Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Bridge (07/31/08)
By Folakemi Emem-Akpan
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A soft mewling sound. Lips pursing amidst dreams of nursing. A perfect black eyebrow that arches involuntarily.
My heart catches in my throat. She is exquisite, so tiny. So beautiful, a perfect copy of Andrew. The same slanted eyes, the same rosebud lips, the same high cheek bones. The same fragility.
Laboring for thirteen gruesome hours had produced a baby that weighs only slightly more than a feather. Gazing down at her through the incubator glass, I know without any cloud of doubt that she is Andrew’s daughter in more ways than outward resemblance. The sickle cell anemia that had finally cut him down lurks somewhere in her blood.
Sighing, longing so much to touch this beautiful gift, this child that has brought me both curses and blessings, I shuffle to the mirror.
Hair, so black and so straight it resembles a sheet of glass. A straight proud nose. And fifteen-year-old eyes housed in sunken sockets, hiding a tale of grief and alienation.
A creak at the door causes me to whirl around. Nausea and dizziness swirl up in me but I make it to my bed before the door opens inward.
Were she not thirty years older, she could have been me. The same willowy figure, only that mine has been battered by pregnancy and labor. The same hesitant smile.
“May I come in?” I haven’t heard my mother’s voice in five months. It echoes and bounces softly around the room, perfect in enunciation.
A wave of grief rolls over me. For five months, I’ve dreamed this scene. Reconciliation, forgiveness, homecoming. But in each and every scene I ever imagined, there would be four players. Myself, Mother, Andrew and the baby.
“Christie, can I come in?”
I nod quickly and blink back hot tears.
She traverses the tiny hospital room and takes a seat on the lone chair. For a full minute, none of us says a word. She crosses and uncrosses her legs. And finally stands. As I had known she would, she makes her way over to the incubator.
Unable to restrain myself, I follow her path.
“She’s beautiful, isn’t she?”
“Yes.” My voice is several octaves below a whisper.
“Looks like Andrew.”
“Yes.” I chance a look at her perfectly-powdered face, surprised to find two lines of tears.
“Has Andrew seen her yet?”
A cold fist grabs my heart and squeezes violently, surely, unrelentingly. I open my mouth and manage to force out the words that have yet to begin to make sense to me, even after a month. “Andrew is dead.”
She turns a ghastly shade of white. She suddenly looks older than her forty-five years and her skin looks like dried parchment left out too long in the sun. She opens her mouth, then closes it again as if she’s unsure of what to say.
“He died last month. Of pneumonia.”
“I’m…I’m so sorry. How have you been coping?”
“His parents have been taking care of me. After…after I left the house, they took me in. they’ve always prayed to have Andrew for as long as possible, but his health had been failing this past year. When he told them he was having a baby, they wanted the baby so desperately.”
She swallows convulsively. “Unlike me. How could I have been so stupid, so self-righteous? Christie, you don’t know how much I’ve regretted my actions. I shouldn’t…shouldn’t have sent you out.”
“Mom, we live in a highbrow neighborhood. I shouldn’t have expected you to be proud of your fifteen-year-old pregnant daughter. I…”
“But you knew, didn’t you, you knew I was going to some see the baby. You know I couldn’t turn my back on an innocent child…”
“Yes…and I knew that my baby would be the bridge, the reason I could come back home. To you, to dad, to my brother. Even though Andrew was good to me, you people…you’re family. I miss you.”
Her arms wrap around my waist. Her hair smells of flowery shampoo, her skin of delicious perfume. I lose myself in the smells and weep.
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