Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Parent (11/16/06)
By Folakemi Emem-Akpan
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The numbness is easing into pain, and my heart feels like a frozen slab of meat suddenly thrown over a roaring fire. Ajayi is at my side, holding me up, pouring his strength into me. His calloused hands are a reminder of our loss, the pain, the emptiness.
All the things he’d carved are now useless, little pieces of furniture that will never be used. Crib, mirror frame, low table. Furniture for a dead child.
Nausea threatens to overtake what little sense I have left.
“It will soon be over.” Ajayi whispers into my ear and I’m momentarily shocked by how old he sounds, how defeated, how forlorn.
It will never be over, I want to say but the words won’t go past my throat. The sun is shining very brightly, as if in consolation. The worshipers at our parish also form a tight band around us, watching on stolidly as our week old baby is lowered into the hot ground.
The proximity of the people causes me to break out in sweat. I bend perfunctorily and throw a handful of sand onto the lowered coffin. So tiny, so dark. As I make to stand, my chest tightens and a seep of breast milk escapes me. Milk that will never again be sucked.
The sweat beads pop out faster and huger. I am surrounded by people but feel all alone. Even Ajayi, my husband of twenty years seems far away. Untouchable. Cocooned by his own shell of grief. I close my eyes briefly, against the hot sun, against the words of condolences, against God.
“Are you okay?”
When I open my eyes, Ajayi is hovering over me. There’s an unbearable heat against my side and it takes me a while to realize I’m lying on the ground.
“You slumped.” He and a deacon help me up and hold me on both sides as we walk towards the car.
Nineteen years childlessness.
A miracle conception.
The thrills and horrors of a first pregnancy.
The news that something might be congenitally wrong with the baby. “Would you like us to take care of the fetus?”
Refusing. Praying for a miracle but loving the baby nevertheless.
Labor. Falling in love with my hydrocephalus child.
A mother for five days.
The freezing of my heart.
I sit in the car obediently and fold my hands in my laps like I used to as a kid. For two days, I’ve not said a word to God. Anger and grief are brothers-in-arms, and they’ve gotten my heart tangled in a real mess.
Why does God give undeserving people children? Teenaged girls, unfaithful wives, drug abusers? Why does He make them parents? And for me, was it too much to ask for a baby? Even as ill as my baby had been, I’d been prepared to love him, share God with him, be as good as a mother as I could be.
And didn’t Ajayi deserve better? In his years of ministry, he’d christened about a hundred babies, some born to undeserving parents. For the past four months, he’d worked on nothing other than the baby’s furniture. Smiles lighting up the wrinkled parts of his eyes. Humming nursery rhymes as he worked.
“You’re angry?” My husband’s words ricochets against the rage in my head.
He smiles a painful little smile. There’s a fine network of new wrinkles around his eyes and mouth. He’s only forty-seven but looks eighty. “I am too, in a way.”
I stare harder at him.
“When it first happened, I locked myself in the bathroom, cried and raged against God. The anger’s reducing but it’s still there. But I keep telling myself God couldn’t have wished him to die. That way, I can better cope with it.”
I’m seeing my husband in a new light. I’d always thought him to be an infallible Christian. A pastor first, a husband second.
“Is it right…right to be angry?”
“Yes. But not at God. At the devil. At the evil of sickness.”
More pain as more numbness thaws and dissolves into nothingness in a swirl of sadness and anger.
He wraps his arms around mine and I’m surprised at how cold and clammy his skin feels. “And it’s okay to cry.”
More ice cracks and I’m suddenly reduced to a flood of tears.
“It’s okay. It’s okay.” Ajayi begins a mournful litany and starts to rub my arms. I look up and see tears in his eyes.
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