Date released:
July 19, 2021
Short story
Photo credit:


'I am lonely'. Suddenly the air becomes too heavy, and your nostrils flare in a struggle to breathe.  You see Mfa's eyes glisten under the flicker of the candlelight, and his mouth twitches. The words sit there between you as a visitor on an overstretched visit. You suddenly notice how dark the room is, how the air is steeped in the fragrance of scented rose petals that cover the floor in frenzy waves and how the slow playing music goes around the room and falls somewhere in the space between you.

'Even when you are with me?' Mfa's strangled voice causes the sharp pain that hits your chest in an unforgiving throb. You can almost see his voice cracked, falling in fear stained shards.

‘I am lonely’, you repeat, forcing the words past the clog at the back of your throat. ‘I’ve always been lonely in a self-sustaining way. I don't exactly know what it is, but I feel weighed down by crushing loneliness that is familiar and comforting. I’m both miserable and satisfied.’

'I don't understand. I have never cared for anyone the way I care for you, and I have always made this known. Am I not enough?’

You stare at him. His furrowed brows remind you of your father in an uncanny way that you had not noticed before. One of your earliest memories of your father is a living room littered with toys, scrapbooks, candy wraps and colourful crayons that lay in distorted shapes. You recall the sizzling of fish in oil and your mother’s voice that rang with an unfiltered strain from the kitchen to summon you to help with your one-year-old brother, whose sturdy arms knocked down everything in his way. You looked at Shima, your eight-year-old brother who was sprawled on the cool tiled floor, biting hard into his lower lip and running his fingers frantically over his gamepad. You wanted him to go help with the baby, but he barely saw you and glued his eyes to the TV set. You knew your mother would storm out any moment and smack you. You knew she’d do it with a ladle because her palms were small and less painful. You heard the car honk then, and your heart started throbbing wildly in your chest. Your father was home. You counted from one to fifteen, waiting for the creaky sound of door hinges before you sprang into the positioned arms of your emerging father. Instead, he lifted you high above his head, and you stretched your long six-year-old fingers to touch the ceiling. He threw you higher into the air, his arms poised to catch you as your taut little stomach erupted into fits of giggles that left your eyes wet. You begged him to put you down, and he did, scooping you into a warmth that belonged only to him. You remember how the sun streamed its rays on him through the window pane and transformed him into a haloed, tall, dark angel that could make you fly. You remember his laughter the most, how it flowed like warm milk to your ears, sending teasing threading waves till you became lightheaded. His laugh was palpable - you grabbed little pouches of it and hid in the parts of your heart where happiness lived.  

‘Have I ever been enough?’

The question jolts you out of your mind travel. You look down at your hands, startled at how much they look like your mothers’. You remember her, a stoutly built woman with a quiet strength. You remember her hands and how they moved in a fluid, graceful motion to land you a spank, draw you into an embrace, pat your cornrows or feed you porridge when you got ill. Her eyes are what you remember the most - large dark almond-shaped eyes that always held laughter until they started bleeding from your father's absence and punches. Finally, her eyes became defeated, and she looked at you like you were glass, and she could see through you. You remember her sprawled on the mat in the cool evening. You remember the bristling mango leaves and the sky littered with streaks of orange. You remember her humming as she lay there, frail and weak. She held a rosary, running her fingers through it as she scanned the road for your father. He had not been home for three days. Beside the mat, a long smooth stick lay, which she needed to walk. She had lost the baby because your father had hit her a little too hard than the other times. You remember your father stumbling into the compound, his steps unsteady and his laughter delirious. You remember the stench of alcohol that clung to him as he staggered past you into the house. What you remember most is the graceful way your mother's tears silently rolled as she watched him go.

'Mfa, you are enough. You have always been. I just don't belong with you or anyone.  

You want to tell him more. You want to tell him of your father leaving and your mother dying.  You want to tell him that people always leave, and with their departure, they take a piece of you.  You want to tell him that your life is full of erasures and nothing left to give or take.  Instead, you take his hand in yours, rub it slowly against your cheek and kiss it. You look down at the untouched dinner he had made, and for a moment, you marvel at the radiance of candlelight against the wine glasses. Then, you stand up, and you do not look at him, afraid that the light in his eyes would start dimming right there before your eyes. You walk to the door, suddenly aware of how chilly the night is, and you shudder at the gust of air from the open door and the sound of shattering glass behind you.

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