Posted in Contemporary, Short story

Of losses and opportunities

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.”

 

“What if…”

 

“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.

 

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 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, 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 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, Short story

Saving the family

SAVING THE FAMILY

(c) Folakemi Emem-Akpan

You’d always known that this day would come. Yet, your knowledge does not equal acceptance, and your knowledge doesn’t stop your heart from threatening to beat out of your chest, neither does it stop you from breaking out in a hard, cold sweat even though the weather is bitingly cold.

It is early in January and the harmattan season has descended with a vengeance. As you rolled out of bed this morning, you shivered as your cold feet made contact with the even colder floor, and it had taken you all of one minute to be done in the bathroom. Because your family cannot afford frivolities like hot water baths, you take cold baths no matter the weather, not even when you are sick. So, you dumped the half bucket of icy water over your head and ran out of the bathroom

You had watched in front of the broken mirror you share with your youngest sister as the breath escaped you in icy vapours, and you had thrown on three layers of clothing.

But you are no longer cold. There is a heat boiling from deep inside you and the only way that your body knows to respond is to break out in sweat.

How could things have turned this sour just a few days after the New Year celebration. On that day, you’d worn your newly purchased second hand gown, but it had felt brand new to you. You’d felt like you were on top of the world, like you were a princess who had the whole world at your beck and call. You guys were a complete family again; your father, your mother, your four sisters and your three brothers.

All had felt right with the world. There wasn’t much to eat in your house, but you’d made the rounds to more prosperous homes with your siblings and had eaten so much you had a tummy ache for days. You had felt like a child again, not like a young woman, not like someone on whose shoulders lay a weight of responsibility. You had been a child again, and now you are to be one no more.

When your mother pushed you out into the world eleven years ago, it was unwritten that you would one day follow in the footsteps of all the women of the family. By the time you were born, your mother had already given up two daughters, already knew what if felt like to send daughters off into modern slavery.

And, she knew, even as she breastfed you and stroked your head, that she would one day give you up too.

You are the last daughter and your mother has already done this four times. What you don’t know is that it has never been easy for her, has not gotten easier with regularity, and that she cries into her pillow almost every night.

“Beatrice, you should be ready. She will be here any time from now, and we don’t want to keep her waiting.” Your mother calls to you from just outside the house, where she is spreading freshly washed clothes on the clothesline.

She is talking about the woman who will convey you to Lagos, the woman who took the last two of your sisters, the one whom you blame for wringing the joy from their eyes. And now, she’s coming to take you.

You feel the tears roll down your cheek, feel the sadness overwhelm you from the inside out and you feel like you are drowning in a sea of misery.

You sigh, rise to your feet and pick up your luggage, a tattered hand me down travel bag that has been used by many siblings before you. You take a last look at your room, the one you share with your littlest brother, the one where you have felt warmth and love and security. Then you close your eyes to your childhood and step out into adulthood.

You are going to the big city to become a house help, just like all four sisters before you have been. Born and raised in the dry arid village, with no viable means to support a family, most families sent their daughters to Lagos, Abuja and other affluent cities to serve as house helps to big madams. Your mother was a house help before you all, came back home when she was eighteen, met and married your father by the time she was nineteen and proceeded to have a whole parcel load of children.

When the rainfall comes, your father’s tiny piece of farmland manages a meagre harvest at best. Your mother had tried not to have to send you to Lagos and had been making do with what she could sell from your father’s land, but then there has been no rainfall in forever, and there is no produce, nothing. Nothing.

So, to Lagos you are headed.

You are next in the long and unending line of daughters sold off into modern slavery as house helps.

You are not supposed to know, but you know that your parents have already received the payment for your first year of service, and it was that money that was used to repair the collapsed roof of the house. There had been that initial gush of hope when your sisters made plans to return to their duty posts and had their conveyor come get them two days earlier. You were not included in their travel plans, and for a full day, you’d dared to hope, had dared to exult that you were not going to be called upon to save your family.

But yesterday, Mama had called you into their room, kissed you on both cheeks, held you to her chest and told you were going to leave the following day. She’d smelt of palm oil and freshly fried garri, and you wanted to cling on to her forever, to take in the smell of her and never let it go. You’d wanted to go back to New Year’s Day, to take a stroll through your cold dusty village, to sit in a circle and eat from the same bowl from your siblings.

But as all good things do, your dream is fading, ending, forever gone.

You hold your childhood in your fists one more time, then release it, let it blow into the four corners of the earth.

When you step out of your room, you are ready. You are simply the next girl in the Asiegbe family to go work to feed your family and even though you’d rather not go, duty beckons.

Your tears are gone, your hiccups are gone. And when you face your Mama’s emaciated face, it is with a broad smile on your face. But that smile does not reach all the way down into your belly.

Posted in Contemporary, Girls, Short story

Ablaze

Ablaze

© Folakemi Emem-Akpan

You knew you were going to die that day, and you were okay with it.

In fact, you revelled in that knowledge. Your heart soared within its cage, your eyes were alight with a new kind of fire, and there was delight colliding with joy in your heart.

It will all be over. The sleepless nights spent turning and tossing, that slightly acrid taste like the bottom of a two-day-old coffee pot that would not leave your belly. You know that you will no longer feel these things, no longer experience this pain by the time the morning blooms.

It makes you incredibly happy. You are free like you haven’t been since your body started to blossom into that of a young woman. You can catch within your fingers, grasp once again what it felt like to be a young, reckless, rambunctious young girl without a care in the world.

By morning, it will all be over.

You get out of bed, flinch like you always do the time your bare feet grazes the cold linoleum floor. You grab your housecoat, wrap it tightly around yourself, but the cold doesn’t go away. You say hi to yourself in the mirror, watch your breath come out of you in puffs of chilly air.

It is bitterly cold, and you love mornings like this.

By noon, it would be blisteringly hot, and by evening, it would turn cold again.

The harmattan seasons are your best time of the year, the time when you can luxuriate in a warm bath in the morning, cold showers in the afternoon, and yet another warm bath in the night.

You would scrub yourself, standing under the hot shower until your skin turned almost red from the agony of the heat. You would take sponge and soap to your lady parts and scrub until it hurt to walk.

It seems you are trying to scrub the essence of him out of you.

But you don’t succeed.

His face would come to you unbidden. In silent moments, you would feel the coarseness of his beard grazing your face. You would hear his guttural growl as he threatened you to never tell. You would feel the strange heat of his palms. Then you would come awake to your surroundings, realise he is not there, that you are sitting in class, in church, at the playground, that you are somewhere far removed from him.

He haunts your dreams and your waking moments.

The first night he violated you, your mother was away for the weekend with her childhood friends, and you had control of the kitchen. You were delighted, ecstatic even to have been given free rein of what your father and the younger kids ate. You were twelve, Pepto-Bismol bubbly, could talk a mile a minute.

That night, you planned a surprise dinner of sweet potatoes and garden egg sauce for your dad, Bimpe and Anjola. You toiled for long, had to throw away the first pot of sauce as it didn’t turn out as well as you’d expected. But finally, you had the meal you’d first envisaged.

Your sister and brother licked their plates clean, and your dad hugged you thank you. You felt on top of the world, gave your mum a blow by blow account of how the evening had gone over the phone.

When he came in that night on the pretext of still thanking you for a perfect dinner, you didn’t know anything was amiss. He hugged you again, and you hugged right back. After all, he was your father, and you’ve been sharing hugs all your life.

But the hug that night wasn’t just a hug.

He spoke to you about your becoming a woman, and how it was his duty as your father to introduce you to womanhood. When his hands grabbed at your budding breasts, you let out a piercing scream that was cut short by a hard slap across your face. Each time you opened your mouth to scream, he slapped you hard until you were a dizzy mess. You felt close to a precipice of nothingness, of falling into a deep void of which you would never come out of.

You started to plead then because you knew this was wrong.

“Daddy please…please…”

Your pleas earned you only harder slaps, and you went quiet then. When he tore at your panties, you fought back silently. You dug your nails into his flesh, tried to claw at his eyes. But he pinned you down, stuffed a pair of socks down your throat, and slapped you for the last time.

You fainted.

When you came to, he was standing over you, his male member turgid and glistening, a mad look in his eyes.

“If you ever tell, I’d kill you. This is a family thing, a family secret that has been in my family for ages, and damn me if I don’t preserve this tradition. But you tell, you die.”

You felt a dampness in between your thighs, and when you tried to roll over, you realised you were naked and that your privates hurt like a dagger had been there.

“And if not you, it would be Bimpe, trust me.”

Bimpe was your eight-year-old little sister, the one for whom you would gladly lay down your whole life, the one for whom you would fight the whole world.

You went inside yourself, into a deep dark place no one else would ever visit.

The abuse continued. You would stay up in bed every night your mother went on a night shift at the hospital, terrified to fall asleep, collating all your mental power to keep your father in his room and out of yours.

But he would come. He always, always came.

Afterwards, you would stand under the shower, try to wash him out of you. And the tears would fall out of you in waterfall sheets and blind you. You would curl yourself in bed, biting your fingernails, closing your eyes as if to forget.

But you never forgot.

Your grades started to fall, and you found it hard to sit around the dining and across the table from your father as you ate meals as a family. You found it oppressing to get in the same car as he. You didn’t want to breathe his air, be in the same place as he was. You wished he’d go ahead and get himself killed.

The night he took a knife to you because you’d had enough, you did decide that indeed you’d had enough.

The next morning, you watched your mother stumble bleary-eyed home after her night shift as a nurse, and couldn’t bring yourself to tell her. You promised yourself you would talk to her about it in the afternoon.

But you couldn’t bring yourself to speak the words. You couldn’t bear to utter the words that would rip your family right apart.

For three days, you watched your mother out of the corner of your eyes. You wanted so much to approach her, to throw your hands around her and lay bare your heart. You would be quarter way to doing so, and then something would hold you back. It could be your father’s physical appearance or the remembrance of his menacing face.

When he came in to rape you again, you made up your mind finally.

When your mother came in the following morning, you didn’t care that her eyes were bleary, that she was almost falling asleep on her feet. You dragged her by the arm and into your room. Your eyes were already dripping water, and there was an ache in your heart that would take all of eternity to mend.

“He’s been raping me, mom. Six months now.” You blurted out.

She looked at you askance, like you were talking gibberish, like nothing out of your mouth made sense. She finally shook her head and looked at you again.

“Who?”

You took in a shuddery breath, closed your eyes, opened them again. “Daddy. He’s been raping me.”

She didn’t respond immediately, but put her head in between her knees, let out a wail of agony. As she began crying, you put your arms around her. You didn’t know if you were the comforter or the one to be comforted. All you knew was that you needed this woman, that you would give your life to see her stop crying.

“Don’t cry, Mum. I just can’t take it anymore…and he’s been threatening to rape Bimpe too, if I ever told. But tell or not, Mummy, he’s going to do it. He’s going to start to rape her too…and I can’t bear that. I couldn’t live with it…”

She let out another wail, and when she raised her face to face you, it seemed she had aged ten years in five minutes. Her eyes were sunken in, the sleep fled out of them, and her cheeks were hollow and void of colour.

When you tried to touch her again, she flinched. She drew back, like you were made from molten magma…and that was when the wall of separation sprouted up between you too.

That night, you stood in your bedroom, frozen to the ground, listening to the yells and screams coming from your parents’ room. You were unable to move, rooted to the spot, as the sound of breaking glass and hurling shoes reached you.

And you couldn’t sleep, kept watch till day broke, even long after things quieted down some in your parents’ room. You thought about your life. Life had been great until you turned twelve, then your father had snatched life as you knew it from you. For six months, you’d lived like a shadow, lived like a girl condemned to die, lived like you were something less than human.

But that was to end, you were sure. Your mother was going to set things right, see to it that it never happened again. She was going to be the warrior you knew she was deep inside. She was going to throw your father out of the house, report him to the appropriate authorities. Bimpe would never experience the heartache you’ve done.

These thoughts kept you awake, and you were just drifting into dreamland when your mother came into your room. She raised your curtains, and as you watched the early morning sun wash your room with yellow light, you felt hope come alive in your heart.

Your nightmare was about to be over.

“Yinka,” She began. “We are going to keep this in the family.” She cut to the chase like it was a business deal. “You will tell no one of this, not even Bimpe. And we will not speak of this again. Never again. I have spoken to your father, reprimanded him, and he has promised he will never do it again. He claims it was the devil, and I believe him. We will forgive him, forget it happened, and move on with life. Understand?”

You didn’t understand. It had taken all the courage you had to come out into the open, to tell your mother of the horror your father had visited you with, and to be so told to forget it, forgive him and move on with life was something you couldn’t begin to understand.

“Yinka, these things happen. But not everyone goes about washing their dirty clothes in public. This is why I said we’ll treat this as a family secret, between you, your father and me. I trust you’ve not told anyone?”

You were shell-shocked, and you stood with your mouth opened at this stranger who was inhabiting your mother’s body.

“I know it’s tough, and it must have been terrible, but life is terrible…and we all go through terrible things. This is your terrible thing, but its over…it’s over…and that’s all that matters.”

You didn’t speak, didn’t reply, held your body in a rigid position when she made to hug you. When she finally left your room, you drew the curtains and fell into a heap of tears. The sobs rent themselves from you in huge gasps, came out of you in a flood of salty tears, and you felt like you were drowning in a river of misery.

Despite your mother’s promises, he raped you again. And when you spoke to her about it again, all she had to say was that she’d speak to him again.

That was when you knew you were alone.

It was at that point that you knew that your destiny was in your hand, and yours and yours alone. It was up to you to save yourself, to save Bimpe.

You wait. You plan. You strategise.

The weekend you kids are supposed to go visit your maternal grandma, you feigned illness. You curled yourself in bed, stuck fingers down your throat until you threw up. And when your mother loaded Bimpe and your brother into the car, you felt gladness and relief wash over you.

She came back later that evening, made dinner, and you three sat around the table like you were a normal family. The food tasted like sawdust in your mouth, but you shoved it down quickly because you wanted to be away from there as quickly as possible.

That night, you turn on the gas when your parents had gone to bed, shut the kitchen door so that the smell does not fill the house.

You give it three hours. You sit in your room, contemplating your life, thinking about what had brought you to this point. You laugh, you cry, you pray, you swear all by yourself. You stand in front of the mirror and observe yourself.

You feel a whole bag of emotions; sadness, anxiety, relief and regret, but you don’t know which one to give in to.

At the end of the three hours, you make your way to the kitchen. As you open the door, you are overwhelmed by the stench of liquified natural gas, and you start to cough. You lean against the door, try to catch your breath but you cannot.

Panic engulfs you, and for a minute, you contemplate not going through.

But Bimpe must be saved, and this is the only way you know how.

You sigh, swallow, close your eyes. You say a quick prayer, then reach for the match box.

Your fingers are slippery and the first, second, third, fourth match will not ignite.

You swallow again, wipe your fingers on your nightie, strike the match a fifth time.

The explosion is instantaneous.

The next morning, after the firefighters are done doing their job, there are three dead bodies found under the rubbles.

Yours, your father’s and your mother’s.

 

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 Girls, Short story

For her sake

For her sake

© Folakemi Emem-Akpan

I am amazed at the radical change in my thought process, at the swiftness with which I cross the moral dilemma that has plagued me for years. Yes, I could kill. And yes, I would kill if I had to.

There is something about newborns; that soft mewling sound which translates into total helplessness, into utter dependence. Ten years ago, I held Sarah in my arms for the first time and vowed to protect her, promised solemnly to die for her, if need be.

This night, I might kill for her.

Sarah’s father did not live long enough to hold her. Two weeks before I pushed her into the world, he was mowed down by a garbage truck. We’d been married all of ten months. I was twenty-one, a widow, a mom. The world came down around my ears and threatened to suffocate me. I would wake up from sleep, my heart heavy like it was weighted down with rocks. I would sit and forget to breathe until hyperventilation set it.

But I held on strong, held on to blind faith because there was nothing else to do. There was no one else that would be there for my new born child.

Somehow, we survived. Somehow, she turned two, then three. And then Matthew came into our lives. He was thirty and though I was much younger than him, only just celebrated my twenty fourth birthday, he seemed kind of childish, a man who was just as content playing dolls with Sarah, as he was doing grown up things with me.

He seemed perfect. Five months after we met him in the park, we were married.

The first year of marriage was uneventful. He worked hard, played even harder with Sarah, hardly had any time for me. When I gave birth to Junior, he seemed disappointed. Later he would tell me he’d have preferred a little girl.

The second year was the year of the trial. On a dark, dark night, I opened the door to police officers, flashing lights and an arrest warrant. Matt was the lead suspect in the rape of a ten-year-old girl. Although he denied vehemently until the last, my heart shattered into a million tiny unredeemable pieces. The trial was a constant thorn in my flesh, a circus that played out for two weeks. When he was acquitted, when he walked into my arms, I shuddered, said a little prayer, hoped I’d never go through the horror again.

I was wrong.

Two years later, we went through the same thing again. Only it was a different courtroom, a different judge, a different prosecutor, a different defense lawyer, a different victim, a nine-year-old.

I put on a good front, said over and over again that my husband was being framed. He loved little girls; how could he sodomize them? But in my heart, in that secret place you can never lie to yourself, I began to doubt. How could he be accused not once, but twice?

I’d look at Sarah, almost eight then, and shudder with revulsion at the thought of a pedophile doing to her the unspeakable things Matt was being accused of. It was at that time that I made a vow to myself. I’d go after the nut myself, wouldn’t wait for a court of law to judge him guilty.

Again, Matthew was acquitted. Again, we went home.

But my heart no longer trusted him. When he touched me at night, my heart could balloon and swell against my chest, and I would feel like I was suffocating, like I was drowning in a black, murky sea. And in the daytime, suspicion dodged each and every one of my waking moments. If he went into Sarah’s room, I was right behind. If he sat to help her with her homework, I hovered nearby.

This night, I hold a sobbing Sarah in my arms. She heaves sob after agonising sob, floods the front of my shirt with warm salty tears.

“He tweaked my breasts…he ran his hand through…through my hair.”

Something breaks loose within me, a consuming rage that sets my stomach afire. “Shh.” I tell her. “It won’t happen again. I’ll see to it it doesn’t.”

She cries harder. My own tears taste funny, like the distillation of several dangerous liquids. I wipe them, determined not to cry. Yet I cry more.

When Sarah is spent, when there are no more tears to cry, I promise her yet again. and mean it with every fibre of my being. “It won’t happen again.”

From my knife rack, I make a selection. The biggest. The sharpest. The shiniest.

I hide the knife in my apron, and wait for Matt to come in.