The Memory Book

This is a sequel to the last story, ‘They Walked On Water’. I like this story. It is slow paced…

Damilola

May 8, 2015

This is a sequel to the last story, ‘They Walked On Water’. I like this story. It is slow paced and words seem to easily find their place in the puzzle of this story.

Adiaha, she was lucky to have a father that knew to call out over the oceans to for her happinness. If you aren’t that lucky, that is okay. We make our own luck anyway. You too can call out to He that walks on water – Matthew 14:25-29- and He will come for you. He always does.

 

The child is born in a missionary hospital. It was built by a missionary from Canada. Adiaha finds it ironic and fitting at the same time; a child deserves to be born with something of his father after all.

It also happens to be the only hospital in town that she can abide. The nurses are kind and younger here than at the other hospitals she has visited in Calabar, including the one she works in. She had started ante-natal care in another hospital, one closer to home but after two visits and many rude nurses, she finds repose in the missionary hospital.

At first, her father tried to get her to change her mind.

“Adiaha, we have no car and that hospital is too far. What will we do when your labor pains begin?”

“There is something called Taxi, Papa” She teased him.

“But you know all these young boys that never passed a driving test in their life can get a license and become taxi driver abi?”

“You worry too much Papa. Don’t worry, I will get an old man like you to drive me to the hospital. Worst case scenario, I will get an ‘alalok’. Is it not to get to the hospital?”

She smiles now amidst the birth pains as she remembers the horror on her father’s face when she mentioned being ferried to the hospital on a motorcycle. One of the first ‘rules’ he had given her upon her arrival was

“No alalok!!! On no condition will any of my children get on an alalok! I asked you to come home to bury me, not the other way round.”

It was Edi, her step-brother who had finally explained  Papa’s distaste for the motorcycle bike riders. He had been in an accident that had cost the lives of all involved except his and that of the bike rider.

It was for stories like this that Adiaha had returned. Stories that could color in the blank pages of the mystery that was the man she called “father”. She had wanted to know her father’s life, something more than the cloudy memories of childhood, something she could someday relate to her own children, something to tell at dinner parties she and Erik went to, something to point to when people asked from who and whence she came from.

When she had first arrived in Calabar from Calgary, she had been so greedy, so unwilling to let her father out of her sight, unwilling to stay and listen to anyone else for fear she might not hear enough from her Papa.

In time, she had come to understand that  the people around her father were a part of the stories she wanted told so she had learned to open herself to their love.

“Papa!! Mama says you cried the day I was born”

“Your mother talks too much,” And that had been the end of that discussion. She had had to rely on a second cousin for the rest of the details.

“Papa, where did you get that scar?”

“Eh what scar? Oh you mean this one? I can’t remember ..” It was Ekanem that had told her of the night armed robbers visited their old home and one of them had struck out at Papa with a matchete.

It is Ekanem that is in the delivery room with her now, whispering consolingly in her hoarse voice

“It will soon be over eh. Just a little while longer.”

Her hot palm is on Adiaha’s head but all Adiaha wants is to shake it off.  It is Mama she wishes were here. Mama, who is in Calgary. Mama who has vowed never to return to the land of her birth, even if it means missing the birth of her first grandchild.

“Come home to Calgary and have your child Adiaha!” Mama had scolded on Skype just the other day.

“I am not done here, Mama.” She had replied softly.

“Do you know the maternal mortality rate in Nigeria, eh Adiaha? Are you trying to get yourself and your child killed?”

I am trying to find my father. I am trying to find the part of me I can’t find when I look in your face. I am trying to forgive you for depriving me of this knowledge. I am trying to forgive him for not running after me. I am trying to forgive myself for sins I didn’t commit but need redemption from anyway.

But she does not say any of this. She opens her arms wide instead and pouts mischievously into the laptop camera.

“I love you Eka and this is me hugging you real tight and giving you yummy kisses, kisses you know you are missing.”

“Foolish girl!” Mama had replied and then started to laugh, the sound, like a faraway river because finding good network in Nigeria was as hard as finding tulips in Calgary in December.

The memory fades as the pain again slices through Adiaha again. She screams the man’s name and then she laughs when she realizes he cannot hear her.

“Erik!!!” She screams. She cannot help it. It is he that she wishes was here. Even more than she wishes for her mother, she wishes for Erik.

His son answers instead. With a lusty wail. Later they will tell her she spent 10 hours in labor and she will not believe them because 72 hours to produce such a wonder seems impossible, much less 10.

He is perfect and Adiaha wants to sing. Her chest wants to explode with the happiness she hasn’t felt since she watched love leave through ice crusted windows.

Her father names the child “Iniso”.

“What does it mean?” she asks the frail man.

“The future, a time that I will not be in,” he answers with tears of joy in his eyes as he takes her hand.

She is less creative than her father and calls the child “Baby”.

“Baby is not a name!” her mother scolds over Skype.

“Well, do you have any suggestions?” she responds paying more attention to how Baby suckles exactly like his father than she is to her mother’s theatrics. His hair is starting to come in and it is curlier and lighter than she expected. It causes her heart to clench. She knows what Erik would have named him. Anders. After the grandfather he loves and pines for, decades after his passing.

“Am I the father?” Her mother asks sarcastically as if reading her mind and then there is silence. A silence filled with accusations her mother cannot point out because of the other four fingers that would point right back at her.

You are bringing a child into this world without his father!

Pot calling kettle black, Mom!

It was different with your father and you know it. He was a drunk and a cheat. Erik is different. Erik loves you. Erik is a good man. What you are doing is wrong.

Even then, it is none of your business, Mom

And if her mother said the things that Adiaha knew stood at the edge of her tongue, how would she respond? How would she answer her mother’s truth?

“You could at least let me tell him about Baby,” her mother says finally when the silence turns guilty.

“Eka, please let me tell him myself. I know what I am doing.” She say even though it is a lie and she has no clue at all when it comes to Erik.

Baby begins to cry abruptly. He has had enough of his mother’s divided attention and so she ends the Skype call with an “I love you” and two “Don’t worry Eka”s and goes to change his diaper.

Ekanem is great with Baby and always on hand to relief Adiaha. Papa sings him lullabies in Efik and sometimes Yoruba; he lived in Lagos for a while before Adiaha was born. With Papa, Baby is never fussy and with Baby, Papa is a different, better man altogether.

Adiaha goes back to work in the hospital a month later with Baby strapped to her chest. Some of her colleagues take one look at him and she can feel their judgment like an amoeba that isn’t sure which direction to come from. She pays no attention. A few though are enamored, just as she had been from day 1.

“His eyes are so blue!”

“Ayen Abasi! He is delicious,” This is from the cook and Adiaha laughs at that one.

She takes a thousand and one pictures of him daily with the camera Erik bought her for her 32nd birthday. She doesn’t admit it to herself but she knows the photos are more for Erik than they are for anyone else. Someday he will need to fill in the blank pages of his son’s life that he missed. Someday he will need to fill in the first pages of the memory book he has for his son. Just like she is doing for her father.

Baby is four months and two weeks old when Papa has another stroke in his sleep. They bury him a week later in the rains. At the funeral, Ekanem mutters something about being grateful for the rain because it has made the grave softer to dig and Adiaha wants to laugh and cry and hold onto this queen of a woman who is the next best thing to her own mother. The funeral is a bigger affair than Adiaha thought it would be. Her father was loved by many and the next two days, she listens to more stories and colors the blank pages left of her memory book.

On the third day, after the sympathizers are gone, Ekanem hands her a letter. None of them have ventured outside the house since the funeral. It is the sorrow but it is also the relentless rains that have left the roads flooded that has imprisoned them.

“You father wrote it two weeks ago. He said to wait until…” She cannot complete the sentence for the sobs that shake her tiny robust frame. Adiaha holds Ekanem like she holds Baby. She holds her till she is all cried out and then lays her on the bed now emptied of the love she once shared it.

The letter is not much longer than the first one, the one that brought her here:

“Adiaha Akpan,

I once told you your love is like the spread of an eagle’s wing. Encompassing.

I was right. I was wrong.

Your love defies the explanation of a man with only a First School Leaving Certificate. I am so thankful to your Eka; she did well with you. She did very well.

I cannot thank you enough for this past year. You have given me gifts I never thought I would get. I hoped but I never dared believe. This is what your love is Adiaha, faith; faith that turns hopes and dreams into reality.

Thank you for making me a grandfather. Thank you for giving up so much to make this last year of my life like spring rather than the cold, dry winters you tell me of. Thank you for the books you read to me. Thank you for mornings you woke up with a smile even when you had battled mosquitoes and nightmares the night before. Thank you for the kindness you showed Ekanem and your brothers. Thank you. Thank you.

Still, there is a sadness that hangs heavy like a cloak on your shoulders. In the not very long life that I have lived, I have found that sadness is not the absence of happiness. It is the absence of someone. I know you are happy here but I also know that something, someone is missing from your life. I know it is my fault and I am sorry. Sorry I asked you to choose me over that someone but also thankful that you did.

I called your mother. She called Erik and we spoke. He will be here any day now. I am sorry it is not soon enough for me to meet him but I have looked in his “Skype” eyes and I have seen Iniso and love in them.

Be kind to your mother. She has always been about you. Tell Iniso about me. Don’t forget all about Ekanem or your brothers when you leave. I don’t need to tell you what to do about Erik. Go home my child, go home.

The catechist tells me that in heaven there is a sea of glass. When your time comes, you will know where to find me.

Papa.”

Outside the wind bellows loudly but over it, Adiaha can hear loud knocking. She knows who has come. She knows who has battled the floods of Calabar to find them. She knows who has walked on water to get here. She reaches for Anders/Iniso, their sleeping child and together, they walk the rest of the way to greet they that walked on water.

 

Song of the day: Five For Fighting – Chances

  • Father
  • Love

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