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

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 Contemporary, Life commentary, Short story

Natural surrogates

(c) Folakemi Emem-Akpan

I stepped into the cool foyer, glad to be home, yet wary of the conversation that was bound to be.

The pit-pat of soft shoes from the staircase made me look up. There she was, her eyes shining with something that was between gladness and sadness. For as long as I’d known her, all of my sixteen years, she’d always been like that. When she looked at me, I could feel her tenderness, all of her love and something much more. Perhaps it was because of the uncanny resemblance between me and Danny, the man who was my brother yet my father.

“Hi there young man.” Mama stopped at the foot of the stairs and held out her arms. “Been expecting you quite a while. Thought you’d be earlier than this.”

“Had to meet up with some friends at the mall.” As I enveloped the soft little woman in my arms, a wave of tenderness tore through me. And despite where I’d been for the past five days, peace stole over me. Quietly, quickly.

“Come into the kitchen. Your pa’s making sandwiches.”

I knew there would be more than sandwiches and cold tea waiting in the kitchen. They would expect to hear all about Danny and his family. His pretty wife and his rambunctious twin boys. But most of all, they would want to hear about how it had gone between me and Danny this time.

Pa was sitting at the dinning table, stuffing bread into his mouth. Mama shot him a disapproving glance, to which he paid no mind. But he beamed at the sight of me. “Hello boy. Back too soon. I told your mother not to expect you for another hour or so. I knew you’d be at the mall.”

I dropped a quick kiss on his leathery cheek. He was sixty-one and Mama only fifty-nine, but life had not been very kind to them. High school sweethearts, they’d gotten married before they were barely out of their teens, before they’d had a taste of life’s difficulties. Then they’d waited more than half a decade to be parents. A mother at twenty-six, Mama quit work and devoted her life to training Daniel.

A quiet introspective boy, given to mood swings but never anger, it was a surprise when he came home one day from school, weeping like his heart had been blown to smithereens. His girlfriend had just told him she was two months pregnant and that under no circumstance would she attempt abortion. She also let him know that she wasn’t interested in mothering. She would have the baby and give it to him. He could do with it as he pleased.

A few days to his seventeenth birthday, Danny became a father. Tara was true to her word. Barely two weeks after delivery, her family moved away to start a new life. The new baby became the ward of Danny’s parents. Danny never held him, never spoke to him except it was absolutely necessary. When he turned twenty, Danny moved out and started a new life, one that did not revolve around his parents and his son.

“How’s your father?”

I did not reply. Rather I settled myself into a chair opposite Pa and got hold of a sandwich. Danny might be my natural father but that was about all. All my life, my grandfather had been my Pa, my grandma my Ma. With them, my life was just as it should be; quiet, secure. There were no great or wondrous adventures but at the same time no danger of emotional collapse.

Life was uncomplicated until I turned thirteen, until Danny’s wife decided I had to spend some of my holiday time with them. Thus, three times a year, I left the comfort of my home, traveled upstate to spend a hellish week with people I neither loved nor hated.

I kept my voice as bland as I could. “I saw Danny only once. He had several meetings. Aunty Becca and the twins said to say hello.”

I saw Mama’s eyes fill with tears. Things had not changed. Danny neither loved nor hated me. He was merely indifferent, couldn’t care less if I came to visit or not. But at least I knew him. What about the mother I’d never known.

“Welcome home, Son.” Mama said.

I nodded and blinked back tears.

 

Posted in Life commentary, Non fiction, Short story

Journeying through the valley – My hyperemesis story

 

Journeying through the valley – My hyperemesis story

 

© October 2018 Folakemi Emem-Akpan

I am a survivor; been through hell and back, proud of my war scars, but not quite willing to do it all over again.

It began early February; that slightly bitter taste in your mouth, those slightly swollen breasts, and those occasional flashes of nausea that clue you to the fact that you are most likely pregnant. The PT strips, all of them, confirmed my suspicion. But just to be doubly sure, I had a blood test done.

I had a week’s respite between getting the positive results to when the morning sickness hit.

I wasn’t new to the game; had been to the rodeo twice before. I had a twelve-year-old daughter and an eight-year-old son, and neither of the two previous pregnancies had been that smooth sailing. My first pregnancy, I was a wide eyed, naïve newly wed whose world was rocked to the foundation by the intensity of morning sickness when I fell pregnant.

I wasn’t used to bending over the bathroom bowl puking my guts out, or curling up in the foetal position on the bathroom floor begging for respite from the nausea. Working full time as a journalist, it was a terrible terrible time, and I was vomiting at least eight/ten times a day, whether I was home, in the office or on the field.

The second time around, I kind of knew what to expect, so the sickness and the nausea and the dizziness and the vomiting eight/ten times a day was no surprise. By this time, I was still working as a journalist but as a freelancer, so it was easier on me, as I could decide when to go out to source for stories and when not to.

With those pregnancies, the morning sickness lifted around four months, and life returned to a semblance of normalcy.

This third time, I didn’t really expect the same thing because I have been told over and over again, had read countless times that no two pregnancies are the same. I had no expectations, but certainly hoped that I would have an easier time of it. This was going to be my last pregnancy. I was much older, much more financially stable, had my own business, wrote my own bills, worked for myself. I was ready to put up my feet and enjoy every little bit of it.

How wrong I was.

The first week seemed it would follow the same pattern as the previous pregnancies. Frequent visits to the bathroom to throw up, and hyper salivation; that inability to swallow your own spit without puking your guts out. It all seemed normal; at least normal by my own standards.

The second week, everything changed. One day, I started to puke and couldn’t seem to stop. I seemed to spend all the time in the bathroom. No sooner would I be out that I would go back in, until sanity demanded that I get a puke bowl and place beside me so that all I had to do was to turn my head sideways and be sick into that bowl. It became necessary because I couldn’t walk back and forth to the bathroom anymore.

Have you ever heard of someone puking 40 times a day? Well, it happened to me. When I puked 30 times a day, it was a good day. When it got to 51 times (as I counted once), it was a very bad day. 40 times a day was the average.

No off days, no weekends, no rest. Everyday puking. Everything made me puke. My own saliva. Chewing gum. A sip of water. The smell of perfume. The smell of food cooking. Even sudden movement made me puke.

One day after puking blood and having no energy to stand, I curled up on my living room floor, asking for God to take the pain and the misery away. That’s where my mother met me and carted me off to the hospital. I was barely five weeks pregnant, had dropped from my pre-pregnancy weight of 65kg to 50kg, couldn’t walk unsupported and couldn’t even hold a sensible conversation because talking tired me out.

That was the day I was officially diagnosed with hyperemesis gravidum.

A quick definition: Hyperemesis gravidarum (HG) is a pregnancy complication that is characterized by severe nausea, vomiting, weight loss, and possibly dehydration. Signs and symptoms may also include vomiting many times a day and feeling faint. Hyperemesis gravidarum is considered more severe than morning sickness.[

This definition that I have given (from Wikipedia) is one of the milder definitions of hyperemesis. To get a better understanding, imagine what morning sickness feels like in a normal pregnancy. Now multiply that awful feeling by twenty, all day long, no respite.

I had a three day stay in the hospital where I was pumped full of fluids and received anti emetic medication. The fluids brought colour back to my cheeks and gave me a semblance of strength I’d not had in weeks. The anti-emetic did not work. Even as I received the fluids, whatever food came in through my mouth ended up leaving through my mouth too.

I got discharged after three days and promptly fell into the waiting arms of sickness again.

Here’s how HG affected me:

Ptyalism; the inability to swallow my own spit without feeling nauseous or throwing up. This means I constantly had a bowl beside me to spit in, and a closed bottle whenever I went out. The salivation did not let up, and I often woke at night feeling like I was about to drown in my own spit.

The inability to drink water: Yes, I couldn’t even drink water without vomiting. I had to resort to taking very little sips per time. A surefire way to vomit was to drink a quarter cup full of water, and everything would come back up. I couldn’t even sip room temperature water. My water had to be freezing cold with pieces of ice floating in it, if it were to stand a chance of staying down.

The inability to eat food and drink water at the same time: Another sure-fire way to vomit was to eat and drink water at the same time. So, I resorted to drinking water first, then eating whatever I had to eat after and making sure I didn’t as much as sipped water for the next two hours.

Vomiting everything: There was virtually nothing that would stay down. As soon as food entered my mouth, it almost always came back out. Even when I didn’t eat, I would still vomit. If I chewed gum to stop my salivation for a while, the sweetness of the gum would make me throw up. In the very early days, even swallowing air sometimes made me vomit and I averaged about 40 times a day. Once I passed the first trimester, average puking per day moderated to about 20 times.

Nausea: Nausea is different from vomiting, and in my case was much more dreaded than the actual vomiting. Nausea is that feeling that you are about to be sick that does not relent, that does not let up until the minute you submit to the urge and throw up. The terrible thing is that you can be nauseous without it ending in being sick, and that nausea is a very terrible place to be in. And to be nauseous every waking hour is a hell I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.

Vomiting blood: If you have never vomited blood before, it can be quite scary. My very first time of vomiting blood scared the hide out of me. By the second, third, fourth, fifth time, I was no longer as surprised or as scared. The doctors explained that the lining of my stomach was bruised from the constant squeezing and contractions of puking and sometimes, that bruised lining would bleed, hence the redness in my vomit. The blood was never much, and was never quite red (more of a brownish or wineish tinge) but I always knew when I was about to throw up blood. First, I would get this pinching feeling in my throat and lungs, then in my ears. And the only way to relieve it was to vomit; and there I would see the blood.

No smells please: My husband’s perfume became public enemy one. Even if I was sleeping and he sprayed perfume, I would bolt out of sleep feeling sick, sometimes choking. After a while, he had to go out of the room and into the living room to spray his perfume. Even then, the smell would carry and I would pinch my nose closed until the worst of it had passed. There was a policy of no spraying of air fresheners, always closing the kitchen door whenever cooking was going on there (especially the smell of noodles), using very little detergent to wash clothes so that the smell didn’t carry too much. A whiff of something, whether pleasant or otherwise, was enough to get me puking.

No motion: Nausea can be complicated by movement and HG made it so that movements made me sick. After eating, I had to stay in one position for at least thirty minutes to increase the chances of keeping it down. I would practically freeze into position, afraid to even as much as turn my head. And car rides were hell. I felt every bump, every rise, every pothole in my innards. For the few times I went out in a car (I couldn’t even drive so I had to be a passenger always), I always went with a coverable puke bowl, that I could be sick in and then push under the seat until I got to a place where I could properly dispose of the smelly contents.

Dizziness: I had never felt so dizzy in my life. Standing up too quick, sitting down too fast, turning my head too soon made me feel dizzy.

Lethargy: I have never been a lazy person in my life, and when HG hit, it hit in all of its lethargic glory. I would lay down on my bed, psychologically encouraging myself to get up and go to the bathroom or get up and go take a bath. The task I needed to do might require nothing more than 10 minutes, but I would have to encourage myself for nothing less than 2 hours before I could get up to do it. To walk to the bathroom and take a bath needed more psychological prodding than I could handle and I am ashamed to admit there were two/three days I didn’t take a bath. When I did muster enough strength to get to the bathroom, I had to sit on the edge of the bath up to get through the ordeal. Days when my husband was at home, he sometimes had to bathe me. Also, my laptop would gather dust for days, sometimes weeks on end. Running your own business, you never get off days or sick days, and even though I worked from home, a lot of things needed my attention. I would take calls, put the caller on hold while I puked into my bowl. Then I would wipe off my mouth and continue the conversation. Clients don’t want to deal with business owners who appear weak, so my energy was conserved for those calls. I would put life and enthusiasm and force into my voice, and not one of these people ever got an inkling that I was going through a personal hell. I also work as a freelance editor and writer, and those nine months, I had to turn down so many writing projects my bank account knew It was missing something. An avid book consumer, I read an average of three new books per week. During this period, if I got to finish one book in three weeks, it was a record. My brain was active. It was filled with ideas. My brain wanted to read, wanted to work, wanted to fire. But my physical strength couldn’t just match up with my mental strength, and I would lay there, my brain working feverishly, but my body unable to carry out the demands of my imagination.

Dental issues: Of all my family members, I have always had the need for more dental care, being more susceptible to cavities than all the others. During this journey, I learnt that journeying through HG while having prior and underlining dental problems is no joke. The stomach is full of gastric acid whose job is to break down food enzymes. Now, when you bring back food that has gone into your stomach, it comes back not alone but with gastric acid and this does a number on your teeth and gums. Combined with the fact that I wasn’t brushing regularly, I had to pay two very unpleasant visits to the dentist during this period to fill cavities that wouldn’t stay filled. The filling would crack and break and fall into my food, and the pain would begin. The last cavity fell out when I was about seven months pregnant and I chose to bear the pain of it until after delivery. But it wasn’t fun.

Insomnia: The only thing that made all the ugliness of HG go away was sleep. When you’re sleeping, you’re not sick or nauseous, and it was a glorious time to forget it all. But I just couldn’t sleep. I wanted to sleep. I wanted that blissful oblivion, but couldn’t get it, couldn’t attain it. I would lay there, awake while everybody slept, exhausted and fully aware of all the aches and pains of my body.

Now. Moving on from hyperemesis, I also had some other trying issues. It seemed every side effect of pregnancy seemed to want to make their abode with me. From month two onwards, I had tail bone pain. There was no painkiller for this and this means I was in agony for seven months. We tried massage, hot water therapy, cold water therapy, everything that could be tried. The pain meant that I couldn’t stand for long. It meant I couldn’t sit for long either, so I was always alternating between sitting down, laying down and standing up. It didn’t help. The pain also meant that I had to walk very slowly. Moving up and down the stairs in my house was a chore and there were times I didn’t come down from my room to the living room for days.

Throughout this trying period, Google was both a friend and an enemy. There is virtually no information under heaven you can’t find on google, and I became an instant authority on HG. What I discovered was frightening. Online, I read the stories of women who had gone through the same valley that I was going through. I read of triumphs and failures. I read of women whose HG resolved in the first trimester, and of those very few who battled HG the whole nine months. I read of women who had to have PICC lines in throughout through which their food and nourishment was delivered. I read of women who had ten and more hospital stays in the course of their pregnancies. I read of women who were so sick they considered terminating their pregnancies, even though the pregnancy was planned and the baby very much wanted. I triumphed with the triumphs, and I sorrowed with the losses.

I heard all kinds of opinions. Some felt I was just being lazy. I wasn’t the first woman to be pregnant, was I? And it wasn’t even my first baby. Some attributed my being sick to my advanced maternal age (I wasn’t a spring chicken by any means). I took it all in stride. What was harder to swallow was the assumption on behalf of some that my faith wasn’t strong enough. A born-again Christian, I profess faith and have enjoyed divine health for years. For more than fifteen years, I haven’t visited the hospital except for deliveries, dental interventions and annual checkups. To be so confronted with illness was unexpected. I prayed. I cried out to God. I lay myself bare before Him. I put all of the faith I had, or thought I had, on the line. Yet I was still sick.

And unlike most HG cases that resolve by 20 weeks, I was one of the unlucky ones who bore the full brunt of it for the whole nine months. At the end, I wasn’t puking 40 times a day anymore, but was averaging 8 times. And the very last time I spat in my spit bottle was after Israel was born, right there on the delivery table.

Why this story/article?

First, it serves as my catharsis, my exhale after the long inhale of pregnancy. Imagine what it feels like when you hold your breath for so long you feel you are about to die. Imagine the sweet release when you finally exhale. This is how I feel right now. All the emotions I felt, all the feelings I felt that I couldn’t express as at that time, herein is the expression.

Secondly, I write because I write about every major event in my life. Whether I decide to share my writings with others is another matter entirely, but I write whether I am happy, sad; jubilant, crushed; whether on the verge of success or failure. I write because writing is like fire shut up in my bones. It must find a way out.

Thirdly, I write because of my darling Israel. Now that he is here, he is worth the nine months of hell. They put him on my belly the moment I pushed him out, and as my hand reached out to stroke him and as he let out that indignant wail every new mother wants to hear, I fell in love. I had loved him from the moment I knew I was pregnant, but this was another kind of love. He was real; he was here; and he was mine. I fell in love irrevocably, and my heart is forever bound with his, just like it is with my two older ones.

But would I do this again, if I had been told at the very beginning that the journey would be so emotionally arduous and physically debilitating? I don’t think so. And that’s why I thank God daily that I didn’t have a clue that I would be so sick. If I had, I would probably never had attempted to get pregnant, and then Israel wouldn’t be here. So, thank you God, for keeping me in perfect oblivion.

Fourthly, I write for my family. For my husband who was a bulwark of strength; whom I had never seen to be so tender in all of our thirteen years of marriage. I write for my husband who would encourage me, and bathe me, and come home with all kinds of fruits and food, encouraging me to just take a bite.

I write for my older kids. They emptied bowl after bowl of vomit. They curled up on the bare floor with me and cried with me. They bought treats with their own money and coaxed me to eat. They effectively lost their mother for those nine months because I couldn’t cook, couldn’t help with their school work, could hardly speak to them. I write because I am ecstatic to be their mother once again.

I write for my mother, who cooked meal after meal, and brought them to me. She cooked not just for me, but for my family, so that we could retain a semblance of normalcy. For my husband’s birthday, she made a feast and brought it to my door, so I didn’t have to cater to the few visitors we had. In those nine months, we made a full transition from a mother/daughter relationship into a friendship. How glad I am of her friendship.

Finally, I write as an apology to two sets of people.

I write in apology to every challenged Christian who’s been judged by other Christians as not being prayerful enough, not holy enough or not with enough faith to get that problem solved. I find that we Christians are about the most judgmental people alive. We tend to think that if someone has a problem and can’t get hold of a solution, he must either be a closet sinner or a faithless Christian. I used to be one of the people who thought that way until I went through my own valley. Through it all, I never questioned my Christianity and God’s love towards me, but I questioned whether I had enough faith. If the Bible has said that we can with faith as tiny as a mustard seed move mountains, why wasn’t I moving the mountain in my path. I will never understand why HG decided to pitch its tent with me, but perhaps it was for me to get a better understanding of the prejudice and silent criticism faced by challenged Christians.

I also write in apology to every pregnant woman who has symptoms and complaints no one else seems to understand. Our society has a way of labelling a sick or complaining pregnant woman as being just plain lazy. We are fond of asking if they were the very first woman to be pregnant. Now, I realise that if its not your body, you just don’t know. We have no right to question a woman’s unique symptoms. Is it your body? If not, how can you tell that she’s exaggerating. Quite the opposite; a lot of us tend to keep quiet and suffer in silence because we don’t want to be labelled as whinny. Even in hospital settings, even face to face with our doctors who are supposed to be serving us, we hold back information. We don’t speak up because we’re told, “it’s just a sign of pregnancy”. I want to encourage you. Speak up. Ask questions. Say how it is. Refuse to be intimidated.

My journey through the valley of hyperemesis gravidum produced a most bountiful fruit; the fruit of a baby boy whom I have fallen helplessly and forever in love with. And my journey through this hell has taught me patience, compassion, and a renewed appreciation for family and loved ones.

For this, I am eternally grateful.

Posted in Contemporary, Life commentary, Short story

A love story

A love story

© Folakemi Emem-Akpan

Once upon a time, I loved only one woman. These days, I love four. And I do this with an all-consuming passion, a burning ferocity and an unwavering knowledge that I can, would kill for any or all of them.

At the threshold to the living room, I pause for a bit as I am wont to do these days and drink in the scene before me. Thе living room is a mini war field, a combat zone of toys, discarded homework, make-up, chew toys for the dogs, and two bikes. Julia is sitting in the midst of it all, her eyes glued to the TV set.

There’d been a time, when Julia was the only woman I loved, that she’d have fainted at the sight of such disarray and chaos. But time and a passel load of kids has mellowed this woman. And I for one, like what she has become.

“Hi there.” I finally reveal my presence and pick my way through the debris on the floor. When I reach the sofa, Julia clears a space for me by pushing a load of clothes to the floor. Laughing, I drop into the seat beside her.

For us, there is no need for words. Though she is still riveted on the TV, her right hand finds a way into mine, a silent acknowledgement. Just being in this environment, sitting close to Julia, relaxes me like nothing else can. Ten hours a day in a suit and tie, wheedling and dining clients or expounding on a legal theory in a courtroom. Then this, the chaos and utter loveliness of my home.

I can hear Grace and Matthew before I see them. “I get first dibs.”

“No you don’t.” Continue reading “A love story”

Posted in Contemporary, Life commentary, Short story

Two times over

Two times over
© Folakemi Emem-Akpan

Her heart is a giant vise in her chest, pumping so hard she will not be surprised if it caves a hole through her stomach. Her mouth is dry, her breath coming in puffs that evaporate right in front of her.

Julie holds the home kit up, counting off the seconds. When the blue line appears, she begins to weep, a jagged broken sound that comes from deep inside her belly.

When she is done, she looks at herself in the mirror. There are no changes yet, but she knows there will be plenty in the coming month. She hopes she’s sick a lot. She hopes she spits disgustingly, and blows up. She wants everyone to know she’s pregnant.

At thirty-nine, nine of which she’s been married to Ubong, being with child, and naturally at that, is an amazement, a miracle, a misnomer.

Opening the bathroom door quietly, she heads for their room at the end of the hallway. Ubong is still sleeping, oblivious to the news she’s going to share, to the joy that is bubbling in her heart.

“Sleepyhead.” She yanks the blanket off his head and begins to tickle him. He bolts out of sleep laughing but trying to look stern.

“What is it now, Julie? I expect you’d grow up by the time you’re sixty.”

“Actually I get to grow up now, seeing that I will soon be a mother. And you, daddy had better get up and get ready for the day.”

He stares at her, his mouth slightly opened. Then he pulls his lips shut and smiles a broad smile, one that is almost as wide and as warm as the rising sun.

“They called?” He asks as he gets off the bed. She can see his heart beating a staccato through his thin pajamas top. “We got through?”

“No, they didn’t call.”

The disappointment is a tangible thing in his eyes, clouding them so completely they turn almost black. He’s about to reprimand her about the costliness of her joke when it hits him.

“They didn’t call?”

“They didn’t.” She replies softly, the tears flooding her eyes again.

They was the orphanage. For eighteen months, they’d been on the waiting list to adopt, the decision made and sealed when a gynecologist told them they would never have children of their own. Three months ago, they’d moved to the top of the list, waiting with bated breath each day, wondering if that would be the day they got to be parents.

The nursery is ready, done in different shades of brown, as they are unsure what sex of child they would get. Julie’d wanted to use purple but Ubong said it was too loud. The brown was actually very nice and Julie spent several hours each day there re-arranging things, wondering, imagining what it felt like to be a mother, how it would feel to nurture a child.

“I bought a pregnancy kit yesterday.”

Ubong blinks and swallows hard. “I asked you to see a doctor. I thought you were ill or something.”

“So did I. Then the doctor asked if I might be pregnant. Didn’t want to face the embarrassment of hearing negative again from the lab, so I bought the kit.”

“You’re…are you…” He gulps, unable to complete his question.

“Yes. Yes. Yeah.”

He wraps her in something tighter than a bear hug, his eyes leaking, his mouth unable to close. Then he pushes her away. “The baby. I don’t want to hurt it.”

She rubs a hand over her belly. For two years, she’s given up the hope of being a natural mother, of ever suckling a child. Now…

The phone rings suddenly, a shrill sound that snaps her out of introspection. Ubong reaches for the receiver, says hello and listens intently, a look of complete stupefaction on his face. When the conversation is over, he faces Julie.

“The orphanage. There’s a baby girl, two weeks old. She’s ready to go. They want us to come for her today.”

“Jesus. Jesus!” Julie does not understand, cannot process what is happening.

“Our baby girl is waiting, Julie.”

Joy, chased by laughter, finally bubbles out of her throat. Suddenly she is racing out of the room. “I’ll get the baby’s things. You get the car.”

 

 

 

Posted in Contemporary, Girls, Short story

What’s in a name?

Today, Stephanie sheds the surname we’ve shared for twenty-three years. The surname that was originally, rightfully hers. The one I was given out of love.

She dances with her brand new husband; a dancing style that hasn’t yet been invented, for they are as close as two humans can ever hope to get. She is practically standing on his legs; they are barely moving, lost in a new world they’re about to explore together.

There’s a burning sensation behind my eyelids, tears I dare not release. I tell myself I’m not losing my sister, assure myself that a name change wouldn’t stop Stephanie from being the intimate sister I’ve always had.

What’s in a name anyway?

In my short life, I’ve had two last names. And in two weeks, I’d have a new one as well.

For a day, my surname was Brown, etched in calligraphy on the birth certificate the government hospital automatically issues.

A lot can happen in twenty-four hours. The day after I was born, my mother went home to be with the angels. For four months, she’d borne the weight of her pregnancy alone, had wept every night into her pillow, was practically heartbroken. Because her husband, the man that was my biological father, had been snatched from her in a car accident that made less and less sense as the days passed.

My mother had gotten pregnant with me in the same month that her sister, Aunty Mariah, became pregnant with Stephanie. Stephanie had arrived ten days before me.

Heartbroken, almost disconsolate at the loss of her sister, Mariah was desperate to have the last thing her sister had left behind.

So I came home to my family. I became Stephanie’s sister rather than her cousin. We suckled at the same breast, shared the same nursery, were dressed identically. Many a times, we were mistaken for twins.

When I was a year old, I legally became Catherine Agbaje.

“Are you all right?”

The memories dissipate behind my eyelids at the sound of our daddy’s voice. Over the years, he’s become mellow and sweet in that way only age can bring about. His hair is now more gray than black, and there’s a faint network of wrinkles at the sides of his eyes.

“Oh dad. It’s so hard to watch Stephanie go. I miss her so much already.”

He smiles his expansive smile. “You’ve always been the tender one. Of course you’ll miss her. It’s only natural you feel that way about a sister who’s shared your whole life with you.”

I turn to him and grasp his hand in mine. “How’re you and Mum going to cope when I leave too?”

A cloud seems to birth in his eyes. He blinks it away and leads me to a seat before he speaks. “It’s only natural for children to grow up and leave their parents. That’s how it works. I admit it won’t be easy but we’ll cope. We will cope.” He suddenly chuckles, “But you girls are sure funny. Your sister came to us ten days before you did. Now, she’s leaving two weeks before you. Aren’t you guys something?”

I blink back the rows of teardrops behind my eyelids. “Yes we are. And you guys are the best parents two girls could ever wish for. By the way, where’s Mum?”

“Doing what she knows how best to do.”

I laugh, a delicious sound. “In the kitchen, bossing the caterers around.”

We laugh together, quietly, companionably; the father of the bride, and the sister of the bride.

“Excuse me, but may I have this dance?”

I look up into the brown eyes of Sam, the man whose wife I’ll become in two weeks. I smile at him. “Of course.”

Posted in Contemporary, Girls, Life commentary, Short story

Shattered

(c) Folakemi Emem-Akpan

You were thirteen when you learned your family’s dark secret, and it just about tore you apart. That hot August afternoon, as you filled forms for the secondary school you would start the next month, you were dismayed when your mother carefully printed your sister’s name where her name should have been.

That evening, over a dinner of salty tears and a broken heart, you learnt that your mother was technically your grandmother; and that your sister, that one with the purple hair gone wild, was actually your biological mom.

You were conceived when she was fifteen, born when she was sixteen, in a place far far away from home, in a strange place where the pregnant girl and her mother had fled to and lived in during the time it took for her belly to swell and the baby to be pushed into the world.

Seven months after they were gone , they returned home…where the news had been carefully planted that your grandmother was unexpectedly pregnant, was going to be a mother again, and at the threshold of menopause too. What a miracle.

They returned with your baby self, whom your sister/mother gladly handed over. A year later while you were still in cotton diapers, she was out of the house, first living with an elder brother, then going off to the Uni.

You were the sixth person to learn the sordid tale. It had been a family secret for years, one that even cousins didn’t know about. The only people who knew the story were the father, the mother, the two elder siblings, and their wild child sister…who was now your mother. And now you.

You slept with the lights on that night, irrationally frightened that now that you knew the truth about who you really were, that you were going to disintegrate in the darkness and get blown away into the four corners of the earth. You curled yourself up in the foetal position, and sucked on your thumb for the first time in five years. You wet the bed.

The following morning, you almost couldn’t get out of bed. You were petrified that you were going to be sent to live with your sister/mother, who at twenty nine was still a wild child. She’d already had two husbands, another child, no job, and an insatiable liking for alcohol. You wondered why you couldn’t have been born to and of the elder sister, who was always crisply dressed, soft-spoken, a woman who was as elegant and as self-possessed as your grandmother was.

But you needn’t have worried. The family tried to keep on as usual, as if they hadn’t just shattered your life with a major secret, one that they fully expected you to now keep with them. They expected you to still call your affectionate grandmother mummy, your gruff grandfather daddy, and your purple-haired biological mother Sister Tobi.

You tried; you tried gamely. Perhaps if you pretended that the story had never been told to you, you wouldn’t continue to feel this tightening in your chest, this shortness of breath that overcame you from time to time.

You did try, but you lost your appetite for food and developed ulcers. Your mother poured gallons of milk down your throat per doctors’ orders and fed you food that was so spice-less it was borderline bland. She monitored your diet and made sure you took your drugs. But it didn’t help at all. The ulcer wouldn’t go away.

Then you developed the shakes as well. You would try to stand still, but you wouldn’t be able to; your hands and legs would shake and vibrate so much you had to find a seat. And even when you did find a seat, you had to sit on your hands to stop the world from seeing what a wreck you’d become.

For four months, you lived in a nebulous land, alternatively hating and loving the only mother you’d ever known, persistently indifferent towards your grandpa/father who’d never really had a use for you, and constantly hating Tobi, the wild child who had started this whole mess.

But thirteen is such a tenuous year on the road to adolescence, and there are far too many new experiences for a teenage girl on the cusp of womanhood to experience that you eventually moved forward with your life. Secondary school was a whirlwind after the ordinariness of primary school, and to your surprise, you fell among the popular group in school. Being popular took so much effort and people skills that you didn’t have the time to be nervous anymore. The trendy clothes helped; you had about a thousand of them, guilt-gifts from Mummy, as you continued to call your grandmother.

That harmattan season, you were distracted by the loud silence of your body. As it had done all your life, it disappointed you yet again. You had always been a late bloomer; late to crawl, to talk, to walk, and to start school. You never thought that your body had the capacity to disappoint anymore, but it obviously did. Your best friend in school resumed school that January wearing a bra, as did several other girls in your group. But there you were, quarter to being fourteen, and yet embarrassingly flat-chested.

Every morning, you would stand naked in front of your bathroom mirror and stare at your chest unceasingly, mentally urging it to do what it was supposed to do. But it didn’t. It would stare back at you, audaciously flat. Your whole life seemed to be collapsing.

And when Betsy flounced to school the valentine weekend of February and confided to you that she had seen her first period, you were so jealous of her, and so mad at the traitor of a body you called your own.

Then there was the drama that Easter holiday.  Tobi came home for the Easter break, accompanied by her three year old son and the third fiancé she would bring home in six years. Considering that the first two marriages had been failures, Mummy wasn’t in the least bit pleased and made her displeasure known in very strong words. Mummy wouldn’t let them into the house at first, but when the neighbours started to stare from their windows, she acquiesced and opened the door.

It didn’t help any that fiancé number three was easily fifteen years older than Tobi, also had an ongoing love affair with booze, was equally unemployed.

For the next four days, there were periods of stony silence followed by drawn out verbal wars between the two women. The man of the house was careful to keep out of the way with his numerous town and business meetings. He had never been one to stay at home, but he went out even more that Easter period. Fiancé number three also disappeared often, would return in the evenings with the smell of menthol trying unsuccessfully to mask the odour of booze.

You wondered what on earth he was doing there. You wondered what in the heavens Tobi was doing there. But you loved having Yomi around. You had always thought that he was your nephew, but now that you knew he was your brother, you searched for similarities between the two of you. You both had Tobi’s lopsided smile, and the three of you had lazy left eyes that followed the right ones only reluctantly. And with a pang, you realised that you were the luckier of the two. All your life, you’d had the stable comforting presence of Mummy and all he’d ever had was Tobi and her crazy ways.

You didn’t like Tobi one bit, and your animosity grew when she didn’t show the affection or remorse you expected she would after the secret was no longer a secret to you. She simply carried on as usual, walking around like she owned the whole world.

When she mistakenly splashed water on you as you sat at the dinning table one morning, you exploded. All your anger, all your frustration, all your sadness mixed up within you and erupted into a violence you didn’t know you had in you. You sprang to your feet and attacked her with spit and nails. And you had the element of surprise, so all she could do was cower and roll herself into a ball as you raked her back and spat at her.

“Animal…” You shouted and kept on shouting. Even when your father’s strong arms pulled you back and your mummy ran in askance, her voice high and shrill and questioning, you couldn’t stop screaming, couldn’t stop lashing out.

Somehow they subdued you, looking at you all the while like a wire had gone loose upstairs, like you had gone crazy without warning.

Tobi gave you a wide berth after that, and you were keen, uncharacteristically keen for another show down with her. But the chance never came, not even when you called a family meeting and demanded why your real parentage had been kept a secret from you. All Mummy kept saying was that it had seemed the best idea at the time.

They wouldn’t tell who your biological father was. They kept saying they didn’t know, that Tobi had been with so many boys that there was never any chance of knowing who it had been. In their eyes, you saw the lies. They were lying, and they knew it, and now you knew it. But they wouldn’t give you what you wanted. No one had the guts to tell you.

“Is it Uncle Jide?” You asked. He was your older brother, the only boy of the family, and the one that was desperately trying to distance himself from the mess that was this family. He rarely came for visits and called only once in a while. It didn’t help that his wife was from another ethnic group and didn’t like how loud you people could get in the Yoruba language.

They quickly denied it, all of them.

In the sanctuary of your room, you turned it over and over in your mind. The facts seemed to fit. If an older brother gets his younger sister pregnant, it is a thing of irredeemable shame. That had to be the reason why the secret had been kept for so long, and was perhaps the reason he didn’t come around so often. Perhaps he was embarrassed by you, ultimately reminded of his transgressions each time he laid eyes on you.

A week after they arrived, Tobi left with her crew. School resumed activities, and life struggled to return to normal.

Your body finally flowered. You woke one morning and your green bed sheet was stained a garish shade of red. Your undies and nightdress were soaked through as well. You let out a whoop of joy, of exhilaration. Finally, finally. You told Betsy first, then your mummy later that day.

Life had finally become kind to you, you thought, because your breasts started to bud shortly afterwards. Finally, at age fourteen, after having almost given up hope, you were blossoming into a woman.

Tobi, questions about your paternity, and the whole family drama receded into the far corner of your mind. Your body preoccupied you. You bought a bra with savings without Mummy’s knowledge because she’d said several times that you were not yet ready for a bra.

But your classmates wore bras, and it was the ultimate sign of maturity for a girl’s bra strap to peek through the collar of her uniform once in a while. So you bought a bra, a pink one. You hid it in your school bag at home and wore it in the girls’ bathroom in school every morning. Then you took it off before you returned home every day.

And suddenly, the first year of secondary school was over. Your obsession with your body seemed to pay off, because you soon really needed bras. And with the bras came the boys. They seemed to materialise out of nowhere. They asked you out. They gave you their phone numbers which you hid from your mother.

Then something strange happened. Your father took his annual leave, and instead of travelling to the village like he usually did, he stayed back. He was home more than he was out, which was infinitely strange. You’d never been close, never sat in the same room together alone before. You couldn’t remember ever having been bounced on his knees, or your cries soothed by his ministrations. Your life had never really entwined with his, and now you had an explanation for it. He wasn’t really your father; he was just a reluctant grandfather trying to keep his distance.

And suddenly he was there, seemed to be, and all the time too. He didn’t say much at first, but he was there. He bought you chocolates and cookies, and barbecued Suya, which he instructed you not to show Mummy because of the strict diet you were supposed to be on.

And so, some sort of secret relationship began between you and your father. When Mummy was around, he was as gruff and distant as he had always been. But when it was just the two of you, he mellowed, became softer somewhat, told you stories of when he was a child growing up in the village.

You actually started to like him. He wasn’t too bad for a reluctant grandpa.

The Saturday he attacked you, it was totally unexpected. You were still in bed, your blanket pulled up to your chins, awake but not, treading that shadowy state between dreaming and wakefulness.

You felt hands on your breasts, big warm hands that somehow transmitted their heat even through the blanket. You jumped out of bed, out of your skin when you saw him.

Your father stank of bourbon and sweat. His eyes were red, unfocused; and he looked like he had gone off the deep end. Fear ran amuck in your body, your adrenalin level shooting so high so suddenly your vision clouded and you almost passed out.

Then you hit him. With all the indignation of youth, you hit him. You whacked him across the face one, two, three times. And then you ran out of the room, screaming for Mummy, only to realise that Mummy wasn’t in, wasn’t supposed to be in. She had gone for a vigil at church and had planned to stay a few hours afterwards to help clean up the sanctuary.

You fled outside, into the coldness of the morning, into refuge.

Mummy found you there two hours later, with the sun now out and shining brightly on your half naked body. But you were shivering. Despite the warmth of the sun, you were shivering.

And you couldn’t, wouldn’t talk. At least not at first. Mummy carried you inside, wrapped you in your blanket and forced a mug of tea into you. When you were sufficiently thawed, you started to cry. The sobs came from somewhere deep in your belly and exploded out of you in huge gulps. You felt like you were underwater, that you were going to drown, that you were going to die.

But you didn’t die. You finally began to describe the horror of the dawn.

Your mother sat with her head in between her knees, and she seemed to want to disappear inside of herself. With a fresh wave of panic, you realised that she was crying. She’d always seemed like a fortress of strength, and to your knowledge fortresses simply didn’t cry. But she cried. She wept silently, her body shaking and quivering like she was exorcising a demon from within.

When she finally got up to go check, your father was gone.

The two of you curled up in your bed, both crying, both grieving, both distraught. Then she shattered your world yet again. With seven short words, quietly spoken, she shattered your world again; this time irrevocably.

“He is your biological father, you know.”

 

 

 

 

Posted in Contemporary, Short story

Two worlds

Two worlds

(c) Folakemi Emem-Akpan

 

The air felt deliciously warm, and my skin began to burn, a sensation I’d not felt in six years. In my country, it was always hot, seldom cold, and never freezing. Unlike Idaho where I was coming from.

 

I stepped into the arrival lounge, into the cool world of air conditioners and felt temporary relief. I was surprised that I had forgotten how it felt to be hot, sweaty, miserable.

 

Of course no one was waiting for me; no one knew I was arriving. For a minute or so, I lounged against a wall, watching the comings and goings around me, drinking in the scenery.

 

Even while I had been in Nigeria, it hadn’t been my scene. I hadn’t been rich enough to hobnob with the cream of the society, had never boarded a plane until that sunny day six years ago, had never even been to Lagos, the commercial nerve-centre of my country before then.

 

It began almost like a joke.

 

Walking the dusty road home from school, telling not-so-funny jokes to Bade, my best friend, I’d stepped on a floating piece of paper. Then I’d crumpled it to give it better weight and had kicked it the rest of the way home.

 

Later in the evening, as my mother fried gaari in the kitchen and my father sat in the low parlour with his drinking buddies, I’d searched for what to read in vain.

 

Our house contained no reading surprises. I didn’t have textbooks for school; I was lucky enough to even be in school. I was the first child, the only boy, and my father farmed extra hard, slaved all week long to send me to school.

 

I had a sharp mind, one that constantly agitated over what books to read, novels where I was swept to distant lands I’d never been, that I might never go physically. In the books that I borrowed from our meagre school library, I traveled to the prairie lands of the old USA, to Canadian canyons, to the Australian outback, to English castles and glades.

 

That evening, I stepped outside my room and immediately came upon the paper I’d kicked all the way home. I stooped, picked it up, unwrapped it.

 

It was a cutting from a week-old newspaper.

 

Students all over my state were invited to send in articles about the United States, the aim of the exercise being to examine how well read secondary school students were and how knowledgeable we were about other countries.

 

For the very first time in my life, I wrote an article, not because I at that time knew the prize involved, but because it felt liberating to commit knowledge to paper, to test the boundaries of my imagination.

 

I wrote late into the night, by candle light, the words tumbling out of places I never knew even existed.

 

The following day, I walked to Ilesha, the town nearest to us, the one that boasted a post office. When I slid my enveloped entry into the receiving tray, I felt free, unchained.

 

Four months to the day, a postman brought the letter that would change my life.

 

I was the winner of the competition, was invited to a dinner with the state governor in Osogbo at which ceremony I would be able to choose at which US University I intended to study.

 

A two-year long preparation, waiting to finish my secondary education, applying to schools that taught writing, being accepted at Idaho State University, buying clothes, attending press conferences with the governor who was determined to show the world the difference he was making in the life of an ordinary village boy with the aid of his wife who was a born American.

 

And then that day.

 

I waved goodbye to my parents and sisters in the village, travelled to Osogbo where I slept in the governor’s lodge and was presented with my passport and visa. The following day, I was driven to Lagos, put aboard a plane.

 

I arrived Idaho in December, in the deadest of winters, the land completely obscured by snow. I was cold, chilled to my bones, as I would be for the next six years. Despite winter coats, despite electric fires, despite everything. I guess I was too much of an African to be used to anything but the yellow sun.

 

Shaking my head as if to clear it of cobwebby thoughts, I drew myself back to the present. I must have been standing in the same spot for more than ten minutes. Because a man was staring strangely at me, shaking his head.

 

I picked up my box and stepped outside, into the waiting area of taxis.

 

“The airport hotel.” I said to a driver whose cap was pulled low over his head and who appeared to want nothing more than just sit where he was, doing nothing.

 

“A thousand Naira.”

 

Incredulity coloured the whites of my eyes. A thousand naira? Then I remembered he was not talking in dollars. One thousand Naira was only $8.33.

 

At the hotel, I gave him ten dollars, signed in at the concierge’s, and finally sank into the warm softness of the hotel bed.

 

I woke up the next morning to a yellow sky and a dish of white rice and palm oil soup. It was good to be home.

 

*

 

Six years in a foreign land where things worked as they should had wisened me. I looked at my village with new eyes. Dusty roads, more mud houses than concrete, little children that ran about naked or almost so.

 

The taxi stopped in front of my father’s house and I stepped out, paid the fare and walked hesitantly towards the front porch.

 

An old man sat there, cleaning his teeth with a piece of chewing stick, spitting at a dog that lay at his feet and refused to budge despite the missiles.

 

“Excuse me…” I began to say before I realised that the old man was not an old man at all; it was my father gone to seed.

 

“Baba?”

 

He looked up and squinted uncomprehendingly at me for a bit. Then his face blossomed into a large smile, full of yellow teeth.

 

“Gboyega?” He asked.

 

I hadn’t been called Gboyega in five years. One year of students and lecturers alike tripping their tongues all over my name at Idaho State had necessitated a change. To George.

 

“Yes Baba.”

 

He grabbed me around the waist and I was about to hug him back when I remembered that in Africa, in my village, children prostrate to their parents, not hug them.

 

I dropped to my knees, genuflected and allowed myself to be lifted up.

 

“You’ve grown so big. How are you? You never even said you were coming? You…Come, your mother is in the backyard.”

 

As usual, Mama was frying gaari, huge beads of sweat glistening on her dark face. When she saw me, she turned the shade of a colour hard to define, closed her eyes, opened then again, and asked, “Gboyega?”

 

Again I prostrated, again I was pulled up, again I was pulled into a warm embrace, one that smelled of cassava and sweat.

 

“Good God, see how you’ve grown.”

 

I’d not eaten gaari in all the time I’d been gone, and the smell of the one frying taunted my nostrils. I took some from the huge frying pan, transferred it to my mouth and ruminated on how heavenly it was to be home, even if it was for s short while.

 

*

 

It was no longer fun to be home. The relentless heat (and our house had no air conditioner, only the parlour had a rickety ceiling fan) was unbearable, and so was the tiny grits of sand that found their way everywhere; into my nostrils, underneath my clothing, in between my teeth and onto my tongue, into my hair.

 

Then there was the business of passing waste. I’d been born , twenty-five years ago, to the knowledge of our pit latrine, to the drone of flies as one did one’s business. Six years ago, I started unlearning my intimacy with the pit latrine. Got used to the water system.

 

The first day after I returned, using the pit latrine was an adventure. Two days later, it was an inconvenience. By the fourth day, it was a major irritation.

 

Our one TV, the one Baba bought after I left for the US, was black and white and had to be slapped severally before the picture would stop jumping.

 

In ten days, I wished I had not planned to stay for a month, was longing for the coldness and starkness of Idaho streets, the warmth of my bed-sit, the intellectuality of my fellow writing students.

 

On the eleventh day, Baba and I had a serious talk. He was the first to knock on my door in the morning, his perpetual chewing stick stuck in his mouth.

 

“Oluwagboyega.” He called me by my full name as I staggered awake. “I’ve been meaning to have this talk with you for a while.” He said as he lowered his body onto my childhood bed.

 

“Good morning Baba.” I managed to say as I sat up.

 

“I’ve been meaning to ask you. Are you planning to come and stay back in the village after you finish from school?”

 

I would finish school the coming year, was vacillating between staying back in Idaho and coming back to Nigeria. But never, not once had I considered coming back to the village. If I ever came back, it would be to Lagos. For heaven’s sake, what would a dramatic writer do in a village that seldom got newspapers?

 

I weighed my answer carefully. Coming back or not depended on many things that I could not yet tell Baba, one of which was Valerie. To a white, pampered girl, even Lagos would be a jungle. How could I bring her to Iperindo?

 

“I am still thinking about it, Baba.”

 

He scratched his head, cleared his voice and said the most unimaginable thing. “Because I was thinking if you were planning to move back here, you would have to pull down this house and build a more befitting one.”

 

I bit back on what would have been an abrasive reply and nodded in agreement, too sleepy to even contemplate argument.

 

*

 

I never stayed the whole month I’d intended to. Much as I loved my parents and my siblings, there was an unease that constantly sat on my shoulders. Of not fitting in, of not remembering the customs I was supposed to.

 

Twenty days after I arrived, I was on another plane headed towards the US, towards Valerie, towards life as I had come to know it.

 

 

 

Posted in Short story

Alone

open hands

January 4 1905

Oyo, Nigeria

 

She was pushed from a safe and dark warm place into coldness, into the waiting arms of the nearly exhausted midwife. They’d been waiting on her, been desperate for her arrival for more than three days.

 

For those three days, the cries of Kikelomo, her mother could be heard in the neighboring farm. The days were colder than usual and at night, her five older children could be heard speaking in low tones outside the delivery room. They were petrified that their mother would die, were shaken each time her screams rent the still night air, only went to bed when the last candle was put out.

 

On the third day, on a surprisingly warm Sunday afternoon, Bose was born. She was wrinkled, bald and her eyes were strangely bright, brighter than that of any baby the midwife had ever delivered.

 

She was an accident. Her father had wanted no more children yet couldn’t forgo intimacy with his wife. When she’d told him she was expecting a child, he’d smiled grimly and spat out the kola nut in his mouth. That was all he needed to do for her to know he wouldn’t care for the baby.

 

She was the fourth girl. Had she been a boy, her father might have viewed her birth differently, might have been glad to have two sons rather than one. But since she was a girl, he ignored her thoroughly, went out of his way to do so.

 

The day after her birth, her mother was back in the kitchen pounding yam and sweating over a pot of Egusi soup.

 

 

*

 

June 14 2008

Lagos, Nigeria

 

Exhausted from the walk from the bedroom to the living room, Bose holds on to the walls for support. She is slower than ever yet insists on walking by herself.

 

She settles her 103 year old frame onto her grandson’s sofa and clicks on the TV remote. TVs have ceased to be a source of amazement to her, for her daughter had bought one as soon as they were mass-produced. Today, Bose is consternated by DVDs, TiVos, and android phones.

 

“Mama?”

 

She turns at the approach of Maureen, her six-year-old great-granddaughter. Maureen is a striking image of Bose when she’d been a child growing up on her father’s yam farm. There is a bond between the two of them, an unspoken emotion that connects them in a way that no one else understands.

 

“Your legs are shaking, Mama.” Maureen folds herself into a chair opposite Bose and stares at her questioningly.

 

For the first time, Bose becomes aware that she is cold and that her sight is more blurred than usual.

 

“Perhaps I need to lie down awhile.”

 

This time she gladly receives Maureen’s help in returning to her room because she realises that she needs it. She leans heavily on the little girl and both of them slip at one time that Maureen misses her step.

 

In the room that now smells perpetually of an old person’s dying flesh, Maureen buries Bose underneath an avalanche of blankets. Yet the old woman cannot stop shivering.

 

“Are you sure you’re okay, Mama?”

 

When Bose’s nod gets lost in an onset of tremors, Maureen races out of the room, yells for her mother.

 

Bose jerks uncontrollably for a while, until the tremors fade, then stop. Her life flashes before her in cinematic blur. Being raised by an indifferent father, sold off into marriage at 15, the loneliness of her marriage, the redemption she’d found in her children, her husband’s death, her children’s marriages, her grandchildren’s birth, then the birth of her great grandchildren.

 

Suddenly, the images freeze.

 

She dies as she had been born.

 

Alone.