© Folakemi Emem-Akpan
Against the noonday chill that only I seem to be feeling, I hunch my shoulders and pull my cardigan tighter. Inside of me, there are swivels and churns and pirouetting. And panic.
For the past two hours, as I wandered around my neighbourhood, the world around me seemed surreal. I shouldn’t be having the conversation I’m about to have with my parents. Not at seventeen. Perhaps not ever.
In the living room, her legs resting on a pair of soft pillows, I encounter mom. Her hair is pulled back in a tight chignon, her eyes mascara-coated. She waves a perfectly manicured hand at me and goes back to watching the TV.
My heart begins a tap dance of fear. Ratatatatata. I muster the brightest smile that I can, throw it at her and escape into the hallway. For a moment, I lean against the wall, talking myself out of hyperventilating.
There is no way on earth I’d face mom and give her the news that will shatter our already shattered lives. She’d scream, she’d rage…and then she’d disown me. Pushing a hand through my hair, I cannot begin to comprehend how a minute of a mistake has turned into this ginormous rollercoaster threatening to crush me.
At the door to my parents’ room, I hesitate for a second. Two seconds, three, four. Then I summon courage and push open the door. He’s seated at the window as he normally does, his profile to me. He’s still as handsome as ever, with his straight aristocratic nose, his full lips that many women would die for, long curly lashes that rival mom’s cosmetic ones. As it has been for the past six years, I find it difficult to believe that he is blind.
It was a gas explosion, the arch of fire directly aimed at his eyes. His hair caught fire too but that was quickly extinguished. In two weeks, he was completely blind.
That was when the reversal process began. As mom took on more and more jobs as the now primary provider, she also receded more and more into herself. For fun, she sat in front of the TV. At our slightest error, she would launch into long winding narratives of how ungrateful we all were. In time, we learnt to avoid her.
In doing so, we turned to dad. His affliction seemed to have mellowed him. He rarely went out so he had all the time in the world to listen to his daughters talk and ramble. In time, he became our friend.
“Hi dad.” I close the door gently and walk towards him.
“Allison.” His voice is astonishingly light.
“You’ve been in all day.”
“Yes.” He holds my hands in his as he is wont to do. His face breaks into a radiant smile but this abruptly dies. “What is the matter?”
A shiver creeps down my spine. How could he, in the space of a minute and without eyes too, sense that something was wrong.
“Nothing dad. Why do you ask?”
He turns his face to me. When he lost his eyes, he also lost the ability to stare someone directly in the eyes. But he seems to be doing that to me. A knot unravels inside of me.
“Tell me honey. What is it?” Genuine concern, a wealth of empathy.
Fear gives way to shame. It catches me by surprise. With mom, I’d felt terror. With this blind man that is my dad, I feel shame. And a deep sense of disappointment in myself. Swallowing back the tears threatening to engulf me and swallow me whole, I let it out in a whisper.
“I’m pregnant, dad.”