A love story

A love story

© Folakemi Emem-Akpan

Once upon a time, I loved only one woman. These days, I love four. And I do this with an all-consuming passion, a burning ferocity and an unwavering knowledge that I can, would kill for any or all of them.

At the threshold to the living room, I pause for a bit as I am wont to do these days and drink in the scene before me. Thе living room is a mini war field, a combat zone of toys, discarded homework, make-up, chew toys for the dogs, and two bikes. Julia is sitting in the midst of it all, her eyes glued to the TV set.

There’d been a time, when Julia was the only woman I loved, that she’d have fainted at the sight of such disarray and chaos. But time and a passel load of kids has mellowed this woman. And I for one, like what she has become.

“Hi there.” I finally reveal my presence and pick my way through the debris on the floor. When I reach the sofa, Julia clears a space for me by pushing a load of clothes to the floor. Laughing, I drop into the seat beside her.

For us, there is no need for words. Though she is still riveted on the TV, her right hand finds a way into mine, a silent acknowledgement. Just being in this environment, sitting close to Julia, relaxes me like nothing else can. Ten hours a day in a suit and tie, wheedling and dining clients or expounding on a legal theory in a courtroom. Then this, the chaos and utter loveliness of my home.

I can hear Grace and Matthew before I see them. “I get first dibs.”

“No you don’t.” Continue reading

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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.

 

The language of kindness

The language of kindness

© Folakemi Emem-Akpan

 

The glass plate slipped from his hands, impacting the ground with a sharp sound that seemed to drag the breath out of Luke. He stood at the sink, frozen in place, his eight year old face a mask of terror. His hands trembled slightly and he stared up at me with huge brown eyes.

 

I wanted to hug him, to kiss the terror off his face, to hold him close to my breast. But I did not. Yes, he was my son. But he’d been my son for only a month. And in the emotional state which he yet inhabited, he was still Liz’s son.

 

Liz had been my only sister, separated by nine years, separated much more by our lifestyles. We’d both been born and raised in the church with five brothers. Six of us kids stayed within the Christian community. Liz had other ideas. She first ran away at twelve. By then, I was already on my own, had received a frantic call from Mother one late night. Liz hadn’t returned home after school. She came back two days later, unrepentant, letting everyone know that she wouldn’t have returned if not that it’d been near impossible to get food to eat.

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A second chance

A second chance

© Folakemi Emem-Akpan

I was determined not to be like my mother.

Knocked up at age seventeen, foolish enough to keep the pregnancy even though the guy responsible quickly delegated his responsibility, then escape into a loveless marriage at age twenty.

I would not be like that.

Then I met Steven. Yes, I was sixteen. Yes, we were sleeping together. Yes, I was on the pills. And yes, I got pregnant. But there’s nothing wrong with being pregnant at sixteen if the guy loved you and you loved him back. Love is always the answer, right?

I got educated real fast. Steven shook his head, bit his lips so hard that a mustache of blood appeared, then pointed me out of his parents’ house. How could I be so stupid? Didn’t I know enough to use the right contraceptives?

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Two times over

Two times over
© Folakemi Emem-Akpan

Her heart is a giant vise in her chest, pumping so hard she will not be surprised if it caves a hole through her stomach. Her mouth is dry, her breath coming in puffs that evaporate right in front of her.

Julie holds the home kit up, counting off the seconds. When the blue line appears, she begins to weep, a jagged broken sound that comes from deep inside her belly.

When she is done, she looks at herself in the mirror. There are no changes yet, but she knows there will be plenty in the coming month. She hopes she’s sick a lot. She hopes she spits disgustingly, and blows up. She wants everyone to know she’s pregnant.

At thirty-nine, nine of which she’s been married to Ubong, being with child, and naturally at that, is an amazement, a miracle, a misnomer.

Opening the bathroom door quietly, she heads for their room at the end of the hallway. Ubong is still sleeping, oblivious to the news she’s going to share, to the joy that is bubbling in her heart.

“Sleepyhead.” She yanks the blanket off his head and begins to tickle him. He bolts out of sleep laughing but trying to look stern.

“What is it now, Julie? I expect you’d grow up by the time you’re sixty.”

“Actually I get to grow up now, seeing that I will soon be a mother. And you, daddy had better get up and get ready for the day.”

He stares at her, his mouth slightly opened. Then he pulls his lips shut and smiles a broad smile, one that is almost as wide and as warm as the rising sun.

“They called?” He asks as he gets off the bed. She can see his heart beating a staccato through his thin pajamas top. “We got through?”

“No, they didn’t call.”

The disappointment is a tangible thing in his eyes, clouding them so completely they turn almost black. He’s about to reprimand her about the costliness of her joke when it hits him.

“They didn’t call?”

“They didn’t.” She replies softly, the tears flooding her eyes again.

They was the orphanage. For eighteen months, they’d been on the waiting list to adopt, the decision made and sealed when a gynecologist told them they would never have children of their own. Three months ago, they’d moved to the top of the list, waiting with bated breath each day, wondering if that would be the day they got to be parents.

The nursery is ready, done in different shades of brown, as they are unsure what sex of child they would get. Julie’d wanted to use purple but Ubong said it was too loud. The brown was actually very nice and Julie spent several hours each day there re-arranging things, wondering, imagining what it felt like to be a mother, how it would feel to nurture a child.

“I bought a pregnancy kit yesterday.”

Ubong blinks and swallows hard. “I asked you to see a doctor. I thought you were ill or something.”

“So did I. Then the doctor asked if I might be pregnant. Didn’t want to face the embarrassment of hearing negative again from the lab, so I bought the kit.”

“You’re…are you…” He gulps, unable to complete his question.

“Yes. Yes. Yeah.”

He wraps her in something tighter than a bear hug, his eyes leaking, his mouth unable to close. Then he pushes her away. “The baby. I don’t want to hurt it.”

She rubs a hand over her belly. For two years, she’s given up the hope of being a natural mother, of ever suckling a child. Now…

The phone rings suddenly, a shrill sound that snaps her out of introspection. Ubong reaches for the receiver, says hello and listens intently, a look of complete stupefaction on his face. When the conversation is over, he faces Julie.

“The orphanage. There’s a baby girl, two weeks old. She’s ready to go. They want us to come for her today.”

“Jesus. Jesus!” Julie does not understand, cannot process what is happening.

“Our baby girl is waiting, Julie.”

Joy, chased by laughter, finally bubbles out of her throat. Suddenly she is racing out of the room. “I’ll get the baby’s things. You get the car.”

 

 

 

Glass Panes

 

Glass panes

(c) Folakemi Emem-Akpan

At first, she seemed to be all glass panes and sharp edges. She was caustic, sarcastic, and yet seemed brittle all at once, like if you came too close or pressed too hard, she would fall apart, disintegrate, get blown into the four corners of the earth.

She was a walking contradiction.

But she was a contradiction that he liked, even when her sharp edges seemed to cut him, even when her words sliced his skin and made contact with the broken edges of his own psyche.

The evening he saw her crying, her fists pressed into her eyes, her body shaking with the sobs she tried to suppress, his heart broke within him. He approached with trepidation, but when he held her, she collapsed into him, seemed to want to disappear inside of him.

Turned out she’d just gotten news of her father’s death. And like the contradiction that she was, she was both distressed and relieved at the bad news. Saddened because he was her father, and relieved because her abuser, the one who’d raped her from the time she was six till she was fifteen, was gone from this life and she could be free at last.

Her sharp edges made sense at last. And as she wept in his arms and told this story of her life, he felt a shift in his core, a revelation that this was where he was supposed to be at this point in his life.

We are all broken, he realized at last. And when you find the one whose brokenness matched yours, the one whose jigsaw puzzle of a life corresponded with yours, it had to be a sign that you were meant to be together, to help each other find your way in life, to be the anchor the other needed.

“I am here.” He simply said. It seemed to be all that was needed to be said.

Help, I have chargiamania

Help, I have chargiamania

© Folakemi Emem-Akpan

I have chargiamania. Now, don’t go in search of your Thesaurus or dictionary. These outdated publications couldn’t possibly have my kind of disease listed in them. Let me explain in a layman’s language, the type you would understand.

I love to be in absolute charge of my life.

Might sound like a pretty good thing, but my family is going crazy watching me try to run everybody’s life. I plan my husband’s day meticulously, haranguing him on what tie best matches his polka dotted shirt. Last Monday, I wept for hours after he left the house in anger when I suggested the yellow shirt went better with the red trousers on the brown shoes.

I’m in my mid twenties but I have already begun to plan for my great-grandchildren (Failing to plan is planning to fail, they say). The first one would be an astronaut, fulfilling my dreams of doing something out of this world. The second one would be a doctor, helping to cure humanity of its self-induced ailments. I wouldn’t mind one of them being a writer (In case I fail to have my name on the covers of books as an author, at least my posterity would).

I’m positive my younger brother would do better as a chemical engineer but he doesn’t even want to hear about it. He prefers to study computer engineering at the university. Oh, the folly of youth!

Well, as for God…He likes to be in charge too, so we happen to quarrel a lot. Like the time he wanted me to leave my job and be a stay-at-home mom. Who has ever heard of that kind of crap? A twenty-four year-old stay-at-home mom when my whole life was stretched in front of me? (Well, God won that case because my husband supported Him).

Or the time He started pressuring me to eat more healthily. But who eats healthily these days when hysteria-inducing chocolate and pastries dripping with ketchup announce their presence at every corner?

Yesterday, we had a serious quarrel. I wanted to wear my tight pink skirt for that interview I’ve been praying and fasting for now that my baby is two and old enough to be left at the daycare. Perhaps it would clinch me the job (They requested for a smart, career woman in the ad), but God had a different idea.

“Why are you wearing that terrible thing?” My husband questioned as I made a mad dash for the car. I was already running late.

“What thing?” I snapped, even though I knew well enough what he was referring to. “It makes me look smart.”

“Not smart, just cheap. Would you give yourself a job if you came in for an interview like this?”

“I don’t want to quarrel this morning.” I straightened the incriminating skirt and settled into the car.

“Do you think God would be proud of this outfit?”

“Albert?”

“We’re supposed to allow Him run our lives as Christians, remember?”

“Why are you all bent on controlling people’s lives?”  I was beginning to get mad. “You, God, the church?”

“Because when we allow God absolute control over our lives, we are better able to function as humans.”

I gave him an evil eye. “Are you saying I don’t allow him enough control?”

“That’s right.”

I knew he was right but I wasn’t in the mood for a sermon. “We’ll talk about it when I get back from the interview.”

“You aren’t going to change?”

“No. I’ll be late.”

“No, you won’t. You’ll be there in plenty of time.” He made no move to start the car, just sat down there, waiting.

“Albert?” I made his name sound like it was dirt in my mouth.

“Sorry.” He said as he finally shifted the car into gear.

 “Stand ye still…” *

“Did you say something?” I turned to ask Albert.

“Nope.” He concentrated on maneuvering the car into the street.

 “For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft…” +

“Al, what did you say?”

“Me? Nothing?”

I was beginning to feel funny, and my insides had begun to tremble. “Stop the car!”

“What?”

“I want to go back home now.”

“You aren’t going for the interview again?”

“I’m not.”

Of course God won that battle. He always seems to win without any apparent effort on His part. Meanwhile, I struggle daily, trying to make sense of His leadings. Why do they have to be so ridiculous most of the time? Even my pastor agrees but he also says we have to follow God’s leading for maximum results, even when we don’t understand. I hope he’s right. I really hope he is.

 

* II Chronicles 20:17

+ I Samuel 15:23 KJV