A white day
© Folakemi Emem-Akpan
I should have known, should have prepared myself for the happenings of the day.
Yi never wore white, yet he went to work that morning wearing white shoes, a white cap pulled low over his head.
I stood at the doorway, fought the melancholic pull in my stomach, waved goodbye to the man I’d called husband for five years.
Fighting the unease that churned my belly, I swung my mind to happier thoughts. Yi’s company had just promoted him and my seamstress business was growing daily. And we’d finally decided to try for another child, perhaps a brother for Ming.
Of course we’d pay a yearly penalty for as long as the baby was a minority, because we’d in essence be breaking the law of one child per couple. But I longed for the easy camaraderie of siblings that had existed between my two brothers and I, and it was unfair, government or not, to deny Ming such a pleasure.
Three-year-old Ming was still sleeping, the two braids I’d pulled her hair into before going to bed last night coming unraveled.
Standing at the door to her room, I felt my mind fill with pride, my heart with joy. Yes, she was a girl, and most women I knew had quietly aborted their pregnancies when they realized the only child the government allowed them would be a female. But I loved my daughter, reveled in her powdery smell and chubby arms, basked in the glow of her affection for me.
That morning I stood in the doorway, happiness slowly gaining ground on my agitation.
Until I saw the opened window…and the white feather.
Pigeons usually patrolled our neighborhood and sometimes settled on the windowsills, but I’d never before found telltale signs of a shed feather. And a white one at that.
Panic bubbled out of my heart, flowed into my fingers. I strode to where Ming lay sleeping, snatched her off the bed and woke her in the process.
Her face scrunched up and she let out a long winding cry. Placing her on my hip in the hopes of soothing her, I made my way to the kitchen.
I sat her down, gave her a shrimp to nibble on, and set to cook.
By the time I finished cooking the fresh mushrooms in oyster sauce and walnuts in butter soup, it was afternoon and my heart had become calmer. Not entirely calm, but much calmer.
I’d just finished putting Ming to bed for her afternoon nap, was digging in the store for an old dress I wanted to remake when I felt the first rumble.
Then that deafening roar that burst my eardrums. The building tottered like an infant learning how to walk and I felt myself sliding. I struggled to stay upright, grabbed at a box only to find it sliding with me, down, down, down.
All of a sudden, the noise and the movement ceased. I sprang to my feet, realized the room was slanted, clawed my way out of there, my head filled only with thoughts of Ming.
When I got to the doorway, I saw that the passageway was no longer there. In its stead, a cloud of dust, thick and blinding rose to torment me.
Then the second rumble. The plastered ceiling rained down on me, the floor on which I stood gave way, an iron rod caught me squarely on the forehead, and I sank into the waiting arms of darkness.
I woke up in a hospital in Shaanxi, haunted by dreams of a certain man in white with a smile as wide as the heavens. Though no one told it to me, I knew his name was Jesus.
When I opened my eyes, his image yet burned behind my eyelids.
Blinking my eyes, I turned to the nurse and learnt the truth.
An earthquake of incredible proportions, more than 70,000 people killed, a whole lot more injured, several missing. I’d been in a coma for five days.
When they brought the list of dead people, Hwong Yi was number 34,200. Hwong Ming was number 63,212.
The tears would not come. The grief settled into a hard ball in my stomach. I closed my eyes and saw the man called Jesus yet again.
*The Sichuan earthquake of May 12, 2008 affected more than 45.5 million people in 10 provinces and regions in China.
* In China, colour white is associated with death and mourning.