Published on December 17th, 2012 | by The Alchemist49
On the fifth day of Christmas my true love gave to me…
…five golden rings
The sun seemed to be taking its time remembering to visit Chicago. It was only fitting, Idara thought; only fitting that something was at least different on this day. Only fitting that the sun took its time rising on the day the sun of her dream set.
It was freezing as well but she took no notice as she watched the gravediggers dig the grave that would soon hold her dream. It had been so cold since Tasha died and Idara knew it had little to do with Chicago’s weather and everything to do with the ice that had taken the place of her heart.
The ice only remembered to thaw when she looked at her babies. She thought about them then and wondered how they were. For once since the divorce, she had been glad to relinquish their care to Ibe. She wasn’t sure how to be a mother anymore; she had not been sure since Tasha died of how to be anything other than someone for whom love and life was over.
Imoke had asked her yesterday as she packed their little suitcases where Aunty Tasha was and she had frozen. It had taken a few minutes for blood to start flowing to her head again and then she had run to the bathroom leaving behind a bewildered child. It took ten minutes before she felt like she could face the world again. By then, Imoke and Akan were settled in front of the television watching reruns of Mickey Mouse and the little one was fast asleep between them.
She needed to be strong and at her best. She could not afford to be weak, especially knowing Ibe, her ex-husband. He would take the slightest hint of weakness as ammunition with which to gain custody of the children. She knew all this and yet she couldn’t shake off the cold that was now creeping its way into the very recesses of her soul so that she could not even be something as simple as a mother.
She sighed aloud as she thought of how the kids were getting along with their father and one of the gravediggers turned in her direction. It was the same one that had greeted her when she arrived at the cemetery this morning. His eyes were emptied of pity as he looked her over, his head cocked to one side in question, and Idara was glad. She shook her head in response to his silent ‘Is everything alright?’ inquiry and the man went back to work.
She was so tired of people staring at her with pity all the time. They had stared when the bruises Ibe frequented on her neck and arms turned purple. They had stared when he broke her arm and she went around in a cast for 3 months. They had also stared back home in Nigeria, that one time they had gone back to visit. Ibe had taken the opportunity to show her he was an African man who knew how to discipline his wife. She could call 911 when they got back to Chicago but there in Lagos, he was judge, jury and hangman.
They had stared too every time she took Tasha to the hospital where heaven knew no one should be allowed to stare at others because being in the hospital definitely meant you had your own problems.
She would stare defiantly back at people who took in Tasha’s bald head and skinny frame and saw it as an excuse to look till their eyes bulged out. Sometimes when her staring back at them didn’t dissuade them, she would cuss at them in Ibibio.
‘Abok! Inam Ikot!’
And then Tasha would laugh that laugh that sounded like water running down rocks. Her bald head would shake and Idara would laugh too because if she did not she would cry instead. They would go home and if Idara did not have to go to work, she would hold the woman who was the love of her life while she trembled from the aftereffects of the chemo.
One time when the trembling was not so bad, Tasha had brought up the idea that grew into their dream.
‘Let’s run away together’
‘You are joking right. We are adults, Tash. Adults don’t run away. Besides, what about the children?’
‘We can take the children. Go to Australia where Ibe would never think to look for you.’
‘But my job and your treatments and ….’
‘Hush my love’ Tasha said placing a finger on Idara’s mouth. ‘Just say you will think about it’
But before she could say she would, Tasha was snoring softly.
The next day at work, Idara looked up nursing jobs in Australia. The day the doctor told them the cancer was in remission, she applied to four jobs in Brisbane. They bought guide books about the city and were soon dreaming with their eyes wide open of a new life. Tasha would get a job teaching music; maybe she could even play in the city’s famous orchestra someday. They got passports for the kids and little stuffed koala bears. When Idara went to work, Tasha would wear one of her many rainbow colored hats and take the children to the park where she would tell them Idara’s mother’s tortoise stories, the ones that had nothing to do with speed and that she could replace with a koala.
Two of the hospitals Idara applied to, got back to her in early November offering her jobs. The day she applied for all their visas, she came home to find Tasha passed out on the floor, in an old pair of pajamas, her rainbow colored hat askew on her head and the children snuggled together crying like the world had ended.
On the fifth day of Christmas, just before she slipped into unconsciousness, Tasha asked Idara to marry her. She produced 5 gold rings from the pocket of her hospital gown and Idara had cried and cried as she held hers to the light to look at the first letters of their names engraved on the ring.
Three of the rings belonged to the children and the last one was now Idara’s to keep as well.
‘I will haunt you if you bury me with a gold ring.’ Tasha had warned and she had responded with laughter and more tears.
‘Take the children and go, Idara.’
‘I can’t, Tash, not without you. This was our dream. I can’t live it alone.’
‘Do it for the kids; before Ibe infects them with his poison. Go Idara, now while you still have sole custody. Go before he can get his guns together to fight you into the ground; and you know he will, sooner or later. Take them and go! Go far away from this place!’
Go, go, go…
‘What? I am sorry. What was that again?’ Idara said to the grave digger who now stood in front of her.
The hat that had been on his head while he was digging was now in his hands and he fiddled with the edges as he repeated himself.
‘I said if you are ready, we are ready to go.’
‘Oh yes, of course.’ She said. ‘I am ready.’
He looked at her for a few seconds before saying softly.
‘No one is ever ready, Lady.’
He placed his hat on his head and made to walk away, but changed his mind instead and asked.
‘Do you mind if I stand beside you? No one should have to do this alone.’ He said.
Idara raised her head to look into blue eyes that reminded her of vacation in Tasha’s hometown of St.Kitts. There was still no pity in those eyes so she nodded her head. If the man gave a signal to his workers, Idara didn’t see it but a few seconds after he took his place beside her, the coffin began its final descent
‘Your accent, it is different’ Idara said to him.
‘That it is. I am Australian.’
A dam broke then and she wept while holding onto a stranger. As his men filled the grave, the man told her of the place he once called home. They watched the sun rise and he told her of how there was nothing more beautiful than dawn in Brisbane. The ice in her heart was halfway melted by the time she placed roses on the fresh mound and said goodbye to the gravedigger and his men.
She picked the kids up from their father and told them about how Aunty Tasha had gone to live with the angels but had left them gold rings and memories to always remember her by. She let them sleep with her that night. She told them bedtime stories her own mother back in Etinan had told her about the tortoise. The children laughed at her and told her how she had gotten it all wrong. It was the koala who had done all those things in her story and not the tortoise, Aunty Tasha had told them so. She laughed with them and apologized for getting the stories wrong. Aunty Tasha was right; it was time they got used to koalas.
The very next day, she took them to choose a tree and buy decorations. On their way back home, she stopped by the travel agent and booked one way tickets to see the koalas.
My favourite author is John Irving. In his book, ‘A Prayer for Owen Meany’, he speaks about how Christmas is our time to be aware of what we lack, of who is not home.
Merry Christmas everyone; remember to be thankful for who is home and safe with you. My gift to the next writer is a bag of cowries.