© 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?”
“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.
“Honest, mum. I’m filled.” She starts to protest.
“But you had no lunch in school?”
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.”
“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.