Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Garden (09/07/06)
TITLE: A patch and a hope
By Folakemi Emem-Akpan
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My back groans in protest as I heave myself to my feet. It’s been a grueling two hours, weeding, trimming, planting. Yet, the sorry excuse of a garden looks forlorn.
Actually, it mirrors the despair in my heart, the terrifying loneliness, the pain.
“Mom, have you finished?”
Pushing tangled hair away from my face, I am assaulted with the my daughter’s image. My heart lurches into its familiar dance of pain. At twelve, she’s the size of a three-year-old. Sadly, she can’t even do what three-year-olds do. She slides on her rear end instead of walking, messes up her face while eating, and I have to clean her up every time she has a bowel movement.
She hasn’t always been this way. I haven’t always been a widow.
Five years ago, I had a husband and Teresa was like any seven-year-old. We lived a simple but happy life. One bright Christmas morning, we loaded our old car full of food, intent on dispensing cheers to as many people as we knew. We started with my mother, wove our way to Mark’s childhood home where his father still lived, then down to an elderly woman Teresa’d adopted.
Tired but happy, we set for home at night. The stars weren’t bright enough to light our path and the car’s headlights were weak. I will forever regret the fact that I was talking too fast and that Mark was listening intently.
The next bend came round too soon. Our screams rent the still night air. I felt myself dropping through space, the metallic taste of blood on my lips. Then nothing but darkness.
When I came to, my mom was staring at me with a look that told me all was lost. She was reluctant but I was eager, so the story unfurled. Mark died on impact, Teresa’s condition was critical.
The memories cause my head to ache. I reply Teresa. “Yes.”
“Will they grow fine?”
I look at the tomatoes I’d planted. I doubt if they’d grow at all, if my heart would ever be at peace, if tomorrow would be any better than today.
“Maybe. Let’s go have breakfast.”
She slides along in obedience. I can’t get her to use her wheelchair. She hates it with a passion, the same passion that made her live.
The prognosis was bad. If she lived, she’d be a paraplegic. She lived, she wasn’t a paraplegic, but for a reason that confounds medical science till tomorrow, her frame began to shrink. The bones, the skin, everything but her head.
“Will the tomatoes grow?”
Her repeated question crowds my head and before I know it, I’m snapping at her, “I don’t know. Leave me alone.”
Life’s been hard and unduly unfair. Before Mark’s death, I didn’t work, only dreamt of one day becoming a writer. After his death, I was coldly thrust into the breadwinner’s field. We are surviving, but barely so. Teresa’s medical bill gulps money faster than the dry patch of garden outside gulps water.
In four years, I’ve toiled endlessly in the garden and have only been rewarded by two harvests. Two miserly harvests.
I don’t know how I reached my conclusion; the important thing is that I have a conclusion. Either God doesn’t exist or cares nothing for us.
Teresa’s eyes fill with tears but she presses on. “I hope the garden grows this time.”
I plunk a plate of rice in front of her and begin to play with my own food. She eats in silence while I sulk at a God I’ve ceased believing in.
The sound of horse hooves on the roof jerks me out of an uneasy sleep. What is going on? Jumping off the bed, my first thought is of Teresa’s safety. My heart begins a long and uneven race as I barrel out of the room.
She meets me at the door. “It’s raining.”
The horse hooves turn to mighty pelts of rain. My heart stops racing.
“Mom, it’s raining.” She repeats as if I were deaf.
It’s not rained in a year.
Teresa slides noisily into the room. I look up from the script I’m trying to write.
“The tomatoes.” She’s fairly bursting with excitement.
I don’t understand her when she gets this way.
“They’re growing. I saw them.”
With a speed I didn’t think I had, I was running out of the door, into the rain that’s been falling for two days. Into hope.
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