kent

Felicia and Silas’ wedding fell on a rainy early-September morning. The blushing bride gave her new sister-in-law a wink as she crossed the aisle to reach for Silas’ outstretched hand. The two sets of parents grinned at each other from across the aisle, the two fathers nodding their greeting as if just meeting for the first time.

Anaya couldn’t stop her tears, dabbing her cheeks as she watched Felicia hold hers in when Silas reverently said his vows. Her eyes shifted to the best man and her heart soared with pride as she took in her husband’s strong and svelte form in his dark grey tuxedo. She shook her head in awe, overwhelmed from her rampant hormones and her increasing love for Tunde.

As if he felt the weight of her stare, Tunde’s eyes pulled away from the couple and fell on his wife. His lips curled up in that slow, ‘I-see-you’ smile that had her blushing but she dared not look away, taking in all of him. Then he winked at her before returning his attention to Silas and Felicia.

Later, after bidding a goodnight to the beaming couple on their way to Washington for a brief respite, Tunde pulled the pregnant Anaya in his arms and kissed her soundly.

She blinked at him. “What was that for?” She glanced around, still aware of the disapproving eyes of his people that had attended Silas’ wedding, people that hadn’t attended theirs. It still saddened her that the lack of support for Tunde was unmistakably present. In the back of her mind, Anaya wondered when they would come to accept him. And her.

“Do I need a reason to kiss my wife?” He smirked down at her. “In that case, I found that I couldn’t keep my eyes off you. Go figure.” Lowering his hands to cup the slight mound of her belly, he flashed that striking smile again. “Any movement yet?”

Anaya wrinkled her nose playfully. “We’re just a few months in, Tunde…” She covered her hand over his.

“There’s the two I’ve been looking for,” Josephine sing-songed as she made her way down the church steps to greet her son and daughter-in-law. “Good I caught you in time before you escaped.”

“I gotta get this beautiful woman home, Mom. It’s her birthday tomorrow,” Tunde informed his mother even as he tucked Anaya under his arm. “Aren’t you coming by?”

“Of course I am. How could I miss the birthday of my beautiful daughter…” Josephine clucked her tongue, pulling Anaya out of Tunde’s arms and into her own. “My dear girl, I hope this boy is doing all I asked.” She kissed Anaya’s cheek. “How’s your family? Your mother?”

Anaya didn’t miss the pointed words and bit her bottom lip. What could she say, knowing the encouraging smile would disappear from Josephine’s lips if she told the truth? “She’s… fine.”

It didn’t take a sage to understand Anaya’s hesitance and Josephine sighed heavily. “Still hasn’t come around?” Her eyes lifted to Tunde who shook his head. She clucked her tongue and looked back down at Anaya. Cupping the girl’s cheek, she willed Anaya to look at her. “Don’t despise your mother, my dear daughter… She just needs more time.”

How much time does she need to accept us? Anaya winced as a sharp pain shot up her leg but she lowered her eyes and merely nodded. Six months had passed since the wedding and still Hadiza refused to even say anything except ‘Oh, you’re here… Your dad isn’t here,’ before she retreated into her room. A room that her father no longer slept in, to give her mother enough space and privacy. She curled her fingers into her palms. Hadiza’s blatant disapproval of Tunde and their marriage was taking a toll on her happiness and her sanity.

“Just keep being patient and give her more time…”

Anaya kept replaying Josephine’s words in her head even as she lay in a sleeping Tunde’s arms, feeling every vibration from Tunde’s loud snoring. She didn’t mind it tonight, too distracted by her thoughts to even sleep for a minute.

Another sharp pain shot up her leg and Anaya winced as a nerve under her belly stretched so tightly, she gasped inwardly.  This time, the pain didn’t go away, sending piercing twinges along her stomach lining. Anaya’s heart started to beat faster as fear snuck in. “Tunde.” Now that her thoughts completely cleared out, something wasn’t right about the empty, vacuum feeling at the base of her stomach. “Tunde!” she jabbed his chest with her elbow.

“Rrrr—Ooof!” Tunde grunted awake and blinked rapidly in the dark. “Huh?”

Anaya hissed as another sharp pain jabbed her upper abdomen. She tried to shift away but the movement sent cold shivers along her lower back. One hand moved to cup around the base of her stomach. “T-the baby… Oh God, the baby!”

He jerked upright and stared hard at his wife bowed over her waist. “Ana—what’s wrong?” One hand blindly reached for her shoulder. “Baby, what?”

Her other hand moved to brace the mattress so she could lift herself in an upright position. Then she felt it and jerked her hand back, letting out a scream that almost sent her startled husband flying off the bed. Something wet, dark and sticky was on the sheets, where she’d been laying down.  “Tunde, the baby!!”

Silas swallowed hard as he watched Tunde leaning his forehead against the wall. He shot to his feet when Tunde bumped his head in a repeated motion, hearing the dull sound in the quiet waiting room. “Bro…” he said quietly, placing a firm hand on Tunde’s shoulder.

Felicia pulled in her lips as she stared over Leeza’s bent head at the two brothers, her heart aching for Tunde and Anaya who was still in the ICU. When Anaya’s sister whimpered beside her, Felicia pulled her attention back to the girl and rubbed her back soothingly. She had no words of comfort, her own throat tight and dry. Thoughts of her honeymoon flew out of her mind since Tunde’s frantic call, something he never did. He barely sounded like himself, begging his younger brother to come to the hospital, unable to hear Silas.

“God please,” Anaya’s father muttered beside his daughter, his hands folded in reverent supplication and his eyes squeezed tight as he prayed. “Please save my daughter. Please.”

Amen… Felicia sighed heavily, shifting her eyes to the bowed, veiled head of Anaya’s quiet mother beside her husband. Her heart clenched tightly, annoyed and sympathetic for the woman at the same time. When the doctor had asked for the mother of the patient, she’d noticed Hadiza struggle within herself… almost like she wasn’t sure if she should’ve gone inside. At that brief hesitating moment, Josephine stepped forward while Hadiza hung back and followed the doctor inside. Tunde couldn’t go in, the doctor advised, not wanting both parents to be hysterical for Anaya’s sake.

“Oh Father,” Tunde groaned, his knees buckling under him. “Please… don’t do this.”

Felicia closed her eyes at the raw pain in Tunde’s voice and she whispered her own prayer for Anaya, the sweet-faced sister she’d never had. Please, make her better. Let Anaya and the baby live.

Tunde allowed Silas to steer him to a row of empty chairs along the back wall. His eyes were stinging with tears and he listlessly stared at the blurry linoleum floor, ears full of static. His heart was empty and his body tingling from a dull ache. Not that he could complain, especially when his wife and child were suffering alone.

The sound of measured footsteps against the linoleum floor approaching them made Tunde lift his head, hoping for some good news in the midst of his increasing despair.

 “It is a relief…” the soft and gentle voice of Hadiza drifted to her ears, lulling her from the deep sleep.

She forced open one eye and blinked almost immediately as her mother’s blurry image came into view. Her heart skipped a beat, she rejoicing inwardly that her mother was with her. She started to speak but her mother gave her a gentle smile, reaching out one hand to smoothen her brow. How she’d longed for her mother’s warm and reassuring touch, even if it was only for a little while.

Swallowing hard, she tried to move her hand to her belly but her mother eased one hand over hers to still her movement. “Be still… and rest,” Hadiza continued in a comforting whisper, her warm gaze a caress.

She blinked as tears started to gather, realizing now how much she’d missed those warm brown eyes on her, or the sound of Hadiza’s voice that never ceased to put her at ease. “Mama…”

“You have been through a lot, my daughter… my jewel,” Hadiza continued with a pained look on her face now.

She felt her heart picking up speed, not wanting Hadiza to stop smiling at her. Did she do something wrong again? “Mama…”

Hadiza sighed forlornly and lowered her eyes to where their hands were joined before lifting them back to her face. “I have been praying for you.”

“You have…?” she managed to squeak out, frowning. Her eyes lowered to her mother’s thumb gently tracing lines on her hand. “For what?”

“I am praying for peace, my daughter. And acceptance…of His will.”

A cold shiver trickled down her spine at her mother’s direct words and her gaze flew back to Hadiza’s face. Her heart skipped a beat at the serene smile on her mother’s face. “What…”

“And he is answering my prayers. All my many tears and prayers for you to be free. Just wait a few moments longer, dear daughter.”

“Free?” She could hear her own voice echoing amid her racing heartbeat.

Hadiza dipped her head, grinning even wider.

“I don’t understand…” She could feel her shoulders stiffening.

“My daughter,” Hadiza whispered fiercely, her own eyes glistening with tears. She gripped her hand tightly.

She shook her head, tugging her hand from her mother’s grip. “Free from what?” Then she felt it. The void. The cold shot down her legs, a dull ache along her sides. Her hand moved over her stomach. Her mouth went dry.

“It will all be over soon. Just wait and trust Him.”

“No.” Her throat was so dry, she barely could get that word out. Flickering her eyes to her mother, she could feel her jaw tightening. “Stop it.”

Hadiza’s brow furrowed in confusion. “Ana—“

Tears blurred her vision but she continued on, thankful for the veil to cover her mother’s visible hurt expression. “How come when you finally decide to talk to me, it’s to pray over the death of my child. How could you?”

From the blur, she could see Hadiza’s frame stiffen and the tears gathered all the more.

“How could you do this to me, Mama? I loved and trusted in you to come back to me. To be the mother you’re supposed to be for me. How could you wish this ill fate on me and my child?”

“You are blind and foolish to not understand His will!” Hadiza shot back, her voice shaking with fury. “I have tried to give you time to come to your senses, to see—“

“No Mama, it is you who should’ve come to your senses…” Her lips trembled and she squeezed her fingers against the cloth by her side. “It is you who should’ve changed your mind and really seen me. Your daughter, happy.” She blinked and in that brief moment, she saw it; the look of betrayal and hurt on Hadiza’s face. This time she didn’t falter, knowing the pain in her heart was deeper than what her mother could ever feel. “You should’ve blessed me as your daughter, but instead you cursed me… cursed me and my child.” She choked on a sob, her body convulsing to hold back the wave of anguish that threatened to overwhelm her.

Hadiza’s eyes widened in alarm at the sight of her child convulsing before her and started to lean in but immediately jerked back when her daughter recoiled from her touch. “Anaya…”

She stiffened at her mother’s incredulous whisper but regained her composure, pulling her eyes down to her trembling hands. “Please leave.” She didn’t cringe at the sound of her own cold voice echoing in her ears.

It wasn’t until her mother’s hesitant footsteps moved away from the bed and the sound of the door closing firmly behind her before Anaya’s shoulders sagged and she gave into her agonized sobs.

Gasping for air, Anaya snapped her eyes open to the blank ceiling tiles over her bed.  She stiffened, recalling the vivid memory of her nightmare and shuddered as a cold draft blew over her exposed temple. The sound of her own cries echoed in her mind and she cringed, closing her eyes.

“Cold?”

Anaya opened her eyes again and shifted them to her right. The sight of her husband sitting by the bed sent her heart racing. She took a deep breath and released it in a shuddering sigh. Her gaze traveled from his disheveled appearance; hair not brushed, haggard expression, rumpled plaid shirt he wore two nights ago. Her eyes widened, her blood frozen through her veins. “What day is it?”

He raised a bushy brow at her odd question but sighed. “Wednesday.”

She frowned. “How long…?”

“Three days.”

She drew in a sharp breath. “I’ve been sleeping all that time?”

“No.” His eyes said everything else he didn’t.

She felt compelled to ask. She had to. “I had a dream… about my mother.” Her body trembled at the memory.

“It wasn’t a dream.”

Anaya’s body went stiff, the vivid images of her mother’s warm smile replaced by a look of betrayed hurt flashed before her eyes. “It wasn’t?” she heard her voice crack.

Tunde sighed. “Your father took her home yesterday… He told me to apologize to you when you woke up again.” His voice was steady and calm but Anaya knew he was aware of her dream that turned out to be a real memory. She’d actually heard her mother admit to cursing their unborn child and she’d asked Hadiza to leave and never come back.

“Tunde…” Her body was in pain. Her mind was tired and Anaya wanted to cry again.

It didn’t take Tunde but a moment to move from his spot on the chair and perch on the bed, pulling his distraught wife into his arms. “Don’t hold it in. Cry if you want.”

And so she did, with reckless abandon because it was the only thing she could do for now.

<<Part 23 || Part 25>>

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