I don’t love easily and I don’t scare easily, thanks to a childhood filled with torment at the hands of permanently drunk parents who showed love to each other and to me with numerous ear cuffings and head knocks.


I was forty when I got married; it’d taken me that long to find someone I could be myself with. Maureen was twenty-eight, so petite her shape was almost like a child’s, with eyes so round and wide she seemed to be in a permanent state of wonder. But under that fragile exterior lay a woman of steel, a woman of strong and final decisions.


For the first time in my life, I understood what love was. I felt what love was. I breathed was love was.


I was forty-three when I became a father. Sarah has eyes as big as her mother’s, huge round dimples that are made for kisses. The first time I held her in my arms, I fell in love again. And I swore I would protect this little girl of mine with my life if need be.


For four years, I kept that promise. For four years, we lived a wondrous, tension-free, joy-filled life, all three of us.


Until that day.


For days, Sarah had been complaining of a full tummy, headaches and knee pain. She’d been throwing up her meals and there were purple marks all over her body. Her pediatrician sent us home with antibiotics which did not help at all. By the time we took her back to the doctor, she’d started to break out in night sweats and could not retain any meal that was not liquid in composition.


The diagnosis at the specialist’s numbed me to the very core. Leukemia. Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia. The fan in the room seemed to stop spinning, the clock seemed to stop ticking, the floor started to rotate. The doctor’s voice seemed to come from far away.


I had learnt love from Maureen and Sarah. Now, I was to learn fear.


As they dripped the poison which was to kill the bad white blood cells in her system, fear consumed me. What if she didn’t make it? How do you learn to unlove a child you’ve loved for four years?


As my baby lost her hair and even more of her appetite, as she lost her laughter and her Sarahness; as Maureen lost her wit and her wonder; I died a little each day.


I went through the motions. I was with Sarah each day as she underwent chemotherapy. I held her teddy to her chest when she was too weak to hold it herself. I peppered her feverish forehead with kisses.


In the dead of the night, I held Maureen as her body shook with uncontrollable sobs. I brushed her thick black hair. I made breakfast so she could rest.


And inside, I died a little each day.


In those terrible months, it came to me why some people choose to live lonely lives, why some people choose to die as old maids and old codgers.


It is because love is sometimes a burden too great to bear.


And then Sarah started to get better. The purplish marks faded and disappeared, the headaches lessened in intensity, she started to eat better. A month later, she was allowed to come home. Two months later, they could not find the cancer cells in her blood anymore.


Sarah’s hair grew back, although fluffier and not as dark. Life reverted to normal, almost.


It’s been two years now. Sarah is still in remission, but I have not lost my fear completely. I am always checking her skin for the telltale sign, always second-guessing myself when she does not clear her plate.


And now that we are expecting our second child, I worry about Maureen. I worry about pre-eclampsia, breech birth, post-partum depression.


Love, I say, is a burden. But a delightsome burden.



22 thoughts on “Susceptibility” by Folakemi Emem-Akpan (@Folakemi)

  1. Yes, agreed…i love this

    nice piece

  2. It’s a big burden. nice story. Leukemia tho! It reminds me of my childhood crush- Seun Savage of blessed memory, he didn’t survive it. I pray Maureen doesn’t go back to her purple-skin.

    1. Awww…. I’m sure Seun is in a better place now.

    2. @Shovey, I second Ufuoma. I believe Seun is in a better place

  3. love. a wonder yet a curse!

  4. oh… now I can breathe.

    this was so touching. when am reading your stories, I get into this calm zone… let your words just flow in. you really are amazing…

    Yesterday, my biology professor lectured us about the Blood… and Leukemia was one of the disease we discuss. Its really a heart drenching tragedy when kids suffer from such…

    1. thanks @ufuomaotebele, high praise coming from you. If we lived in an ideal world (which we unfortunately do not), kids will not fall ill at all.

  5. ummm what can I say, love a burden? still thinking of how to phrase the words bubbling in my mind…

  6. @newnaija, thanks for stopping by and commenting. When i say love is a burden, i mean to say that when you love someone, especially your defenseless child, all their problems become yours. I am a mom, and I will lay my life down for my children in a heartbeat.

    1. I do understand my sister, in fact to the place you don’t know I understand. I have three boys (sons) that I love so much. I do understand the burden part of love.

  7. O-Money (@Omoniyi-Adeshola)

    @folakemi, effortless grace, that is what describes this story. Simple and straightforward

    1. thanks @omoniyi-adeshola for your wonderful comment

  8. This is so beautiful, love could be a burden but then it is also wonderful to be able to feel someone else’s happiness and sorrow.

    1. @ameenaedrees, thanks. indeed love is wonderful

  9. It’s really sad and heartbreaking to have to watch one’s child suffer so much, u’ld want to just take all d pain and bear it yourself, if it’s possible. Nice piece, very touching.

    1. @raykeeyah, thanks. May we never watch our children suffer like this

  10. Abeg Madam Folakemi, your stories are amazing! Portraying such simplicity in everyday stories usually comes across as lazy, when most attempt it, but your work comes with such ease and grace. More virtual grease to your elbows.

    It feels like I am rambling here… hehe. I just like your work.

    1. @onu-okparachiamaka, thanks is all i can say again. and Amen to the virtual grease prayer

  11. I wish children would be spared the agony of sickness and death. Beautiful story, as I’ve come to expect from you. In fact, I’ve decided to go through your archives. #StalkerAlert

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