Posted in Girls, Short story

Susceptibility

(c) Folakemi Emem-Akpan

I don’t love easily and I don’t scare easily, thanks to a childhood filled with torment at the hands of permanently drunk parents who showed love to each other and to me with numerous ear cuffings and head knocks.

I was forty when I got married; it’d taken me that long to find someone I could be myself with. Maureen was twenty-eight, so petite her shape was almost like a child’s, with eyes so round and wide she seemed to be in a permanent state of wonder. But under that fragile exterior lay a woman of steel, a woman of strong and final decisions.

For the first time in my life, I understood what love was. I felt what love was. I breathed was love was.

I was forty-three when I became a father. Sarah has eyes as big as her mother’s, huge round dimples that are made for kisses. The first time I held her in my arms, I fell in love again. And I swore I would protect this little girl of mine with my life if need be.

For four years, I kept that promise. For four years, we lived a wondrous, tension-free, joy-filled life, all three of us.

Until that day.

For days, Sarah had been complaining of a full tummy, headaches and knee pain. She’d been throwing up her meals and there were purple marks all over her body. Her pediatrician sent us home with antibiotics which did not help at all. By the time we took her back to the doctor, she’d started to break out in night sweats and could not retain any meal that was not liquid in composition.

The diagnosis at the specialist’s numbed me to the very core. Leukemia. Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia. The fan in the room seemed to stop spinning, the clock seemed to stop ticking, the floor started to rotate. The doctor’s voice seemed to come from far away.

I had learnt love from Maureen and Sarah. Now, I was to learn fear.

As they dripped the poison which was to kill the bad white blood cells in her system, fear consumed me. What if she didn’t make it? How do you learn to unlove a child you’ve loved for four years?

As my baby lost her hair and even more of her appetite, as she lost her laughter and her Sarahness; as Maureen lost her wit and her wonder; I died a little each day.

I went through the motions. I was with Sarah each day as she underwent chemotherapy. I held her teddy to her chest when she was too weak to hold it herself. I peppered her feverish forehead with kisses.

In the dead of the night, I held Maureen as her body shook with uncontrollable sobs. I brushed her thick black hair. I made breakfast so she could rest.

And inside, I died a little each day.

In those terrible months, it came to me why some people choose to live lonely lives, why some people choose to die as old maids and old codgers.

It is because love is sometimes a burden too great to bear.

And then Sarah started to get better. The purplish marks faded and disappeared, the headaches lessened in intensity, she started to eat better. A month later, she was allowed to come home. Two months later, they could not find the cancer cells in her blood anymore.

Sarah’s hair grew back, although fluffier and not as dark. Life reverted to normal, almost.

It’s been two years now. Sarah is still in remission, but I have not lost my fear completely. I am always checking her skin for the telltale sign, always second-guessing myself when she does not clear her plate.

And now that we are expecting our second child, I worry about Maureen. I worry about pre-eclampsia, breech birth, post-partum depression.

Love, I say, is a burden, but a delightsome one and the only way to go.

 

Posted in Short story

God’s girls – Short story

God’s Girls

© Folakemi Emem-Akpan

 

Seven girls. Stair-step look-alike sisters, with the same enormous eyes, pink lips, and black hair. My daughters.

 

“Mommee, can we eat now?” Yemi asks, already reaching for the simple fare on the table.

 

“We always pray before we eat.” Funmi, the youngest of the triplets by two minutes replies, looking to me for affirmation.

 

“That’s right, girls. Now, who’ll like to bless the food?”

 

“Me, mommee.”

 

“Me.”

 

“No, it’s me…Mommee, remember you promised me. See, I’ve even learnt how to pray.”

 

I smile at Funke and nod my head. “Go ahead.”

 

She smiles back, “thank you Jesus for our food. Bless the hands that cooked it…and bless all of us too…”

 

Soon, they are lost in their food. My eyes travel over all of them, from Lucy, the eldest at ten to Funmi, the youngest at three. I try to look over them as dispassionately as a stranger would. Threadbare, passed-down clothes. Thin, but well-scrubbed faces.

 

Sighing, I return to my food. It’s little and can’t fill my rumbling stomach, but it’s all that’s left after dishing the girls’ food.

 

My thoughts turn to the girls’ father and his crooked grin. He’d smiled once and I’d fallen, heels over heads in love.

 

I’ve always wanted three kids. One girl and two boys. He’d told me on our wedding night.

We’ll try just once more. Maybe we’ll be lucky this time.  He’d said after the fourth girl was born.

 

Then the triplets. James came once to the hospital and that was the last I saw of him.

 

It’s as if he never even existed. He’d taken every scrap of his and moved out to God knows where. The older girls are beginning to forget him, and there’s not even a single picture of him to remind them. But I still remember him, his larger than life approach, his smiles…and the beatings…

 

Lucy’s voice startles me to the present.

 

“Take…” she says as she pushes her plates towards Funke. “I’m filled up.”

 

Before I can say a word, Funke quickly dumps the contents of her sister’s plate on hers.

 

“Lucy?”

 

“Honest, mum. I’m filled.” She starts to protest.

 

“But you had no lunch in school?”

 

“I’m okay…really.”

 

While cooking, I’d caught Lucy dropping something into my bag. It was the fifty Naira note I’d given her for her midday snacks. I wasn’t hungry, she’d said.

 

But I know she is hungry. I push my plate towards her. “Eat my food. I don’t feel like.”

 

“But mum…”

 

“No buts. Eat.”

 

Watching her devour the food, I know she’s starved. Only that she puts the needs of others ahead of hers.

 

I make my way to the kitchen, calculating how much we would need to get through tomorrow. My job as a seamstress pays very little, but I need to stay at home to take care of the children. But we’ll make do. My mother sent us four tubers of yam last week, and I still have some cans of soup, so food’s taken care of. There’s three hundred Naira in my purse…now three-fifty counting Lucy’s addition.

 

It seems I spend every minute sighing, because I do so now. The girls’ voice come to me faintly.

 

“We are all going to help mummy, Okay?” Funke says. “Tomorrow morning, it’s my turn and Yinka’s to say we aren’t hungry. Lucy, y’re supposed to help her in the kitchen…”

 

The tears I’ve been trying to stem all day now threaten to spill out of my eyes. Such precious kids. And who had taught them sacrificial living?

 

“James, you don’t know what you’re missing. They might be mere girls, as you used to say, but they are God’s girls.” I say softly to the almost bare kitchen. For the first time in three years, I am not angry at James. Instead, I pity him.

 

He is missing the warm embrace of our daughters. He is missing watching them grow in God’s fear. He is missing life at its finest.

 

“We might lack a lot of things, but we’re not poor.” I tell God, resting my back on the kitchen wall. “You’ve given me these wonderful girls and I’m going to spend my life loving them, mothering them, and pouring the abundance of your love into them.”

 

Tomorrow will come with its problems; unpaid school fees, unwholesome meals, and patched clothing, but we will make it. Resting on God’s arms just like we have always done.

 

In the meantime, I will be grateful for being mother to God’s girls.