Of losses and opportunities
(c) July 2020 Folakemi Emem-Akpan
He lost him to the land of opportunities. It is a thirty year long pain that still hurts, that still throbs and sears whenever he allows himself the luxury of remembering.
He had been four, that tremulous age when one is too young to remember and yet too old to forget. For he does not, cannot remember the details of his father’s face or of his body. Had he been fat or slim, swarthy or fair, tall or short? Yet he remembers the warm feeling that rose up in him when his father smiled at him, when he picked him up from amidst his toys as he returned from the office, when he ran his five O clock shadow against his stomach.
Biodun shakes his head, sticks his thoughts into his remembrance box for later, and turns to his wife of three years. Beatrice’s belly is huge, showing effortlessly through the extra extra large maternity blouse she has on. He hates to leave at a time like this, does not want to be cast in the same light as his father, desperately needs to be by his wife’s side in the labor room.
“Relax already.” Beatrice nudges him sharply at the sides and dazzles him with a smile when he faces her. “I’ll be fine. And if things go the way the editor said, you should be home by next week.”
“I give birth before you come? Honest, we’ll be fine.”
He closes his eyes, sucks in a breath, is about to expel it when the public address system comes to life. It is time to board the New York bound flight, time to kiss his wife goodbye.
He does so quickly, not wanting her to see the tears that suddenly well up in his eyes. As he walks towards the door, he does not look back, assaulted with images from another age, from another era of his life.
He remembers that afternoon at the airport, waving hard at his father as the latter went into the departure lounge, smiling his customary thousand watt smile.
That was the last time he saw him.
Three days later, his mother gave birth to his sister. His father called that day for the first time, to say he’d arrived safely.
In the next four months, he called exactly four times, once each month to report his progress.
And then the calls stopped.
For three years, little Biodun pestered his Mum. He wanted to know where daddy was, why he didn’t come home anymore, why he couldn’t go with him to school functions. Always he was told, “Daddy is in the US. He is working hard to make life better for all of us.”
He learnt the truth when he reached the all-wise age of ten. He came home from school to meet his mother curled up in bed, her face white and streaked with gray lines of tears. He thought she was dying. Then she told him the truth.
Someone had played the Green Card Lottery but had died before the results came out, before he could learn that he was about to become an American citizen. The family searched for an alternative, someone who looked as close as possible to their late son; they found Segun, Biodun’s father.
One month later, he paid the asking price, shaved his hair and grew out his beard, took on the identity of a dead man, and waved his family goodbye with promises of getting established in the US and sending for them.
He didn’t. Instead, he found himself a white woman, well-off, single and desperate for marriage. Before the year ran out, she was pregnant and they were married. In four years, they’d produced three children.
A distant friend ran into him, returned to Nigeria with the news for Biodun’s mother. And there was nothing they could do. On their marriage certificate here in Nigeria, he was Segun Adeboye. In New York, in his new life, he was Uche Adaeze.
When Biodun settles into his seat on the plane, the initial agreement for the publishing of his script in his hands, he calms himself.
He is not his father. He can have his future and his family both. He will sign the final agreement, make final corrections to his manuscript. Then he will return.
To his wife, to their soon-to-be-born son.