My own woman
© Folakemi Emem-Akpan
Four generations of women, sitting closely together, silent from terror or introspection or both.
My grandmother, her hair in a tight bun.
My mother, her face creased in a permanent scowl.
Me, hope and anticipation churning my insides.
And Debbie, my daughter, every mother’s dream in ringlets and pink and chubbiness.
Each of us has had different experiences, has differing expectations.
If I’d had my way, none of them would be here with me today. But I’m a squatter in my parent’s home, on the edge of getting my life back together. Although they do not feed or clothe me, they house me and my daughter, the one both older women would have preferred not to have been born.
The doctor’s office is pristine, white-walled, grey-ceilinged, bare. Nausea wells up inside me, curdling my intestines, freezing my guts.
I shoot out of my chair, race towards the bathroom and almost slam into the doctor.
He steadies me on my feet and allows me passage. In the bathroom, I retch and retch, coming up dry each time. After a while, I sit on the toilet, put my head in my hands, am consumed by thought of how things are, how they should have been.
I am assailed with pictures and thoughts of Tom. Tom of the 100 watts smile. Tom, king of jokes. Tom, of the warm hands, of the gentle spirit.
Our paths crossed five years ago, and from that very first day, I knew I had finally found the one. Of course, Mom did not agree. She did not consider that he was successful at what he did, that he loved me, that he wanted to make a life with me. All Mom saw was the color of his skin.
“White?” She spat out, her face going through spasms and contractions that were alien.
Her objections were not enough to stop me, neither were Grandma’s. Through it all, Dad never said a word.
At the wedding, Mom was stone-faced, Grandma racked with sobs, Dad complacent.
One year after, Debbie was born, as white as her daddy, as care-free as he was, as good-natured.
Life settled into a truce. Tom was not openly welcome in my parent’s house, neither was he turned back. We lived as far as possible from them, visited only during the holidays, were intent on maintaining the truce.
Until that fateful day last month.
I’d been on sick leave for two weeks, alternating between fever and chills, the doctors not able to pinpoint what was wrong with me. Tom left home late in the evening for his comedy show at the bar, and didn’t return at dawn as he usually did.
At eight O’clock in the morning, two policemen rang our bell, brought with them the news that Tom was dead. Gone. Knifed at random as he made his way home.
Darkness claimed me. I woke up to the self-righteous face of Mom, the unearthly cries of three-year-old Debbie, the cold realization that I was a widow.
I fell apart, physically, emotionally, spiritually.
I could not function, could not get myself to the bathroom, could not care for my daughter, did not care about life anymore.
Four days after I said my final goodbyes to Tom, Grandma packed my belongings and Debbie’s, Mom held my hands and drove us seventy miles to the home where I grew up.
I was moved into my old room, with the pink girly bed, cartoon characters posters, and tall vanity mirror.
When after two weeks, I could still not get out of bed, Mom suspected something other than grief.
She brought the home test kit to my room one evening, dropped it by the bedside, said nothing, left the room. The test the following morning was inconclusive, hence the drive to the doctor’s office.
I stand up from the toilet seat, splash cold water on my face, and fortify my determination.
The doctor is sitting with Mom and Grandma, stands when I cross the room and says, “Positive, Mrs. Dennis.”
Tears bubble at my eyelids, and a smile burgeons at my lips at the same time. “Thank you.”
Mom’s face is a study in steel. Grandma rises to shaky feet, her ebony face glistening with sweat even in the air-conditioned room.
“Oh Becky baby…” She opens out her arms, expecting me to fall into them. But why would I do so, why would I pretend to be aghast at being pregnant with my late husband’s child?
For their sakes, I smile, the first real smile since Tom died. Joy collides with hope somewhere in my heart and I know that I’ll survive, that I’ll thrive.
As we drive home, Grandma broaches the subject and I know she’s speaking not only her mind, but Mom’s as well.
“Baby, you can’t have this baby. You can’t hope to bring into the world a child who’s half-orphan. It won’t be fair.”
I bite back on my anger, modulate my voice to a pleasant pitch. “I can and I will.”
She’s not afraid for the half-orphaned child. She’s concerned that I am determined to carry on with my alliance with a white man even after his death.
“I’m calling the office when we get back home. I’m resuming work next month. We’re also moving back home next week, Debbie and I.”
Mom swings her face away from the road, looks weirdly at me. “You can’t do that.”
“Yes I can. I am twenty-nine years old, a widow, a mother, a mother-to-be again. I am my own woman, Mom, and I am free to make my own decisions, follow life wherever it leads me.”
Conversation is suddenly stilted, then it stops altogether.
Courage lights fire in me, builds, roars until my whole being is ignited. In my heart of hearts, I know that we will survive. Debbie, the new baby, and me. I know we will thrive beyond imagination.
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