Every shade – Short story

© Folakemi Emem-Akpan

By the time I pushed our daughter into the world, she’d been fourteen years long overdue. And we’d not expected, hoped to hold an infant again, to watch a baby sleep, to be the ones to ease the cries of a newborn. And I for one had not expected to suckle a child again, ever.

We were married on the last day of June, and by the end of July, I was pregnant. It was unplanned, it was unexpected, but it was very much welcome. When our son arrived in April 1995, he was perfect in every way. He had black curly hair and his nose was round and pudgy, his cheeks extremely chubby. And he looked exactly like Doyin did, had the same hue of well done chocolate.

He was our joy and pride, and quickly stole our hearts.

When he was two, we decided to add to our family and couldn’t at first understand why I wouldn’t get pregnant immediately. For heaven’s sake, we’d already had one baby even without trying, so we were eminently qualified for a second one, weren’t we?

But a baby would not come. And the several visits to specialists and gyneacologists yielded the same news; I had a 20 per cent chance of getting pregnant because my fallopian tubes were misshapen. And Doyin had an extremely low sperm count. As individuals, it was hard enough for us to become parents. Combined together, it would take a miracle.

Crushed but exultant that we already had a child together, we figured we’d had enough miracles as a family. We returned to the comfort of our homes to pursue happiness.

Occasionally, I longed for another baby, perhaps a girl this time even though a boy would have done just fine. When the yearning got larger than life, we would try IVF or hormonal therapy, or whatever the fad at that time was.

By the tenth year of our marriage, we had given up on the hope of another miracle. We sent our son to school every morning with love, received him back every evening with the same love, and ate and played and worked together in a near-delirium state of happiness.

I was a computer nerd, had developed software that was being used in our country’s burgeoning military, and we had the comforts of life to show for it. An engineer, Doyin himself was not doing badly. And Mayowa was as bright as a new coin, his future stretched out ahead of him.

We celebrated our fourteenth year anniversary in June 2008 by taking a trip to Mexico, a country we’d never been to before. We left Mayowa with his grandmother and made our way to the white beaches of Mexico. Only that I was too dizzy to get out of bed every day, too nauseous that even the smell of taco made me violently sick. Doyin was a nervous wreck, vacillating between taking care of me and falling into a worry stupor.

The third day, he dragged me to a clinic, and we were flabbergasted when we were told I was pregnant, two months gone.

I was forty-two, in a strange country, and I was two months pregnant.

We came home on the next available flight, ecstatic, riding on the moon. Mayowa, thirteen years old, his eyes preternaturally large behind his prescription glasses, swallowed hard at the news, didn’t know the emotion to give in to. He finally came to me and hugged me around the waist. When we came apart, his face was wet with tears, and he was ashamed of his juvenile tears.

Our friends, our church family, our families, our neighbours; everyone was happy for us, and all were in agreement that it had to be God at His best. It was nothing but a miracle.

By the third month, my morning sickness was gone, and I filled out in places that I had been hitherto skinny. My face took on a glow, and Doyin would look at me each time with renewed adoration.

By the early Monday morning that Doyin drove me to the hospital to deliver our baby girl, I had turned forty three and was petrified of what age and gravity had done to my body. I was despairing that I would be unable to push this child that I already loved so much into the world all by myself.

“God will perfect this miracle.” Doyin kept saying.

We arrived the hospital four am in the morning. As we stepped on the threshold, my water broke and the contractions became hard and fast hitting. By six am, the wails of a newborn rend the still antiseptic air. But for a minute, that was all that was in the room; the wail of the newborn. There was hushed silence as they cleaned the baby, a hushed silence as they put her in my arms.

Her skin was the colour of the insides of a raw yam; white tinged with a pale pink. Her hair was a bleached white and her irises were golden flecks.

God had obviously not perfected this miracle, because He had given me an albino for a child. Something that felt like stone descended into my throat and went all the way down to my heart. I swallowed back tears and anguish and a pain that was so deep it was almost physical.

When Doyin was let into the room, he looked from me to the child, then from the child back to me. I saw him swallow, saw him nod, and saw him break into a smile as he crossed to the bedside.

“She is beautiful.” His voice, when he spoke, was tremulous and for once did not have that familiar bass ring to it.

My face now streaked with tears, incredulous at what my husband was saying, I raised my face to his and was surprised to see love there.

“But she is not black?” I heard myself say. “She is nothing but an albino.”

My Doyin, always quick to speak, was for a moment silent, his eyes slit like he was lost in thoughts. When he finally spoke, it was with a quiet authority. “Who says black cannot come in another shade? What does nothing but an albino mean? And who says she cannot be beautiful because she didn’t come out the shade that we expected her to?”

How dare he preach at me? How dare he? We were Christians, weren’t we? And we believed in a miraculous God. We had not asked for this child and He had chosen to give her to us? Why couldn’t He have made her perfect? Why wasn’t her skin the colour of caramel, as Mayowa’s and Doyin’s were, or the colour of a ripe mango, like mine was? Why had God given me an albino daughter?

But my mouth wouldn’t, couldn’t articulate all of my words. I didn’t want to say something I would regret later, but my heart billowed over with disappointment. And the silent tears washed my face as I stared at Doyin.

The little baby let out a little mewl as Doyin made to collect her from me. Wordlessly, I handed her over, watching as Doyin’s eyes lit up. With the baby in his arms, he bent at the waist and dropped a kiss on my forehead.

“It’s hard, sweetheart, I expect, to have pushed an albino baby into the world. But I …we’ve loved this baby for so long…and so hard, that this…that this…should not matter terribly much.” In my husband’s eyes were tears and a brokenness that made him look like a little boy.

“I suppose.” I said, because I had to say something, and because the weight of the world was pressing down on my shoulders at that time.

“We’ll love her just like we love Mayowa, won’t we?” And there was a pleading quality in his voice that broke my heart yet again.

In the evening, Mayowa came to meet his little sister. By then, she was already bathed, diapered and fed, and was sleeping quietly in a side cot. My boy, in his glasses, did not seem to notice the colour of her skin as his face suffused with joy and jubilation.

“Oh Mom,” He cried, forgetting for a moment that he was supposed to be cultivating an attitude of teenage nonchalance. “She is so cute, and so tiny, and so…so…beautiful.” His voice was filled with awe and wonder.

Was I the only sane person in this family, I wondered. “What about her skin colour?” I asked in a snappy tone.

“Oh…that…” he sighed, “She does look a little different than everybody else, but she is all right. She is not sick, is she?” He asked me, suddenly afraid.

And it was in that moment that I saw the light. My daughter was an albino, but she had ten fingers and ten toes. She wasn’t the beautiful black colour I had envisaged but she was a beautiful pink and healthy. And she was indeed God’s miracle, a perfect little specimen of His grace.

My thirteen year old boy, looking like a wisened old man came to me in my bed then. “Mom, do you remember that song we learnt when I was younger. That one that says Jesus loves the little children, whether yellow, black or white?”

I smiled. For as long as we could remember, Mayowa’d had a unique habit of jumping from the beginning of songs to the end, leaving the middle hanging. He’d done the same now. But I got the message, the spirit of what he was saying.

“I do.”

“The songwriter should have added albino to it.” He smiled and sighed at the same time, an affectation that was purely Mayowa. “God loves her just as she is, and I love her too.”

And in that moment, my heart filled with love, and with gratitude. God loved me. God loved my little girl. And that was all that mattered. I knew that in the future, some strangers would look at my daughter’s different skin without understanding. But we, her family would always know that every child is beautiful, that every shade of black is beautiful, and we would ensure that our daughter, our sister was loved.

When I breastfed my child that night, and I stroked the velvety texture of her bleached white hair, my heart continued to fill with love, and with gratitude, and with overwhelming joy.

And when we went home two days later, to a nursery filled with pink girly baby things and a home filled with warmth and love. Doyin had already told those who’d not made it to the hospital to see the baby that she was an albino, so that there would be no awkwardness when they finally met her.

And there was nothing but love and acceptance and gratitude.

Today, our Nifemi is five years old. For me, she is the epitome of grace and beauty, a perfect little lady whose heart is as large as Mother Teresa’s. She is compassionate and sympathetic; a crier who would weep at any injustice meted out to any of her many friends. She’d sit in Doyin’s lap and stroke his graying hair, and declare in a triumphant voice, “now your hair is growing white like mine.”

Last year, we had a scare of melanoma, that skin cancer that is common in albinos, but the result came back negative. The sore that was on her shoulder, that had scared us so much, was nothing but a stubborn and nasty mosquito bite.

Yes, her skin would need special care for the rest of her life, and next year she would get glasses to correct her near sightedness. But my daughter is beautiful. Her own shade of black is beautiful, because a perfect God made her.

 

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