Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Christmas Tree (10/09/08)
TITLE: This one wish
By Folakemi Emem-Akpan
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An achingly cold night. The harmattan wind buffets my face, stings at the frozen line of tears.
I hurry on, my slippers plat-platting on the sidewalk. Mrs. Brown next door called thirty minutes ago, saying she has to go out.
I stop to catch my breath. Our tenement is a huge, squalid structure. Populated by more rats and roaches than people, it should have been torn down years ago. But this is home, has been home for two years.
It was to this building that I fled. It was here that I clocked eighteen, here that Kate was born. Katie, the unbelievably lovely product of one night gone wrong.
“Hello there.” Mrs. Brown is dressed, ready to go. The coat she wears was once fashionable. Now it is old and frayed. Yet more adequate protection against the cold than my own jacket.
“She’s sleeping. And I’m sorry I had to call you like that, but it is really important that I go out.”
She hands me the key to my room and waves me bye, picking her way through the perpetual flow of garbage in front of room three. I open my door, glad to be somewhere warm.
Kate is asleep indeed, curled up on the thin rug in front of the television. She was eighteen months last week, has a heightened sense of observation and has recently taken to the television. I allow her watch, Mrs. Brown allows her, and then Kate allows herself to be drawn into the magic of the tube.
It was on the TV she first saw a Christmas tree. At least six feet tall, with gleaming balls and red bows. The presents underneath the tree must have been at least a hundred. Big packages, small packages, tiny packages. All done up in elaborate dressing.
Kate’s eyes had gone wide, then she’d clapped her pudgy little hands together and looked at me with her piercingly dark eyes. “Mama, tree please.”
As I watch my little angel sleep, silent tears wash my face. I have been saving for as long as I can remember towards a present, perhaps two for Kate this Christmas season. Not in a million years would I be able to afford a tree.
Pulling off my jacket, I cross over to the far corner where the hot plate and eating bowls are. In one of the bowls, I lift out my egg nest, all of eight hundred Naira.
I don’t know what to do. I don’t know if I should pray or just give in and cry. I am only twenty years old. I shouldn’t be saddled with decisions like this. I am a child myself, so how can I be a mother? Why would God entrust me with Kate’s life, her upbringing. Why?
I sink to the floor, desperation clutching at my breast. My daughter is only a little girl, a baby with a past she didn’t create and a future she can’t decide. The past I can’t change, but the future is in my hands.
An unseasonably warm September night, and I’d been out alone. Running late, I’d cut through the alley, hoping that I’d be home before Dad.
The unexpected blow to the back of my head. Two boys with shaven heads and dead eyes. There, I lost my virginity.
It took two months to realize I’d lost more than that. I sunk into murky depths. Who would believe that my pregnancy was the fallout of a rape, one I’d never spoken about?
No one did, and Dad was very quick to show me the door.
Jagged sobs rouse me out of my reverie and it takes a while to realize they are mine. Kate turns over, a contented snore issuing from between her lips.
I should be able to provide for her, give her the beautiful things she wants.
A soft knock at the door. Wiping my tears, I stand to open the door. It’s Mrs. Brown.
“Back so early?”
She smiles, a soft motherly smile. “I didn’t go far, just around the corner to the second hand shop. It’s Christmas Eve, and every little girl should get their wish.” With that, she steps aside.
Then I see the tree.
It is short, sporting a few miserly decorations. But to a toddler, it would seem a giant, and a beautiful one at that.
My vision swims for an instant, and then clears so that I can see the angel in front of me.
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