The Day That I Became Fatherless

-Chinemerem

– By Chinemerem from Nigeria

On that Christmas day, we had just woken up, because my older siblings and I had gone to the Vigil Mass. We were going to cook rice and the chicken was ready.

I came into the room to get my sister’s phone and I glanced at him; he lay on the bed. I moved closer to him and touched his feet.

“It is well, dad.”

He didn’t reply. But this was very normal, because he hadn’t spoken in many months. In the last 14 months, he hadn’t moved either. We talked and read to him; we knew that he understood us, he just couldn’t reply. He was sick. He had been sick for years, but somehow, it seemed worse during that fateful Christmas holiday.

As soon as I left the room, my brother sent me to a relative’s house. I had to go return their basket.
I don’t remember how long I spent in my relative’s house, but by the time I came back home, a strange silence hung around the house. I didn’t want to go inside, so I stood outside and peered through the window.

A priest was bent over my father, whispering prayers and anointing his forehead with oil. This was it. He was giving my father the last sacrament – the Sacrament of Extreme Unction.

Yes, my father was going to die.

The priest put the eucharistic bread in his mouth. I saw him start chewing it with difficulty, and I saw him stop. His jaws stopped like something that was paused. His eyes suddenly went blank, and his legs gave a resigned shudder. He was dead.

I didn’t know what to do. It felt like the world itself had suddenly stopped. It was at that point that I realized that it wasn’t just the priest who was on that bedside. My mum, my older siblings and my uncle were there too. A few other close relatives were at the door.

Some had started screaming. Some wailed on the floor. I saw a man pull off his shoes and sit on the floor, a pained look on his face.

I saw my brother reach out, and slide my father’s eyes shut. I expected him to suddenly open them, and tell us that he was just joking, that he was just playing. But he didn’t.

I didn’t cry. My siblings and mum didn’t either. In my mum’s face, I could see resignation. It was as if crying was the last thing on her mind. Perhaps this was because she had cried enough. We had all cried enough all through the years he was sick and we cared for him.

There were days we would see my mum with a puffy face and eyes pure scarlet; she was obviously crying, but we never talked about it. We all had moments when we were so overwhelmed by his illness that we just cried. So now, the tears weren’t forthcoming.

Only a few hours ago, the house had been merry, with the carols my sister was singing in her horrible voice, the Christmas trees my brother had set up, and the talk of the food. The harmattan air had been so cold and dry, so pleasant on the skin.

But at that moment, while other families celebrated Christmas, taboo words could be heard in my own house. Words like ‘ambulance, embalming, coffin, burial, condolence, and death’.
The air suddenly felt hostile. I could hear relatives in the next house (they obviously weren’t aware that someone had just died, yet) and their laughter sent pangs of anguish down my veins. What could be so funny, when my father lies here, dead?

It’s been seven years since that day, but I can’t remember which memory gets me more emotional – the innocent look on my little brother’s face when he asked, “Why are people crying?” or the sight of my father’s lifeless body being put in an ambulance.

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And She Went Away…

alexandrine

— By Alexandrine from Burkina Faso

It was one April evening, in two days I was going to celebrate my twentieth birthday. Night had barely fallen on my peaceful town. Sitting in the courtyard of the house, just in front of the door to my room, I was looking at the sky. A beautiful starry sky, it looked like the stars were celebrating. Without really knowing why, my thoughts had gone astray to the theme of death. I thought it was a beautiful night to die. The next moment I felt guilty, as if I had just committed a murder in thought. I quickly chased these black ideas and turned back to my little sister. She sat in front of me in an armchair leaning against the wall. Her head slightly inclined to the side, she was quiet. From the height of her 14 years, she was beautiful, my sister. I was five when she was born. I remember as if it was yesterday. Dad brought us – my brothers and I – and told us that Mom was going to come back from hospital with a little sister. I did not understand much of it. I just knew I was happy to see this sister. At the ceremony of the eighth day, the ceremony in which the baby goes out publicly, I asked my mother, “By the way, how is she called, the little sister?” “Solange,” answered my mother. Solange – this name will forever be etched in my head and in my heart…

I was watching her frail body and her peaceful face, empty of emotions. This face once so cheerful. She was the joy of life of the family, sparkling and inquisitive. Her contagious laughter resounded throughout the house. The youngest, as she was called, was the favorite of all and enjoyed all the attention. I was jealous sometimes.

Now she is only the shadow of herself. A disease whose name is unknown has taken possession of her body, and she is perishing day by day. After days spent in the hospital without much satisfaction, we returned home. Day and night I was with her. I had asked permission from the university to spend as much time as possible with her.
That night I was observing her without knowing what to say to ease her pain. Despite her apparent suffering, she never complained. She suffered in silence and when she could, she even offered us her childish smile.
That night I was observing her and unintentionally, I began to think of all the moments of happiness we spent together. Our complicity, the little disputes, the laughter, the little tricks we played to our two brothers. A battle of girls against boys…

That day, all day long, she did not want to eat. She rejected everything I brought her. Meals, medicines, everything. In the evening, to give her a little air, I helped her to sit in that chair and I sat in front of her. I was observing her when suddenly her head bowed abruptly. I rose hastily from my chair and shook her. I shouted her name several times without answers. The continuation of the events is only fog in my head. I saw my father in tears, covering the little body with a sheet, and he lifted her from the armchair to the room.

Solange was gone. Forever. It was a beautiful night to die!

My Good Old Days

lealimo

— By Lealimo from Lesotho

Growing up in the village of Semphetenyane has always been magical to me, those years even today still colour my mind with happiness.

Semphetenyane is a small village in the outskirts of Maseru city in Lesotho, surrounded by rivers, valleys, meadows, and beautiful mountains. During rainy season one can see the rainbow touch the mountains. 
I have since lived with my father in his early years. He was a very strong hard working man. In his early forties, he always put on his khaki trousers and matching shirts made of very strong material. To complement his attire, he usually put on his black boots and big straw hat to protect himself from the sun while working in the fields. I always thought he looked like an 18th-century kind of man and always wondered why he loved his khaki clothing so much. We had lots of cattle, sheep, and chickens in our yard.

Our source of income was mainly on sheep rearing, selling eggs, and milk. My father had so many rules, but there were two that were most important among them, that he wanted me to abide and live by. I was not allowed to arrive home after the sunset, and most importantly, to never tell a lie. Should I break any of the rules, I knew that he would make me sweep the whole big yard that was dirtied by animals. Even though I only had two rules to follow, to me as a child following only those two rules felt like he was challenging me – it was almost like saying I should fill the jars with honey and not lick my fingers. Though I always knew what my punishment would be should I break any of the rules, to me it felt like it was worth it after all the fun I would have with my friends.

When I arrived late he would say, “Leah, where is the sun? Come inside the house when you can show me the sun.” Then he would make me draw a picture of the sun. I would sit by the door sulking and sad, drawing. Eventually he would let me in, but I would still pay for it.


I remember one Friday afternoon when I was about 16-years-old and on my way back from school, my three friends and I decided to go for a swim in the river. We swam and played until the sunset. On our way back, I told my friends about my father’s rules.

They laughed at me and somehow it made me a bit uneasy, because I wondered if their parents ever set any rules for them. They advised me to lie and say I had gone to see my grandmother in a nearby village, though I didn’t like the idea, I went ahead with it anyways. When I got home, my father was very furious, but before he could ask, I told him about my visit to grandma’s house. He was not so convinced, a bit reluctant to believe me, but he let it go.

I felt a relief seeing that he bought my story.


This became a habit for me to go to the river with my friends for a few Fridays after school, and then I would lie to him. One time, I was not aware that my grandmother was coming to visit us that day for the weekend. As usual, I lied to him, only to wake up in the morning to find my grandmother sitting at our coffee table making breakfast. I couldn’t believe my eyes, I started shaking with fear and shame, remembering what I had just told my father the previous night.

My father was disappointed and I could see it in his eyes. As punishment, he made me sweep our yard and our neighbour’s yard for the next 10 days, because I had lied to him. Even today, he still has pictures that he would make me draw each time I arrived home late.


All these memories built me to be the woman I am today. Though he doesn’t make me draw anymore, whenever I arrive home late, he still reminds me that if I wasn’t an adult, he would make me draw.