© Folakemi Emem-Akpan
Dark and musty, the room is stacked with memories. German roaches have laid eggs on the blue blanket and there is a perpetual smell of dampness. And of split milk and unwashed clothes.
I stumble into a maze of cobwebs and flail at my face. It’s been only two years. How can a room deteriorate so much in so little a time? How can smells keep for two years? And how can I still remember that day in vivid colors, as if it were but yesterday?
Six months old and already plump beyond plumpness itself, a smile radiant like an angel’s, a rambunctious spirit that could only have been his dad’s, Brian was the kind of baby women oohed at, the kind men wanted as sons, the kind sisters wanted as brothers, and the kind baby girls hoped would one day be theirs. And he was my baby.
He was my baby boy, a welcome relief after three girls. I’d thought my life would never take a break from pink gowns, Barbie dolls and hair combs. Until Brian. It was a surprise pregnancy, and even more of a surprise when the ultrasound showed it was a boy. I ran amuck, literarily shopping till I dropped. Blue booties, blue flannel wrappers, blue jumpsuits, blue everywhere. Blue, blue, blue. And then my dark-eyed baby arrived with a natural grin and easy charm.
For six months, I lived in a blue heaven. Brian was an easy baby, he virtually never cried, never fussed, and was never sick. Until that cold November night.
I’d already tucked in Tessie, Georgina and Barbara. Brian had been sleeping for close to two hours already. I didn’t want to put on the light, didn’t want to disturb him. All I wanted to do was kiss him and remind myself of God’s goodness. He was tangled into his sheets, arms splayed, eyes vacant, skin cold and black. For a crazy moment, I thought I was sleeping and dreaming, would soon wake up. But it was no dream. Hyperventilating, I switched on the light, checked for a pulse and found a weak one.
Dave drove to the hospital; I held Brian in my arms, my emotions in check, and my face unwashed by tears. Hope was the only thing I held to, the only thing I dared to believe in.
The graveyard shift at the hospital took Brian from my hands. Dave led me to a seat. And we waited. Not for long. Less than thirty minutes later, a somber-faced doctor pronounced my son dead. He mumbled something about oxygen deficiency.
Shaking my head as if to clear it of unwanted memories, I take a step farther into Brian’s room. His clothes are in the laundry basket and for the millionth time in two years, I unfold and refold them.
“Not again.” The words startle me into dropping a pair of socks and I spin around. Tessie is brushing her long dark hair, looking at me as if I’ve gone nuts. She’s just turned ten and thinks it’s a license to be cheeky. “Don’t tell me you’re going through his things again. He’s been dead how long?” She holds up two fingers as if I don’t know, shakes her head and leaves as quietly as she came.
A chill runs through me. I don’t know why, but I’m slowly becoming estranged from my family. Dave comes home later and later and the little time he’s home, he holes up in the girls’ room. Just yesterday, I overheard him promising Tessie they’d go catch a movie this weekend. And Georgy and Barbie would rather he read them their bedtime stories. They’d rather he dress them up for school. They’d rather I don’t exist.
Tears rise to my eyes as I pat my son’s clothes, the very last one he wore before he went to be with the angels. Then I step out of the room, into the remaining part of my life.