© Folakemi Emem-Akpan
My mother and father are both dying, one of cancer and the other of bitterness. They got divorced when I was five, and even though I am an adult now with kids of my own, I have yet to get to the root of their separation.
I am caught between the two of them. Mum’s soft words and her longing for reconciliation. Dad’s harsh words and frightful anger. And now, Mum’s sickness.
“Tina,” she calls feebly. Her face is as white as her hair, and almost as white as the cool sheets she sleeps on, “it won’t be long.”
I lean closer, noting for the first time that Mum’s favourite music is playing. She begs the nurses to play it every morning.
“I said it wouldn’t be long.” She says again, obviously exerting energy and going on despite the strain, “my strength won’t hold out much longer”.
“Don’t say that.” The words automatically spring to my lips. We are close but it hasn’t been for long.
I lived with a paternal aunt after the divorce and was reunited with my mother when I was sixteen. I had brought resentment, anger and fear into our mother-daughter relationship and ran away when I was eighteen. I lived with dad awhile, ran away again, then returned home to Mum with a husband and daughter in tow.
Her arms had been wide open – open enough for the three of us. Open enough for me to learn how to love her. Open enough for me to hurt crazily when she dies.
“Tina, don’t fight it. I can feel it in my bones that it’s time. I hardly can wait…” she gives in to a spasm of cough. Phlegm mixed with blood splatter out of her mouth.
There is a strong smell of death in the air.
“Mum, are you okay?”
She sighs. “I am not. I feel like I’m being eaten alive from inside…” She forces a smile, “but I will soon be out of the pain. Tina…your father?”
“Still the same.”
Her eyes cloud over and I see anxiety there. “I wronged him once…I wronged him, Tina. But I begged for his forgiveness. I begged God too. God forgave me but James hasn’t…” Another racking cough and more blood.
“Mum, stop!” I shout, willing this woman to live yet knowing I am kidding myself.
“You need to tell him, Tina. He must forgive me…for his sake. I’ve made my peace with God and I’m ready…I’m ready to go meet him. Your father is not ready…tell him…”
I know she’s right. I know it without saying. My parents are as different as day and night. But my mission now is to calm Mum. And calm the wild galloping of my heart.
“It’s okay, Mum. You need to rest.”
“Tell him, honey.” And with that, she rests back, sighs and closes her eyes.
I breathe an audible sigh of relief, glad that she is resting now.
The sound of the heart monitor wakes me. It bears the sound of the imminent.
“No.” I console myself. “It’s just a false alarm.” But I know. She’s resting calmly but even before I reach out my hand to touch her, I know she’s dead.
My eyes water with tears and the impulse to run out of the room seizes me by force. I sit awhile, forcing myself to see Mum as she had been a long time ago rather than the carcass she’d been for a year. She had been strong, and it’s my turn to be strong now.
I walk unhurriedly out of the room to the nurses’ room.
“My mother’s gone.” I whisper, afraid saying it too loud would validate it.
The nurses, all-efficient, rise at once, pity in their eyes.
“I’m sorry.” One of them offers.
“It’s all right…” I start to say, but stop as I sight my husband running into the room.
“Tina…” he stops when he sees me. I can smell he’s brought bad news.
“I don’t want to hear it.” I hold out my hand. “Not now. Not yet.”
“But you must. I’ve been trying to reach you on your mobile. Tina…”
I move close to him, wrapping my arms around him. Whatever he has to say, I need his strength.
“What is it?”
“It’s your dad, honey…your aunt called me. Tina…” he hugs me tighter.
I hold my breath, waiting, weeping on my inside.
“Tina…He’s dead. He…shot himself.”