The Grandest Place
© Folakemi Emem-Akpan
My husband brought death home to me, and I received it at love’s altar. Eighteen months later, he is already decomposing, and my immune system is gradually breaking down.
The hospital has become my first home, even as I fight against the demon in my blood. I am not fighting because of me, but for my children. Innocent, wide-eyed, still yet to recover from their father’s demise. Eight-year-old Bimpe has taken to sleeping in his frayed jacket, and Bunmi peppers every sentence with the word, daddy.
I desperately want to live. For them.
Then the unexpected. Yinka, my youngest is slowly being killed by the same devil that is about to make him an orphan.
I stumble out of the laboratory, blinking back hot sunshine and salty tears. My skull still feels empty from a recent bout with pneumonia. And my heart…feels like it’s being clawed apart. Something is scratching for all it’s worth, pulling my heart into a long crimson ribbon, and then sadistically feeding the weeping heart into a fireplace.
“Wole,” my late husband’s name involuntarily escapes my trembling lips, “I played the faithful little wife while you gallivanted about town. See what you’ve done to us…see what you’re doing to your children…” I stop suddenly. My anger at Wole dries on my lips. He had always been unfaithful. I knew that and still went right ahead and married him. But I’d hoped, oh how I’d hoped that marriage and responsibility would stabilize him. But how wrong I’d been. To celebrate Bimpe’s birth, he had gone to town with his friends and woken up the next morning in a seedy brothel.
Yinka is waiting for me at the doorway.
“Mommee, I’m hungry.” Typical of a four-year-old, he’s more concerned about his empty belly than his failing health.
“I’ll fix you lunch.” I answer shakily, wanting to be strong, yet desiring a broad shoulder to weep all my frustrations on.
His thin legs follow me into the kitchen. As I’ve done in the past months, I try not to take in my surroundings. Once, it had been filled with all conveniences, and even some luxuries. But it’s now bare save for the absolute necessities.
To give you life, they bleed your purse to death. In Nigeria, there are no subsidies for AIDS treatment, and one ARV drug is expensive enough to gulp one-month salary.
I don’t even have a salary anymore. I suddenly think. My boss, coating her rejection with fine words, had handed me my sack letter yesterday.
“Did the doctah tell you what’s wrong?” Yinka asks, “will he put the needle in my bombom?”
I can’t answer his kindergarten questions. Not now. “Will you eat some eba?”
“Yes mommee. When did the doctah say I will be well?”
“Shh Yinka. Let me make you lunch first.”
He is very headstrong, just like his father. He displays his stubbornness now, “But I want to know? Am I going to die like daddee? My Sunday school teacher says that when we die, we will go to heaven. She says ‘ts the grandest place. Will you like to go there, mommee?”
I turn my back to him, as silent tears wash my face. My mother had brought me up a Christian but marrying Wole, I’d turned my back on the truth I knew. Sending the kids to Sunday school was a defiant act. Let’s see if this God can remedy a generation going to waste.
“If the doctah says I’m going ta die, can I take you along?”
For want of an answer, I bend and rummage through the thoroughly empty cupboard.
“Aww, mommee? Won’t you like to go? My teacher says the houses are built with gold…” he falls silent for a while, “mommee, what’s gold?”
“In my father’s house are many mansions. I go to prepare a place for you…” Twenty years after, mum’s voice still rings clear in my head. She’d been reading the Gospel of John to me, but that particular passage had caught her attention, and we’d dwelt on it for days on end.
“Mommee!” Yinka shouts in exasperation.
“But I don’t want leave my children. I’m afraid…afraid to die.” I whimper as I rest my weary head against the cupboard.
“Mommee, will you like to go to that grandest place?” Yinka asks again.
Trembling, I sigh deeply and start to set out the ingredients for his eba.
I would think later.