Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Illustrate the meaning of "Make Hay While the Sun Shines" (without using the actual phrase or literal example). (03/06/08)
TITLE: Fool's gold
By Folakemi Emem-Akpan
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Barbara stood in their ultra-modern garage and admired her glistening car. Today, she’d had one of the office boys take the red Mercedes 560 SL for detailing, and it shone like new.
Going through the door that connected the garage to their kitchen, she couldn’t stop smiling. Life was good. Just last week, they’d finished paying off the mortgage on their house, a seven-room castle that still made her wonder if she was in a dream. She was in line for the top position of her company, just waiting for good old Bob to retire. On days like this, when she was bone-tired from work, she was doubly glad there were no children to demand her attention. And then there was Mike, her husband of many years. She loved him more than a thousand children put together, more than the top dog position of S&L, more than life itself.
Mike, of the gentle disposition. Mike, the humorous. Mike, who loved nothing more than being at home with her. Mike, who’d finally accepted that a child wouldn’t be a part of their lives.
The kitchen was as modern as the garage, every gadget known to man displayed on gleaming surfaces. This was Mike’s territory. As a child, he’d been raised on fast food by a carefree mother and an irresponsible father. As a man, the place he found peace most was in the kitchen, turning out dish after dish of culinary delights. He owned a restaurant downtown and doubled as both manager and head chef. Each evening, he usually had dinner ready, heavenly and hot.
But today, there were no smells from the kitchen. No piping garlic smell. No oily smell of frying fish. Nothing.
Suddenly frightened but without knowing why, Barbara dropped her bag on the white counter and stooped to unstrap her high-heeled sandals.
“Mike, I’m home.” The house was silent, eerily so, and her heart began a crazy and uneven race. The living room was dark but a lone light shone from the flight of stairs.
She was on the fourth step when she heard it. The sound of a wardrobe slamming. “Michael.” She ran up the stairs, hitching up her skirt. The door to their room was wide open, the huge bed buried under an avalanche of clothes. On the floor was a huge suitcase.
Michael was pulling out clothes from the walk-in wardrobe, his face contorted in concentration.
“Michael, what’s the matter? Where are you going?”
He looked her way but seemed not to see her but through her. Then he shook his head and returned to his chore.
“What’s happening here?”
When he replied, his voice seemed to come from a faraway place, from within his very soul. “Going away, that’s what I’m doing.”
For a full minute, she stood statue-still, the words refusing to form on her lips.
“Eighteen long years, Barbara. That’s how long we’ve been married. I was barely twenty-three, you twenty-two.” His eyes turned dreamy, as he pulled them both into remembrance. “I wanted a little baby immediately, but you had to go to college. And after college, you wanted to take professional exams…”
She started to interrupt but he held up a hand to cut her off. “And after that, you had to start a career. And after that, you had to establish the career. Honey, it just dawned on me that you never meant to be a mother. And if there’s anything I desire more than life itself, it’s a child. One that we can call our own, one that we can love and give all the privileges we were denied as children.” A lone tear formed in his right eye.
She struggled to rise from the cobwebby depths to which she had fallen. “But Michael…”
“Forget it. You’d only give more excuses why we should wait. But we’re no longer kids. I’m forty-one, and some men my age are already granddads. I can’t take it anymore.”
A wall of grief sprang up from her stomach, rising to her chest, constricting, cutting off the words she should speak, the pleading she should do. She stood there, arms stiffly at her sides, the tears cascading from her eyes.
She stood there, watched as Michael finished packing, watched as he lugged the suitcase out of the room, and listened as his car purred to life outside.
Then she sank to the floor, still not speaking, but weeping like a dam damaged and untended.
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