Posted in Contemporary, Life commentary, Short story

Not anymore

Not anymore

© Folakemi Emem-Akpan

 

I stepped into the cool foyer, relieved to be home after a very long day of negotiations and tantrums. I could hear the faint whisper of a TV set, the dull roar of a toilet flushing, and Melinda’s snores.

 

These were the sounds of home, the sounds that I loved so much it made my heart ache. In the living room, George was multitasking as usual, watching the TV, facebooking, doing his homework. He waved to me from his seat and went back to his chores.

 

My heart froze inside of me, like it did every night. There was a time he’d be flying across the room, a time when he would entwine his skinny arms around my neck and pepper my face with sweet little kisses. Not anymore.

 

In the hallway, I cracked open the door to Melinda’s room. She was fast asleep, curled in the fetal position, her mouth slightly open, the room awash with the pings and pongs of her snoring. There was a time she’d stay awake till I returned from work, her hair smelling of fruity shampoo, her mouth of toothpaste. The smell of girly innocence. Not anymore.

 

In our room, my wife came out of the bathroom when she heard the door. Her face was scrubbed clean of make-up, her hair pulled back into a ponytail, her body in a modest nightie. In the past, she would be wearing fresh make-up, would be wearing a see-through negligee, would be waiting with a chilled glass of wine. Not anymore.

 

The sad truth I had to live with was that it was all my fault.

 

“Hi there.” Betsy reached up on her tippy toes and planted a chaste kiss on my cheek. I wanted to hold her close, to lose myself in her, to be one with her as before. Instead, I replied with a hi of my own and dropped my suitcase on the floor. As I loosened my tie, she told me my dinner was sitting in the oven, could she warm it up for me?

 

Betsy still did all the things a wife should, only that they were now empty chores. She cooked, she cleaned, she listened when I spoke, and we still had a sex life albeit a sporadic one. Everything was there. Everything but joy.

 

I couldn’t remember when the process started, but it must have been when I got the promotion three years ago. I was working hard, then harder, then hardest than I had ever done in my lifetime. Motivated by thoughts of being able to provide my family with all that they desired, I took on more responsibility than I was assigned, got home later and later, was too tired to sit up with my children, too tired to listen to them, too tired to appreciate Betsy, too tired to be a family man.

 

They tried really hard. The children were extra careful not to fray my already frayed nerves, Betsy gave me rub-downs to ease the tension in my back and forearms. I receded further and further into myself.

 

They got the message. The children found lives separate from their father’s, my wife’s bubble laugher finally faded into nothingness. I buried myself up to the neck in work.

 

The food was served, the water was poured. Betsy slipped under the covers, her back unconsciously turned to me. I ate slowly, not because I was savouring the meal but because my mind was a whirlpool of thoughts. I wished I could turn back time. Yes I would still have taken the promotion. But no, I wouldn’t have allowed my job to consume me. I wouldn’t have pushed my family away. I wouldn’t have.

 

I cleared the plate without even tasting its content, washed the plate and tray with warm water, finally climbed into bed beside my wife.

 

Even though she was asleep, I held her and promised that I would change things.

 

She did not hear me. And perhaps she wouldn’t have cared.

Posted in Christian fiction, Short story

Making Peace

handshake

 

My mother and father are both dying, one of cancer and the other of bitterness. They got divorced when I was five, and even though I am an adult now with kids of my own, I have yet to get to the root of their separation, to the meat of the contention.

Somehow, I am caught between the two of them. There is Mum with her soft words and her longing for reconciliation, and then there is Dad’s harsh words and frightful anger. And now, to further muddle the puddle, Mum’s terminal illness.

“Tina,” She calls feebly. Her face is devoid of colour, as white as her hair is, almost as white as the cool hospital sheets she rests on, “It won’t be long.”

I lean closer, noting for the first time that Mum’s favorite music is playing. She begs the nurses to play it every morning, and because her life’s requests and pleasures are very few now, they oblige her.

“It won’t be long.” She says again, exerting energy she doesn’t have, going on despite the strain, “My strength won’t hold out much longer”.

“Don’t say that.” The words automatically spring to my lips. In my head, I know she is dying. In my heart, I almost cannot accept it.

We are close but haven’t been for long. I lived with a paternal aunt after the divorce and was reunited with my mother when I was sixteen. I had brought resentment, anger and rebellion into our mother-daughter relationship, wondering why she hadn’t been my primary care giver when I was a child. The angst was too great to live under and I ran away when I was eighteen. I resurfaced, lived with dad awhile, ran away again, then returned home to Mum with a husband and daughter in tow.

Her arms had been wide open – open enough for the three of us. Open enough for me to learn how to love her. Open enough for me to hurt crazily when she dies.

“Tina, don’t fight it. I hardly can wait…” She gives in to a spasm of cough. Phlegm mixed with blood drip out of the side of her mouth.

There is a strong smell of death in the air.

“Mum, are you okay?”

She sighs. “I am not. Feels like I’m being eaten alive from inside…” She forces a smile, “but I will soon be out of the pain. Tina…your father?”

I know where her question will lead, so I answer quickly. “Still the same.”

Her eyes cloud over and I see anxiety there. “I wronged him once…I wronged him, Tina. But I begged for his forgiveness. I begged God too. God forgave me but James hasn’t…” Another racking cough and more blood and spittle.

“Mum, stop!” I shout, willing this frail woman to live, willing to pay any price for her life, yet knowing it was only a matter of time before death pulled the curtains.

“You need to tell him, Tina. He must forgive me…for his sake. I’ve made my peace with God and I’m ready…I’m ready to go meet him. Your father is not ready…tell him…”

I know she’s right. I know this without saying, because my parents are as different as day and night. But my mission now is to calm Mum; and to calm the wild galloping of my heart.

“It’s okay, Mum. You need to rest.”

“Tell him, honey.” And with that, she rests back, sighs and closes her eyes.

I breathe an audible sigh of relief, feeling my heart begin to return to a normal beat now that she is resting.

I must have fallen asleep as well because the sound of the heart monitor wakes me, bearing the sound of the imminent.

“No.” I console myself. “It’s just a false alarm.” But I know it’s not. She’s resting calmly but even before I reach out my hand to touch her, I know she’s dead.

My eyes water with tears and the impulse to run out of the room seizes me by force. I sit awhile, forcing myself to see Mum as she had been a long time ago rather than the carcass she’d been for a year. She had been incredibly strong, and it’s my turn to be strong now.

I walk unhurriedly out of the room to the nurses’ room.

“My mother’s gone.” I whisper, afraid saying it too loud would dissolve me into a puddle of tears. I am not prepared to weep now. I will wait for the sanctuary of my room, for the solitude of my home.

The nurses, all-efficient, rise at once, pity in their eyes.

“I’m sorry.” One of them offers.

“It’s all right…” I start to say, but stop as I sight my husband running into the room. He is not properly dressed, and I wonder for a brief moment how he could have known that Mum was dead, so soon. Were we telepathic? Could he read my mind from several kilometres away?

“Tina…” he stops running when he sees me. Now that he’s up close, I can smell he’s brought bad news.

“I don’t want to hear it.” I hold out my hand. “Not now. Not yet.”

“But you must. I’ve been trying to reach you on your mobile. Tina…”

I move close to him, wrapping my arms around him. Whatever he has to say, I need his strength.

“It’s your dad, honey…your aunt called me. Tina…” He hugs me tighter.

I hold my breath, waiting, weeping on my inside.

“Tina…He’s dead. He…shot himself.”