Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Christmas Lights (10/30/08)
TITLE: Lighting this darkness
By Folakemi Emem-Akpan
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Christmas has not visited this home this year; I doubt it will.
The chairs are still a faded gingham red, the rug worn and almost threadbare, the room preternaturally quiet.
And it’s just the two of us. Mum, in her seventies, with a tight bun at the nape of her neck, pale shaky hands trying to knit. My eyes are drawn to the pictures that line her living room. Of all the changes she has made, she has not relinquished the pictures. Not one of them.
Pictures of me on my wedding way, my eyes dancing and full of light. Then pictures of my family; Dave, Sophia and Darrel. In every pose imaginable, in every place imaginable.
I tear my eyes away in agony as my breakfast threatens to spill back out of my mouth.
“Are you okay?” Mum asks, and as she talks, her cheeks collapse inward lending her the appearance of a scarecrow. With a pang, I realize that this past year has been hard on her too.
For my family had been her family.
I was born a twin but my brother lived only four days. Two years later, Mum lost another baby at birth and was told there wouldn’t be any more children. She poured her love into Dad, into me, into our home.
And then Dad went out okay one morning and returned in a makeshift coffin. Mum was disconsolate. I was six, wise beyond my years, alarmed at the rate my mother was failing.
Somehow, we made it through. But Mum never lost that sad look in her eyes.
Then Dave came into my life, into hers, followed rapidly by Sophia and Darrel. The melancholy in Mum faded. A woman I had almost forgotten blossomed.
Mum would come over to our house during the Christmas holidays and the children would be all over her. In the nights, she and Dave, both avid readers would compare books while I tallied up the store’s sales and expenses.
It was a simple life, a simple time. A medium sized tree, lights that were not too much but enough to excite the children, a simple but sumptuous meal on Christmas day and then the opening of gifts.
This is the first Christmas without them, and it’s harder than I ever thought it would be. Last week, I’d finally closed up the house and the store and moved in with Mum, into my old room but my old life doesn’t fit.
For heaven’s sake, I was a wife. I was a mother. And in one fell sweep, I was rendered not only a widow but a childless woman too.
A sunny Saturday morning. Waving to my family as they left for my mother-in-law’s across the town. They didn’t return; I got a phone call instead. A drunk truck driver, a red light that he wouldn’t stop at. And the result was a flattened car, three lost lives. My husband, my daughter, my son, all lost.
I woke up in the hospital three days later. I was numb, couldn’t feel anything in the region of my heart.
“Are you okay?” Mum asks again and I am fast-forwarded back to the present.
“Yes, yeah…” Although fast, my words are yet hesitant.
“Disconcerting, isn’t it? Today being Christmas eve.”
I am in no mood to talk. I nod and disappear down the corridor.
I leave the house early, wandering the streets, wondering why and how I would ever be the same again. Was I bound to live the sad life my mother had? She’d lost her husband young; I’d lost mine young too. She’d lost two children, I’d lost two too. Two children I’d loved more than life itself.
Was there any hidden sin in our past we were paying for, for which God could not be placated?
I walk and walk, watching through windows as families laugh and eat.
Four hours later, I return home.
Mum is still knitting, but there is the smell of fresh-baked bread. On the dinning table are three fat candles. All lit, all melting slowly, filling the room with a delicious waxy aroma.
Mum turns to me. “I thought we’d eat by the candle for a change.”
Tears fill my eyes. Mum is still here, she’s always been. Gratitude fills my heart. What if she’s not here as well? How would I cope?
“Merry Christmas Mum.” I say as I pull out a chair.
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