Posted in Contemporary, Girls, Life commentary, Short story

Saving Dipo

SAVING DIPO

© August 2020 Folakemi Emem-Akpan

This time, you could not save him from himself.

You couldn’t save him from the law, like you had done a thousand times in the past.

The first time you rescued him, you hadn’t known that he needed rescuing, that he was anything like your father had been.

They looked so different – Dipo and your father. Fair skinned vs. dark skinned. Classically handsome vs. your average looking guy. He was as tall as the sun; your father couldn’t boast of 5’3 even in his tallest shoes.

It took the first blow to your face, less than two months into your relationship, over something as silly as you not picking his calls quickly enough, for you to know that he was exactly like your father. When he fell to his knees afterward and groveled at your feet, when he wept his soul out and confessed his demons to you, when he begged for your mercy, that he hadn’t meant to hit you, you knew he needed saving from himself.

And so you saved him.

You didn’t walk out as you had promised yourself that you would if a man raised his fists to you the way your father did to your mother. You flinched as he tenderly wiped your bruised cheek, and you trembled in his arms as he made love to you. What you didn’t do was leave.

He didn’t hit you for a long time. Then he lost his job, drank more, slept less, ranted at the boss who had it in for him.

He hit you again, four months after the first time. And he fell to his knees again, blamed it on the booze and his paranoia. And you saved him again. You did not call the police, and you did not leave.

It’s been three years now and you have lost count of how many times you guys have repeated the cycle of hit, grovel, forgive, hit again. When he is happy and feels on top of the world, light suffuses your whole being. And when he is morose and is antagonizing the world, the darkness takes you.

The thing is, you now have more darkness in your life more than you have light.

As he throws the broken shards of the whiskey bottle at you this dark, dark night, as he pummels you with bare knuckles later on, your spirit is overwhelmed and you weep desolately because you know that you can no longer save him. You cannot keep on saving him because someone else needs your salvation.

Once Dipo falls asleep, you tiptoe around the apartment, throwing the absolute necessities into a duffel bag.

Finally, in the living room, you lay on the floor for the longest time, your flat bare belly against the cool linoleum floor, your heart breaking inside of you. When you finally curl yourself into a ball and reach for the phone to call the police, your tears almost blind you.

You love Dipo so much, but you love this new life growing inside of your womb even more.

You dial the police.

 

 

 

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 Girls, Life commentary, Short story

Feyikemi

Feyikemi

(c) Folakemi Emem-Akpan 2020

Arms folded across my chest, seated in a locked and rigid position because my back wouldn’t budge, my heart beating in a pit-a-pat music of anticipation, I await the birth of my seventh child. I am seated on the rock at the far edge of the compound, away and removed from where the action is taking place, but I can still hear every land-shattering scream, every soul-searing cry from my wife.

They say it’s bad luck for a husband to be present as his wife pushes their child into the world, the same way they say it brings bad luck for the woman to cry so much during the painful process of delivery. I am aware that there are hardened leather strips thrust in between Feyikemi’s teeth so that she can bite on them instead of screaming, but I am also aware that my wife has a very low pain threshold.

It is a wonder she has done this six times in the past, is going at it the seventh time. And the stakes this time are much higher for both of us, for my entire family, for the posterity of the Akangbe clan.

“Somebody help her…Somebody, please make this stop…” But there is no one to hear me, no one within miles of where I sit. In this village, childbirth is such a common occurrence that the world does not grind to a halt because of it. My brothers have gone on to the banana farm to put in their daily quota of work, as has my father. I was expected to come along as well, but Feyikemi had woken up this morning with childbirth pains, and I couldn’t for the very life of me go to work.

The wives of the compound have gone about their daily activities too, two of them gone down to the river with the children to wash clothes and cooking utensils. My mother and the last wife are attending to Feyikemi, helping her usher our child into the world.

I bite my fingers down to the quick, cover my face with my palms, pull at the greying strands of hair in my beard, wipe the sweat off my brow that shouldn’t be there because it is a bitterly cold morning.

The stakes are high. This baby is the one to determine the future.

As the eldest son of the family, I was expected to produce the direct heir, the son who would pass on the family name to his own progeny, the chosen one who would keep our family stories and heritage alive. Of course, the sons born to the other brothers would do the same, but my son was to be the focal point, the main one, the first grandson born to the first son.

Only that I have failed so far to produce a male heir. Feyikemi has been with child eight times, brought forth six children alive, all of them females. When our first child entered the world, feet first, head wailing in a cry of indignation, my mother brought her to me wrapped in cocoyam leaves and dripping with the obligatory palm oil. My mother had been full of encouragement, and the sides of her eyes shimmered with tears.

“Next time. Next time, it’ll be a boy.”

She understood well the disappointment of having a girlchild as your first, of burying your disappointment under a well-disguised cloak of excitement.

The second girlchild arrived eleven months after the first, and there were those words of encouragement again. “It will happen, Ayomiposi…it will.”

Two days later, my younger brother’s wife delivered twin boys. It was like a blow to my person, an effrontery to my manhood and seniority. And it didn’t help that Mama spent more time in his hut caring for his wife and the boys than she did in mine caring for my new daughter. After all, sons are everything and girls are only good to be raised and sold off into marriage.

From children three to five, Mama lost her encouragement, couldn’t summon the words anymore. She would simply tell me, “It’s a girl” and leave me to my thoughts, to my shame, to my inner turmoil.

Feyikemi begged me then to stop sleeping with her, to quit trying to get her pregnant almost as soon as she is relieved of one child.

“My body is giving out, my love. I can’t do this anymore.” She pleaded.

But she did do it again, because of her love and respect for me, and because she wanted me to be able to hold my head high in my father’s compound once again.

After she pushed our sixth daughter into the world, she had wept disconsolately, her back against the wall, her face haggard and sunken like an old woman’s. Her spirit was broken, her wounds unhealable.

And then Mama and Papa came in that dark night to see us, the lantern they brought with them outshining the one we had hung on our wall. Our daughters, aged one through eight, were all in different stages of sleep, curled up on the mats, one of them sucking hard and furiously on her thumb. The new baby was swaddled against Feyikemi’s bosom, her eyes awake and looking intently at her mother.

“We have to do something to revert this misfortune that has been visiting you and your wife.” Mama began, her eyes huge and white in her dark face.

“There is a traditional way to set things right, a way to give you the son for your progeny.”

My heart sank to the bottom of my feet then, because I knew where she was headed, knew which traditional practice she was about to call upon. I buried my face in between my knees, let out a wail of anguish.

“It must be done.” Papa finally spoke, and I could hear the desperation in his voice. “Tejumade has proven himself to be quite the man. We will speak to him, command him if we have to. And Feyikemi must begin to wean the baby, begin to get herself ready.”

How do you wean a two-week-old just so her mother can get pregnant again as soon as possible? And how do you sit outside your hut, waiting while your little brother went in to your wife? How do you start to process the unfairness of it all?

After they had left, Feyikemi trembled in my arms all night long. She was long past tears, but the heartbrokenness was there in the way her mouth hung agape, in the way her eyes looked like they were a ghost’s, and in the way her hand trembled uncontrollably each time her hand stroked the new baby’s head.

Because it is the way of our people, we did as we had been asked. I never for once sat with Tejumade, the little brother, who had fathered himself four sons by then, to discuss what was to happen and how. And I never spoke about it with Feyikemi again.

Mama made the arrangements, helped wean the new baby until Feyikemi saw her blood again, carted off the children with her and sent me on errands every time Tejumade visited my hut.

I had expected one or two visits, three at the max, but fate has a terrible way of rubbing pepper into your gaping wounds. After each visit, I would watch Feyikemi check herself for signs of pregnancy, listless, trembling, wanting so desperately for the ordeal to be over.

But the blood always came. And the visits continued.

Food started to taste like sawdust in my mouth, and even though I knew Feyikemi detested the process as much as I did, I dragged her into unnecessary fights. And there was tension between Tejumade and me as we worked alongside each other on our family’s banana plantation. The plantation is supposed to become mine, and I am expected to chip off little pieces of land as gifts for my brothers so that they can continue to sustain their families after our father passes. But I might never even come into my ownership, not without a son to pass it all on to.

Tejumade would dip his head in the customary offer of respect he is expected to show me, but the camaraderie we used to have is gone. We are now strangers, linked by blood and a sense of family duty. This is what your brother trying to help you father an heir does to families.

And then Feyikemi gets pregnant.

There is joy because the ordeal of the visits is over, excitement that perhaps this could be the child that changed our lot in life. And there is a fear that permeates the air, a fear that it could have all been for nought.

So here I sit this bitterly cold morning, waiting for news. The frigidness has begun to affect my fingers such that I can no longer feel them. An ant climbs my wrappers and begins a climb up. I watch it, fascinated by its doggedness and determination.

My mind is taking me back towards the birthing hut, and there is panic bubbling somewhere in my heart. But I concentrate on watching the ant, anything to get the mind off of what is happening, of what is to come.

And then there is the shrill cry of a newborn baby.

I bury my head in my hands, petitioning the gods of fertility to look down on me, on us, with eyes of mercy this time. There are tears in my eyes that a man should not be seen shedding, and there is a bitter taste on my tongue.

Then, the hesitant tap of fingers on my back.

I rise slowly, into the dark, bottomless eyes of my mother. Only that these are not eyes that I am familiar with. These eyes are dark, melancholy, full of regret, of pity, of shame. These are the eyes that make your heart burn and explode into flames.

“It’s a girl.” She says simply.

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, Short story

In Everything

 

In everything

© Folakemi Emem-Akpan

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

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

“Come in Theresa.”

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

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

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

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

“Is that what he did?”

“Yes. Am I his housekeeper or something?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Andrew loves you, you know.”

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

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

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

Marie smiles back, says nothing.

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

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

 

 

 

 

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

I Thessalonians 5:18