Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Valley (08/10/06)
By Folakemi Emem-Akpan
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“Hello Shola.” The hands that gripped my shoulders were strong, confident ones. Sighing, I started to turn. It was the last place on earth I’d thought I would run into somebody I knew.
The man standing before me was easily six feet tall. He smiled now…that still familiar smile that had turned to a grimace of pain when I delivered my news eight years ago…but the smile began to fade as he beheld my face. I knew how I looked. The right side of my face was laced with ugly bruises.
The trite apology sprang to my lips, even before my brain could process the shock of seeing this man before me. “I fell down our stairs.” I knew he didn’t believe me. No one did, but people were generally too busy to delve into my private life.
“It’s good to see you.” He said, now that the shock of seeing my pitiful face was wearing off. “What are you doing here?”
To treat the wounds my wheelchair-bound husband had inflicted, I wanted to say but the words wouldn’t form in my throat.
“Stupid of me,” he went on in his characteristic talkative manner, “anyone in a hospital with this kind of bruise has obviously come to be treated.”
Numbly, I nodded. Now it was my turn to ask. “And what are you doing here?”
“My wife is in the labor room.”
That was when I stared down at his hands. A pale yellow band circled his ring finger. Tearing my gaze away, I stared at my own hands…at my own wedding band. My eyes began to cloud over, the hot tears I’d refused to shed when Taiwo hit and dragged me behind his wheelchair now clamoring for release.
“Are you all right?” Mark asked, lifting my chin with his big, warm hands.
I remembered those hands…that night. Youth group had closed late. My home was too far away so he’d invited me to sleep over in his house. Only that it wasn’t really a house…just a run down piece of garbage fit only for demolition.
Shaking my head back to the present, I forced a smile. “Guess I am.”
His next question jarred me. “Are you happy?”
My fake smile getting wider, I answered, “I am.”
I hate you, Taiwo had said to me just that morning. He didn’t belong in a wheelchair, my husband didn’t…and it was my fault he was in one.
Was I happy being Taiwo’s wife?
Mark shrugged now, “so I guess it was God’s will we went our different ways, for I couldn’t have been happier than I am right now.” He smiled broadly. “Tracy is the best woman God could ever have given me, and now she’s about to make me a daddy.”
“I guess.” I mumbled, wanting to escape.
“Since when have you been married?”
I toyed with the wedding band on my finger. “Seven years.” Sometimes I asked myself why I still had Taiwo’s ring on my finger. Our marriage was over…we were only going through the motions, Taiwo out of utter dependence, me out of guilt.
“I’ve been married two…”
A nurse strode into the room, her face a wreath of smiles. “Mr. Babatunde, it’s a boy.”
He became like a child just handed a trophy as he bounded through the reception door, forgetting even to wish me goodbye.
Just as good, I decided. I made for the entrance, intent on escaping this confining place, Mark’s cheeriness…but I couldn’t escape the memories.
I can’t live like this anymore, Mark had said, I know it’s a sin to sleep together and I don’t think we can hold out anymore, at the rate we’re going. He was down to his trousers. I was still clothed but only so. I want to do this thing right, Shola. Let’s get married.
It was tempting. In a way, I loved him…but not enough to endure poverty with him. Freshly out of school, bent on not living off his wealthy parents, earning peanuts teaching music, he reeked of lack.
“It’s just a phase…my valley of the shadow of death period…” he pleaded.
My words were cruel, deliberately so.
After that, he left me alone.
I moved to Lagos, met Taiwo. He was young and had no qualms living off his parents. A year later we were married.
Two years later, his car crashed. I was driving, he was listening to music.
Are you happy? Mark’s question.
I answered truthfully now…No. And the tears came.
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