Posted in Life commentary, Short story

His father’s son

His father’s son

© Folakemi Emem-Akpan

 

It is not his intention to hurt his son; all he wants to do is teach him a lesson. So he raps his knuckles gently but firmly across the length of the little boy’s head. When the boy sniffles, he raps again. Harder. This brings about another round of sniffling, and another round of rapping. Harder yet again.

And so it goes. Sniffle; rap. Sniffle; rap. Sniffle; rap. Until there are no more sniffles. Until the three year old’s face is dry and set in something akin to stone.

When this is achieved, when the lesson has been learnt, Jimmy smiles at his son and bends to his ears. “That’s better, buddy. Crying is for sissies and boys don’t cry.”

Jimmy watches Peter’s face closely for a while and when he is satisfied that the little boy is not going to cry again, he squeezes his shoulder and turns on his heel.

After Jimmy has left the room, Peter tiptoes to his mother, buries his face into her skirt and heaves sob after dry sob. Once again, Janet feels her heart breaking into a million unredeemable pieces. She cuddles her son, strokes his head and without a word comforts him. Even as she does this, she is apprehensive, scared that Jimmy will return quietly, petrified that he would catch them in this stolen embrace.

The same quality that had once attracted her to Jimmy is now what causes her untellable grief. He’d been tough, strongly given to the belief that men don’t cry no matter the circumstances. And after having lived twenty-two years in a household where her father wore his emotions on his sleeve, emotions that ranged wildly from joy to deep sadness to rage and then to joy again sometimes in the space of only five minutes, she was ready for solidness. Which she found in Jimmy.

Jimmy smiled often but was careful not to allow his smile turn into a proper grin. When his mother died of cancer at barely fifty, he did not shed a tear. He stood there, his arms across his chest, and watched the pallbearers lower the woman he’d first loved into the earth.

Janet was proud, then appalled, then proud again. The following month, she married Jimmy.

When their daughter was born, he didn’t seem to care much, didn’t involve himself at all in parenting her. From the word go, he was a firm believer in stay at home moms, so he took on extra jobs so that she could stay home. For that, she is eternally grateful.

Two years later, Peter arrived and Jimmy suddenly became a hands-on dad, at least to their son.

Peter was a colicky baby so he cried a lot. Jimmy would put his nose to the boy’s nose and inform him that he had to be tough. Men were supposed to be born tough; he had to suck it up and quit crying. When Peter was a year old, Jimmy took a switch to him because he’d cried over losing a toy to his sister. By the time Peter was two, he’d learnt the lesson his father sought to teach him; boys that cried were sissies.

Janet strokes Peter’s head, comforting him as much as she comforts herself. In time, Peter’s dry sobs fade and his thumb finds his way into his mouth. He sucks a while, his eyes glued to his mother’s face. She smiles down at him, loving him so much her heart cannot stand it.

The door creaks open and Jimmy’s head pokes through. Quickly, Peter removes his thumb from his mouth, swings himself off his mother’s thighs and stares straight ahead like a man should. Once again, he has become his father’s son.

 

Posted in Girls, Short story

Scorned

african baby

When your water breaks, you feel a dull roar of panic. You are not afraid of the delivery or scared for the baby. You’ve put to bed five times, and this pregnancy never gave you problems.

It is the scorn on their faces that you fear. It is the snorts and hmphs of ridicule. What makes your heart contract in fear is the fact that the birth of this baby could mean the final lid in the coffin of your condemnation.

From the day your belly started to swell, you suspected that it would be a girl. Again. Just like the others, this baby sat very high in your womb, close to your breasts in that delightful way girls are wont to do.

Soon your contractions are fast and furious and you send for your mother-in-law in the next hut. When she appears at your door, it is with a scowl on her face. This woman has single-handedly run her family for twenty-eight years. Widowed at an early age with four sons and a daughter to care for, she drew on an inner strength no one knew she had, raised her sons to be good farmers, selected wives for each of them, filled her late husband’s compound with dozens of grandchildren, majority of which are boys.

You are the only wife yet to produce an heir for the lineage.

When you got swollen with child this last time, your mother-in-law paid you a midnight visit and laid down the ultimatum. A boy or another wife for dear Leke.

That night, you cried yourself to sleep, your husband’s back turned to you. You don’t blame him. You don’t blame your mother-in-law. It is the way of your people to care for sons more than they do daughters.

Sons carry on the family name. Sons contribute to the family wealth by farming the cocoa plantations. Sons are an honor.

Two of the other wives arrive to help. Soon you are on your back, the leather tong clenched in between your teeth. Screaming during delivery brings bad luck to one’s husband so you bite hard each time the pain hits.

Your legs are held apart, your wrapper discarded as the women probe and prod you. You are instructed to push and you do so with all of your might. You push a second time, a third time.

The wail of a newborn rends the air. The three women fall absolutely silent.

You are exhausted but anxious and ask to see your baby. They don’t show you the face; rather your mother-in-law almost shoves the genitals in your face.

You’ve had a sixth girl.

But instead of the panic that plagued you all through the pregnancy, you suddenly feel a sense of calm. Love washes over you.

It doesn’t matter if you are scorned. It doesn’t matter that Leke will be given a second wife. It doesn’t matter if all your children are girls.

What does matter is that you are a good mother. There is tremendous love in your heart for this little baby just as there is for her siblings.

You cuddle your baby and look up into the eyes of your mother-in-law. She frowns. You smile. She shakes her head. You nod yours.

She walks out of the hut.

 

***In most African communities, male children are preferred above females and a woman who produces only girls is often ridiculed.