite know what to do with it.

So you do what other newly released young girls do. You take an exploratory bite out of everything; Of the night life, of the wild parties, of the free drinks and the subsequent sex. You take a bite of everything because you do not know how to say no.

You are on the cusp of adulthood, and you are totally unprepared.

Posted in Girls, Life commentary, Short story

Feyikemi

Feyikemi

(c) Folakemi Emem-Akpan 2020

Arms folded across my chest, seated in a locked and rigid position because my back wouldn’t budge, my heart beating in a pit-a-pat music of anticipation, I await the birth of my seventh child. I am seated on the rock at the far edge of the compound, away and removed from where the action is taking place, but I can still hear every land-shattering scream, every soul-searing cry from my wife.

They say it’s bad luck for a husband to be present as his wife pushes their child into the world, the same way they say it brings bad luck for the woman to cry so much during the painful process of delivery. I am aware that there are hardened leather strips thrust in between Feyikemi’s teeth so that she can bite on them instead of screaming, but I am also aware that my wife has a very low pain threshold.

It is a wonder she has done this six times in the past, is going at it the seventh time. And the stakes this time are much higher for both of us, for my entire family, for the posterity of the Akangbe clan.

“Somebody help her…Somebody, please make this stop…” But there is no one to hear me, no one within miles of where I sit. In this village, childbirth is such a common occurrence that the world does not grind to a halt because of it. My brothers have gone on to the banana farm to put in their daily quota of work, as has my father. I was expected to come along as well, but Feyikemi had woken up this morning with childbirth pains, and I couldn’t for the very life of me go to work.

The wives of the compound have gone about their daily activities too, two of them gone down to the river with the children to wash clothes and cooking utensils. My mother and the last wife are attending to Feyikemi, helping her usher our child into the world.

I bite my fingers down to the quick, cover my face with my palms, pull at the greying strands of hair in my beard, wipe the sweat off my brow that shouldn’t be there because it is a bitterly cold morning.

The stakes are high. This baby is the one to determine the future.

As the eldest son of the family, I was expected to produce the direct heir, the son who would pass on the family name to his own progeny, the chosen one who would keep our family stories and heritage alive. Of course, the sons born to the other brothers would do the same, but my son was to be the focal point, the main one, the first grandson born to the first son.

Only that I have failed so far to produce a male heir. Feyikemi has been with child eight times, brought forth six children alive, all of them females. When our first child entered the world, feet first, head wailing in a cry of indignation, my mother brought her to me wrapped in cocoyam leaves and dripping with the obligatory palm oil. My mother had been full of encouragement, and the sides of her eyes shimmered with tears.

“Next time. Next time, it’ll be a boy.”

She understood well the disappointment of having a girlchild as your first, of burying your disappointment under a well-disguised cloak of excitement.

The second girlchild arrived eleven months after the first, and there were those words of encouragement again. “It will happen, Ayomiposi…it will.”

Two days later, my younger brother’s wife delivered twin boys. It was like a blow to my person, an effrontery to my manhood and seniority. And it didn’t help that Mama spent more time in his hut caring for his wife and the boys than she did in mine caring for my new daughter. After all, sons are everything and girls are only good to be raised and sold off into marriage.

From children three to five, Mama lost her encouragement, couldn’t summon the words anymore. She would simply tell me, “It’s a girl” and leave me to my thoughts, to my shame, to my inner turmoil.

Feyikemi begged me then to stop sleeping with her, to quit trying to get her pregnant almost as soon as she is relieved of one child.

“My body is giving out, my love. I can’t do this anymore.” She pleaded.

But she did do it again, because of her love and respect for me, and because she wanted me to be able to hold my head high in my father’s compound once again.

After she pushed our sixth daughter into the world, she had wept disconsolately, her back against the wall, her face haggard and sunken like an old woman’s. Her spirit was broken, her wounds unhealable.

And then Mama and Papa came in that dark night to see us, the lantern they brought with them outshining the one we had hung on our wall. Our daughters, aged one through eight, were all in different stages of sleep, curled up on the mats, one of them sucking hard and furiously on her thumb. The new baby was swaddled against Feyikemi’s bosom, her eyes awake and looking intently at her mother.

“We have to do something to revert this misfortune that has been visiting you and your wife.” Mama began, her eyes huge and white in her dark face.

“There is a traditional way to set things right, a way to give you the son for your progeny.”

My heart sank to the bottom of my feet then, because I knew where she was headed, knew which traditional practice she was about to call upon. I buried my face in between my knees, let out a wail of anguish.

“It must be done.” Papa finally spoke, and I could hear the desperation in his voice. “Tejumade has proven himself to be quite the man. We will speak to him, command him if we have to. And Feyikemi must begin to wean the baby, begin to get herself ready.”

How do you wean a two-week-old just so her mother can get pregnant again as soon as possible? And how do you sit outside your hut, waiting while your little brother went in to your wife? How do you start to process the unfairness of it all?

After they had left, Feyikemi trembled in my arms all night long. She was long past tears, but the heartbrokenness was there in the way her mouth hung agape, in the way her eyes looked like they were a ghost’s, and in the way her hand trembled uncontrollably each time her hand stroked the new baby’s head.

Because it is the way of our people, we did as we had been asked. I never for once sat with Tejumade, the little brother, who had fathered himself four sons by then, to discuss what was to happen and how. And I never spoke about it with Feyikemi again.

Mama made the arrangements, helped wean the new baby until Feyikemi saw her blood again, carted off the children with her and sent me on errands every time Tejumade visited my hut.

I had expected one or two visits, three at the max, but fate has a terrible way of rubbing pepper into your gaping wounds. After each visit, I would watch Feyikemi check herself for signs of pregnancy, listless, trembling, wanting so desperately for the ordeal to be over.

But the blood always came. And the visits continued.

Food started to taste like sawdust in my mouth, and even though I knew Feyikemi detested the process as much as I did, I dragged her into unnecessary fights. And there was tension between Tejumade and me as we worked alongside each other on our family’s banana plantation. The plantation is supposed to become mine, and I am expected to chip off little pieces of land as gifts for my brothers so that they can continue to sustain their families after our father passes. But I might never even come into my ownership, not without a son to pass it all on to.

Tejumade would dip his head in the customary offer of respect he is expected to show me, but the camaraderie we used to have is gone. We are now strangers, linked by blood and a sense of family duty. This is what your brother trying to help you father an heir does to families.

And then Feyikemi gets pregnant.

There is joy because the ordeal of the visits is over, excitement that perhaps this could be the child that changed our lot in life. And there is a fear that permeates the air, a fear that it could have all been for nought.

So here I sit this bitterly cold morning, waiting for news. The frigidness has begun to affect my fingers such that I can no longer feel them. An ant climbs my wrappers and begins a climb up. I watch it, fascinated by its doggedness and determination.

My mind is taking me back towards the birthing hut, and there is panic bubbling somewhere in my heart. But I concentrate on watching the ant, anything to get the mind off of what is happening, of what is to come.

And then there is the shrill cry of a newborn baby.

I bury my head in my hands, petitioning the gods of fertility to look down on me, on us, with eyes of mercy this time. There are tears in my eyes that a man should not be seen shedding, and there is a bitter taste on my tongue.

Then, the hesitant tap of fingers on my back.

I rise slowly, into the dark, bottomless eyes of my mother. Only that these are not eyes that I am familiar with. These eyes are dark, melancholy, full of regret, of pity, of shame. These are the eyes that make your heart burn and explode into flames.

“It’s a girl.” She says simply.

Posted in Press release

Emem-Akpan launches three books this January

Emem-Akpan launches three books this January

Folakemi Emem-Akpan, an erstwhile financial journalist has announced the release of three books authored by her. She will be publicly presenting and launching the books on Saturday, 18th of January 2020 at De Rembrandt Hotel and Suites in Ikeja.

One of the books titled “Unravelled” is a Christian novel that centres around three families on a Lagos Street who are facing different kinds of tragedies in their lives.

“These Issues” is a collection of short stories that address the plight of the African woman. In it, she delves into the issues of preference for male children, hiring out young daughters as house helps, female genital mutilation, rape, disinheritance of widows, postpartum depression and teen marriage, amongst many other stories.

The third book, “Children of The Light; Short Stories for The Christian Child” is a collection of short stories for children aged 5 to 10.

Folakemi is an experienced writer and began penning short stories when she was only five years old. She published her first book titled “Touch my Pain” in 2004 and has since then won several writing awards.

Her short story, The Deceivers, was one of the winning entries in the 2006 edition of the Commonwealth Broadcasting Association (CBA) short story award.

The Deceivers, same as above, was also published by Oxford University Press as an adapted version in a collection of short stories in the Oxford Bookworms Library in 2011. The collection is titled Songs from the Soul: Stories from around the world.

Emem-Akpan was a journalist for more than seven years. Today, she runs her own business and is fully engaged as an author, ghost writer and editor. You can find her at https://folakemi.wordpress.com/