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 Christian fiction, Life commentary, Short story

Into God’s Kingdom

Into God’s kingdom

© Folakemi Emem-Akpan

 

It is a decision no man should have to make.

 

Twenty minutes seems so trivial in the detritus of daily life. It is all that is required to take a bath, finish a meal, make a phone call.

 

It was also all that was needed to bring us to this point, to this decision.

 

Underneath the profusion of life support machines, she is pale, perfectly still, her stomach pushing through the blanket. I hold her limp hands in mine, rub them vigorously as if that would call back life into them, falter at the unbearableness of the situation.

 

“Are you ready?”

 

It takes the weight of the doctor’s hands on my back for me to jerk out of the hopelessness. His eyes are rimmed with compassion, yet I know he is just doing his job. Today, it is my family’s tragedy, tomorrow it would be another’s.

 

“No.” My voice comes out hoarse, scratchy, dead. “Give me a couple of minutes.”

 

He eases out of the room. I’m sure he will pass through the throng of family members that have come today. Mima’s parents, the sister who flew in from London, the other sister who has not left the hospital for more than two hours since all this began.

 

Mima, sweet Mima. Mima of the twinkling black eyes, infectious smile, gregarious personality.

 

Life goes fast when you’re with the woman you desperately love. Two years of courtship, five years of marriage. One evening, I came home to soft music, dinner by candle light, and exciting news. We would be parents at last.

 

She practically blossomed during the pregnancy. Her eternally thin frame took on a robustness that was endearing, her cheeks were infused with color, and her delight was contagious.

 

Until that evening.

 

Watching a football match in the den, I suddenly became aware of a silence that should not be. Jemima had gone into the bathroom for a shower for over ten minutes yet there was no sound of water. Easing myself off the couch, I went in search of her.

 

She was naked, bluish, crumpled haphazardly on the tiled floor. A knot the size of an egg was on her forehead.

 

Fifteen minutes later, the ambulance came. I realized I must have called them, must have wrapped Mima in a blanket, must have lifted her off the floor and cradled her in my arms. I was numb with a cold that seemed to originate from my heart, yet my face was flushed with sweat.

 

They hooked her to an oxygen mask, ran a battery of tests all night long, brought me the news the following morning as I warmed my cold hands with a cup of coffee in the reception.

 

Mima was brain dead. The fall had rendered her unconscious and her brain had been denied of oxygen for too long. There was nothing they could do.

 

At five months, the fetus was too young to survive, the neurologist said, but they could keep Mima on life support long enough for the baby to have a fighting chance. Even then, there was no telling if the baby wouldn’t be damaged. For it had partaken of the deprivation of oxygen with his mother.

 

For a week, I hovered in the twilight of grief and despair. Surrounded by family members, I felt alone and raw. I slept in the same room as Mima, prayed endlessly for a miracle, was horrified at the prospect of delegating her to the position of a womb just so our son could be born, didn’t know what to do.

 

Sighing, I release my wife’s hands, rise to my feet and run my hand through my hair. Cracking open the door just a little bit, I call for Dr. Richard.

 

“I’m ready.” I say quietly, not knowing if my decision is right or wrong, but intent on giving my wife and son the freedom they should have.

 

When the doctor nods, I walk over to the life support machine, hesitate for the briefest of moments, and flick the switch just as I’d been shown.

 

I release my wife and son into the kingdom of God.

 

 

 

*Luke 13:29 Then people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and take their places at the banquet table in the kingdom of God.

 

 

Posted in Christian fiction, Short story

Bare

Bare

© Folakemi Emem-Akpan

 

It took all of three hours for my home to turn from full to empty. Three hours, a drunken truck driver and a faulty traffic light.

 

They called me at work, buried in the midst of the ancient tomes I was quite proficient at translating. I can’t remember going down the elevator, getting into my car, driving. But I found myself at Mary County Hospital, in the ER, clutching at the blue scrubs of one of the attendants.

 

I was in the wrong place, for there was nothing more that could be done for my two kids. They were pronounced DOA by the attending ER physician, had been transferred to the walk-in refrigerators.

 

The week passed in a blur. At the funeral, our pastor tried gamely to speak of short but eventful lives but even he was at a loss. How can a ten-year-old girl and her seven-year-old brother have lived eventful lives?

 

I retreated into myself. Mark sank to the bottom of whiskey bottles. For the first time since we’d been married, the house was exceptionally quiet. No laughter, no sounds of children horsing around, no false-cheer of early morning cartoons. Even the old house refused to creak. It sat there like a dead mouse, unmoving, deathly still.

 

I walked unceasingly through the barren rooms of my home, expecting to see Sarah and Michael as I turned corners. Sometimes I saw them but by the time I hurried to gather them in my arms, they were gone.

 

They took me to a sanatorium where there were no sharp objects, where I was constantly monitored. But I wasn’t suicidal, merely empty, merely hollow.

 

For the two weeks that I spent in that white forlorn room, Mark visited only once. And then he wouldn’t look at me. His eyes were glazed, as if his soul was on another planet. I remember thinking that he needed to be committed even more than I needed it.

 

When they finally let me out, I was surprised to realise that the sun was still shinning, that people still went to work, that the world had moved on without me.

 

I returned to work, and it was good for me. Not that it made me forget, but it made the pain more bearable. It faded to an itch below the skin, accessible yet distant.

 

I returned home late one night, found Mark in the living room, his eyes unusually clear. He smiled at me and my heart started to race. Even though he hadn’t smiled in a long time, he still had such a lovely smile and the haggardness of his face lent him a somewhat exotic but handsome form.

 

When he put his arms around my waist and I smelled not whiskey but shampoo on his skin, I gave in to the tears I’d not shed in months.

 

“It’s okay baby. It’s okay.” He said as he shushed me. “We’ve got each other. We’ll be fine.”

 

In the kitchen, he’d broken every last bottle of whiskey, dumped the contents down the drain. In the middle of the dinning, he’d made a picture collage. When we were newly wedded, when I was pregnant with Sarah, Sarah’s first picture, Mark with Michael. In the centre of them all, in the most prominent place, he’d put a picture of Jesus, torn from Sarah’s preteen Bible.

 

“He’s the one that makes our lives full.” Mark said, “Not alcohol, not work, and not our pain.”

 

In that moment, I started to let go. Not of the memories, because how does one forget ten years of being a mother, of sticky smiles and mischievous grins? But I began to relieve myself of the hurt, of the pain that gripped my heart every time I thought of my children, and of the bitterness that stung when I thought of the drunk driver.

 

And for the first time in months, my heart was full again. Filled with Christ and His healing grace.

 

 

 

Posted in Christian fiction, Short story

In Everything

 

In everything

© Folakemi Emem-Akpan

“For good, Mum. This time, I’m leaving him for good.” Theresa is gripping the baby too tightly, and the boy is squirming but not crying, as if he senses his mother’s anguish and does not want to add to it.

Gently, Marie prises her daughter’s fingers away from her grandson’s torso, holds him against her chest.

“Come in Theresa.”

Still grumbling, sometimes cursing, Theresa obliges her mother and steps into the cool foyer of the home where she’d grown up. The sight of her mother’s faded gingham upholstery cools her down somewhat, stops her heart from racing with so much fury.

In the kitchen, Marie brings out a huge pitcher of cold tea and pours both of them a glassful each. The baby gets a soft biscuit.

“He’s so inconsiderate. Yeah, he’s the only one working and earning money for the home, but does he forget that I take care of the home, am a permanent servant to Joshua? Imagine, he asks me why I forgot to pick his suits from the drycleaner’s yesterday?”

Marie hides a smile behind her glass, is amazed that she has raised such a flighty.

“Is that what he did?”

“Yes. Am I his housekeeper or something?”

For the umpteenth time, Marie is glad that her daughter’s family had decided to settle close by. This has enabled her to put out many a fires before her son-in-law even became aware of them.

“That can be insulting, ehn?” Marie finds a good place to start.

“Of course it is. I’m sure Dad never treated you like that?”

Marie is no longer smiling, but she manages to keep herself from frowning. Perhaps Theresa had been too young at the time to understand that her parents had struggled with their marriage or perhaps she’s just chosen to romanticise her dead father.

“No, he didn’t treat me like that.” For a particularly bizarre period in their marriage, he’d treated her worse. He never beat her but would withdraw into days of absolute silence. He wouldn’t speak to her, wouldn’t touch her meals, wouldn’t even look at her. And he wouldn’t talk to his young daughter too. It took Marie a whole year to find out he had a mistress and two children outside the home.

She remembers those dreary years clearly. She’d lost two sons in a fire incident at their preschool, had almost lost her infant daughter too because she had been too grieved and too ill to breastfeed her, had turned to her husband for comfort only to find he was totally emotionally absent from her.

The five years that took them to get back together were dark, lonesome, and absolutely heart-wrenching. It was in those days of deep anguish that she’d met with Jesus and adopted a Bible verse that would tide her over every other heartache she would face.

Despite her hard life, Marie’s had a fullness of joy in her life that defies comprehension or explanation.

In silence, Marie refills her glass and takes a sip of the sweet liquid before speaking again. “There are certain things you need to know, Theresa. The first thing is that things are not always as bad as they initially seem. And there are things that look good on the outside but are really quite rotten on the inside. Your marriage is an example of the first, and my marriage to your father was at a time a mirror of the second.”

She waits for comprehension to hit Theresa, sees only a familiar stubbornness on her face.

“Andrew loves you, you know.”

“Yeah yeah, but why does he treat me like trash?”

“He doesn’t. And you must be careful not to allow his words get you worked up all the time. He means well.”

Theresa doesn’t reply, bends over and wipes a glob of biscuit off Joshua’s face. When she straightens, she’s smiling that smile that melts Marie’s heart again and again. “I don’t know how you put up with me. I’m a regular pain, am I not?”

Marie smiles back, says nothing.

“But he doesn’t have to talk to me in that commanding tone, does he?”

Marie rolls her eyes, smiles wider and returns to her tea.

 

 

 

 

* In everything give thanks. For this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

I Thessalonians 5:18

 

Posted in Christian fiction, Contemporary, Short story

Choorile

 

Choorile

© Folakemi Emem-Akpan

 

Sanil sits at the entrance of his home, his eyes turned towards the sky which is dark and low, a sure sign of rain. Absent-mindedly, he wonders if it would actually rain, how long such a rain might last, and he is grateful for the stilts on which his wooden home rests, a protection from the floods that would inevitably follow.

 

For flood is a common occurrence in the Rupununi grasslands where he had been born, where he had been married, where he yet lives with his four sons and one daughter.

 

His spirit weighs heavily within him, his eyes filling with tears a man should not be seeing shedding.

 

It had been on such a night like this, a rainy stormy night, that Indira was born, that Nalini was lost, that his life went from familiar to strange.

 

Suddenly, the dark night is torn by a low mournful cry, not unlike someone in agony. The cry stops almost as soon as it starts, and just like it has happened for three days in a row, three-month-old Indira starts to cry. Sanil envisions his aged mother rousing, shhing her granddaughter, waving the palm fronds she’d procured from the herbalist to fend off spirits.

 

His Nalini’s spirit. His unbelievably beautiful, tender wife’s spirit.

 

As a young Christian, Sanil is torn between the age-long belief system of his Indian-Guyanese heritage and the truth he knows the Bible teaches.

 

This is the third night he would hear the mourning spirit, the choorile everyone says is the spirit of Nalini. For she had perished in childbirth, leaving a daughter alive. And according to the Guyanese folklore of jumbees, she would forever be restless, roaming at night, crying mournfully.

 

Pastor Mark, new to the village from Georgetown, says it is a lie. Nalini had been a Christian, her spirit had moved from earthly realms, she was in the arms of the Father.

 

With his head, Sanil believes this. With his heart, he believes in the choorile.

 

Sighing, he heaves to his feet and moves into the candlelit bowels of his home. The smells of their eaten supper yet lingers; Cassava, dasheen and crab soup. And spilt coconut milk.

 

In one room, his four sons are in various stages of sleep and the smacking sound of two-year-old Rajiv sucking his thumb makes his heart ache. Nalini would have gently pulled the thumb out of his mouth but as Sanil stands there, he doesn’t have the heart to do it. The child is motherless; all he could do was allow him this last vestige of comfort.

 

Because it is frowned upon for husband and wife to share a room, Nalini had had her own room. Even though his ma has since moved into it to care for Indira, he still thinks of it as Nalini’s room.

 

He hears the rustle of the palm fronds, his daughter mewling, his mother urging her back to sleep.

 

Finally, garnering strength from within, he knocks softly and pushes open the door.

 

“Ma,” he whispers, “Can I hold Indira for a while?”

 

Ma looks at him strangely but has known not to argue. She wraps the baby in soft sheets and places her in his arms.

 

She smells of palm oil, rubbed carefully into her skin by Ma to prevent infections.

 

She is warm and her soft body presses into his. Innocence, fragility, beauty. Solemnly, Sanil vows to protect her with all that he has, even his life.

 

He carries his daughter in his arms, shuts the door behind him, returns to the doorway. Rain has started to fall, pelting the soft sand around the house.

 

“I don’t know what to believe, Lord.” He says into the darkness. “But I do believe you, and I know children are good gifts from you. Choorile or not, Indira is your gift to me. Keep her safe, please.”

 

When he looks down at his daughter’s face, the tears quietly streaming down his face, he is surprised that she has her thumb in her mouth like Rajiv. She is sleeping yet there is a soft smile curved around her lips.

 

He smiles back and feels warmth begin to burn in his heart. Again.

 

 

 

Choorile – Spirit of a woman who dies in childbirth, leaving her baby alive.

Jumbee – Name given to a host of spirits and demons of Guyanese folklore

*Guyana is on the northeastern shoulder of South America, bounded by the Atlantic Ocean, Suriname, Venezuela and Brazil.

Posted in Christian fiction, Contemporary, Short story

A white day

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.

 

Posted in Christian fiction, Girls, Short story

Release

© Folakemi Emem-Akpan

It is a letter no one would ever read. Not your wife. Not your son. And especially not your daughter.

 

There are tears in your eyes that you do not know how to shed and the tear in your heart will take all of eternity to mend.

 

In your study, in this place where you are secluded from the world but vulnerable to your God, you kneel at your desk as if it were an altar. You hold the pen as if it were sacrament. You close your eyes. And see her.

 

Since the very first day that Janet pushed Jennifer into the world, you’d called her medley. Medley because she had your nose, medley because she had your wife’s eyes and ears, your grandmother’s full lips, her maternal grandma’s raven black hair. And she had your dead brother’s long fingers.

 

The combination was stunning. You took overwhelming pride in your daughter’s exceptional beauty, and even more pride in her vivaciousness. An energy ball, a combustible package, a live wire.

 

You begin to write furiously. You tell her of the day she was born, of the love that completely filled your insides. You tell of the first day she grabbed your little finger and smiled up at you from her Winnie the Pooh bassinet. In your letter, you remind her of her lazy left eye that followed the right one only reluctantly. You write of skinned knees and kisses, of baby powder and olive oil scents, of Barney and Teletubbies, of all things pure and good and innocent.

 

What you do not write about are plentiful. Of the graduation gown she will never wear, of the aisle she will never walk down, of the babies she will never have, of the tough life decisions she will never make.

 

Instead, you remind her of how much her mother had loved her, of play dates and dough caught in their hair, of playing with make-up in front of the huge mirror in the hallway, of dress up in Janet’s clothes.

 

You do not write of the leukemia that turned her eyes a deathly shade of black, of the way her six year old body shriveled and bent until she weighed less than fifteen pounds, of the host of tubes and machines that struggled valiantly to keep her alive.

 

You let her know that even though Robert never said it to her because he’d reached the age when boys thought showing affection was being weak, he’d loved her as fiercely as only an only brother can love an only sister.

 

You do not write of the way your heart dropped to your feet each time you saw her in the hospital room that became her prison. You do not tell of the way Janet’s body shook with uncontrollable chills each night, of the wasted look that Robert tried so hard to conceal.

 

Finally, you write of heaven. You explain it the way she can understand. You write of glittery skies, of glowing fields, of trees laden with fruits of all kinds, of joy that curled ones toes.

 

When you are done, you realize that you are crying. Dry sobs that begin somewhere in the region of your heart and explode out of you in huge gasps. Salty tears that cascade down your cheeks like a waterfall gone mad.

 

The letter you just wrote to your dead daughter is wet, the ink already running. But it does not matter because this is a letter no one would ever read. Carefully, you begin to tear. You rip and rip and rip until your letter is at last a little heap of rubbish. Until your fingers ache from the repetition.

 

On your shoulders, a burden seems to be lifting.

 

In your heart, light finally penetrates.

 

You release your daughter into the kingdom of heaven.