Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Cross (as in the Cross of Christ) (08/17/06)
By Folakemi Emem-Akpan
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My eyes involuntarily travel to the painting. This is what I do every morning as I clean our humble living room: gaze at the painting of Jesus dying on the cross. The painting is from another time in our lives. An era so far away I sometimes wonder if I’ve made things up, allowed the all-too-real reality warp the edges of my mind.
But the painting is there; a constant reminder.
At a silly, immature point in our lives, we’d gotten snared by religion. Gotten ourselves sucked into church. Into God.
But where had He gotten us? Where was He as we journeyed through multiple fibroids, multiple operations, multiple hopes, a single conception, a single delivery…and a single death? They’d placed her three-day-old body in my hands and murmured all the right words of consolation.
We picked ourselves up, tried so much to believe again. Then Umoh’s leukemia. A fractured hip, chemotherapy, wheel chair…, the stench of death, the fear of widowhood.
Where is He now?
I look at the painting again. Perhaps it would be the next thing to go. The artist’s made himself quite a name and his paintings now go for ridiculously high prices. And we do need the money.
Sitting with a little unease, I begin to recount all the ventures our fortune had been drained into. Fertility treatments, chemotherapy, physiotherapy. Where is God?
I whirl around at the sound of Umoh’s approach. He has learned to walk again, shuffles like an unsteady toddler, holds on to walls for support when he thinks I’m not watching. If it were only the baby God had taken, it would have been okay. Did He have to take my husband’s vitality, his pride…?
“Up already?” I force a smile, “I didn’t want to wake you yesterday when I came back from work. I checked the kitchen and saw you’d eaten, so I just crawled into bed beside you.”
“I heard you.” He shuffles some more and sits beside me. It’s early in the morning, but he’s sweating. From exertion…from worry?
“You didn’t stir.”
“I heard you…” he twists his fingers with his other hand. There’s tension in his body, I can feel it…and it’s not from his little walk.
“Are you okay?”
“Ben came around while you were out.”
We’ve tried without success to put Ben where he belongs; in the past when we had religion, but he’s one stubborn man. He pops in at the oddest times, peddling Jesus, trying to save our souls.
Umoh sighs and lifts his head. I follow his gaze. He’s staring at the painting…at Jesus…at the cross. “He said something to me…for us…”
“What?” My palms are sweating and I think of getting them around Ben’s neck. How dare he come to upset Umoh?
“He asked me what the essence of the crucifixion was. I didn’t know and told him so…”
“He had no right to bother you.” I push hair away from my face, panic away from my heart.
“He said that’s why we’ve believed God has abandoned us.” He wrings his fingers some more.
His next words come out choked, as if he’s trying to fight off tears, “Surrender. He said the essence of the cross is surrender. Letting God be God during the good times. During the bad times.”
My tongue gets stuck in my throat. The room seems to be closing in on me. The painting on the wall suddenly seems larger. Brighter. I try to speak, but no words would form.
Umoh is a strong man, not given to emotions, but he is weeping with abandon.
“Maybe…maybe if we learned to surrender…”
My heart feels like it’s been shredded into crimson pieces. But I’d surrendered when he took my baby? I’d surrendered, hadn’t I?
“I promised him we’d be in church tomorrow.”
I still can’t speak, but turn away from the glare of the painting, turn to Umoh.
“It’s okay if you don’t want to go…” he bites his lips, “but I
After a while, I find my lost voice. “But you can’t drive?”
“Ben will come for me.” There’s a finality to his tone.
I turn back to the painting. Jesus’ life is ebbing away. He’s giving His life for the world…in total surrender.
The tears arrive, one drop at a time until my face is a glistening river. Umoh is standing to his feet, shuffling…shuffling towards Jesus…towards the painting…towards the cross.
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