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.