My dearest Chika,

You asked me what happened with your mother yesterday in the hospital room, in her last hours, you asked why she wanted only me there and I told you it was nothing.

My rose, I’m sorry — I lied.

I told you a lot of lies when you were younger, some of them were small lies, like when you were five and I told you if you wished very, very hard and you hugged your ruined teddy bear, it’d turn into an actual unicorn called Rainbow. Of course, Rainbow was busy with work that day and couldn’t make it; but you did stop crying. I told you some big lies too; I told you that you could be anything you wanted; and when your first husband left, as he was destined to, I told you it’d be okay and that it would all be fine. You could cope with the children on your own. Love is loss, I told you. Those were all lies, all of them, but you made them true, in the stubborn way that you do, and the world, I think, is brighter for it.

So, I will tell you one more story, my rose. One last lie. And because you’re my daughter and this is the last time I will speak to you, I’ll tell you the lie this time. Maybe it can help you see the truth, then.

When you left the room, she put her hand on the chair beside her bed — a gesture to sit down, and I did. I held her hand then and God, she had gotten so cold. Her skin was tissue paper and her eyes were husks, there were tubes going in and out of her, even on her bare head. But, Chika, I’m telling you: I have never seen a more beautiful woman in all my years. She was still the angel who took my heart and refused to give it back over sixty years ago. She grabbed my hand firmly and I grabbed it back. She looked at me and I looked back.

“You know,” she said, in the raspy breaths that had become her voice, “I hated you back then.”

I nodded and gave a weak smile. “I hated you too,” I lied.

She chuckled, a painful tired thing. “You were so arrogant,” she said, “you thought you were the whole world.”

“I became yours.” I teased, rubbing circles on her palm, she liked that.

She looked at me, a fiery retort in her tongue but after a pause, she let it die. “You did,” she admitted. “And suddenly, I couldn’t stop thinking about you.”

I leaned my tired back on the chair. “I used to see you every day we weren’t together those first few years,” I said.

She smiled at that. She had the most beautiful smile, your mother. You were born from that smile, I’ve told you that story before.

“And I’d think of you even when we hadn’t talked in weeks,” she said, looking at me and smiling. “I could hear your voice in your messages. I could feel your breath in the words. I could feel you smile, feel you simmer. It was like you were alive with me.”

“And you with me,” I said, as drops made a crooked path down my face.

She gripped my hand tightly. She did that sometimes, like she was scared I’d leave. Again.

“I hated you when you left,” she said, turning her head away, “when you left us. It tore me apart and every time I would see Chika, my heart would tear again.”

I looked at the floor. The hospitals had nice tiles. Blue, I liked blue. “I had to go,” I said quietly.

“I know,” she said bitterly, “and it was unfair and it hurt me,” she looked at me now, “it hurt me.”

She coughed. “I told you once,” she said, “that if you ever made me cry, I’d leave. You know what I told you, I said I’d pack my bags and that would be the last time you saw me. I swore it.”

I said nothing: I remembered clearly. And your mother was never one for empty threats.

“I broke my own oath on our wedding day,” she said, her eyes watering, “and when I felt the tears on my face, I just knew I could never leave you, even if you made me so so angry sometimes.”

I agreed. It was true. I hadn’t been the best husband in the world, or father and for that, Chika, I am sorry. I should have been better. I should have.

“I forgave you,” she said, “all those times you left on one tour or the other, one book signing or the other and you’d leave without a single word. I forgave you when you dishonoured our marriage. When you dishonoured me, you, us. I forgave you then, you bloody fool.” She stared into my eyes, “So, why didn’t you forgive yourself?”

My head was down and the ground below me was wet. “How could I?” I asked. “After everything, how could I forgive myself for everything I did to you? How could you forgive me?”

“Remember when I burnt all your books?” She asked, a smile on her face.

I winced. Smoke filled my vision, the scent of burning pages filled my nose.

“You forgave me after that,” she said, “they were ‘priceless and one of a kind’ and I know you loved them, so so much.”

“I did,” I admitted. “But you were more important. We were.”

“Forgiveness isn’t not being angry anymore, you goat,” she said, “it’s seeing the bigger picture and knowing, understanding that there’s more. That’s why you walk the way you do, with that hunch. You’re still carrying all that baggage from your father, your uncles, your editor, all of them.”

“They’re all dead,” I said.

She shook her head. “No, they’re not, not to you,” she said, “they’re still in your head now, hurting you, and I saw the battles you were facing every day and you were losing, and it broke me. Forgiveness sets us free, always. Forgiveness.”

I was quiet.

“I’m going to die today,” she said, looking at the ceiling. “And I’m scared.”

“I can get a pastor,” I offered, “or a priest. Or an imam.”

She shooed at my words. “No need for them,” she said, “I made peace with God the day I decided not to stab you in your sleep.” She looked at the ceiling some more, then propped up on her elbow, she asked, “do you remember when we got arrested in Italy?”

I nodded. “That was all your fault,” I said, smiling, “I tod you not to say that to the policeman.”

“We were drunk,” she said, grinning, “and his cap was stupid.”

“That wasn’t exactly how you said it.”

“Okay, how did I say it?”

“Well…there were a lot of swear words in it.”

“Oh.”

“And shouting.”

She nodded. “Ah.”

“And biting.”

She rested her head back on her bed, still smiling.

“You also tried to steal his car.”

“But it was fun,” she said.

“It was,” I agreed. Her hand, Chika, I swear it was getting warmer.

“Remember when you said,” she said, mimicking my amazing voice, “that you didn’t want to have children?”

“Technically,” I said, “we don’t have children. We have one child, and Chika barely counts seeing as she was born a full grown adult.”

“Shut up,” she said, then hesitated and shivered, then, “When she was five, I caught her on the dining table calculating our taxes. I was really scared when she was born, you know. I didn’t know if I was up to it.”

“Really?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said.

“You always looked like you had everything under control.”

“Well,” she said, “I didn’t.”

We looked at each other for another few moments.

“I’m not going to cry,” she said, “if that’s what you’re thinking or waiting for then you’re mad. I’ve always left that to you. You’re so much better than me.”

“I am,” I agreed wiping my face, then, “I don’t want you to leave.”

She pursed her trembling lips, her eyes watering, tears spilling out. And now you know, Chika — both your parents are liars.

“I don’t want to leave either,” She said.

“I love you,” I breathed.

She tried to shrug but she was sobbing now. “I…” she was managing to say, “kind of like you too, I guess.”

I laughed — your mother was one of the only people to make me laugh. She would say one thing and I’d just explode. That was the last time she would make me laugh, though. Fitting.

My dear, you understand this now with your husband — I like this one better — and you’ll understand it more as you get older. To spend most of your life with a person, have their pain your pain, their life, your life. There was a bible quote she liked — I was never that religious and neither was she — that I loved. I forget it now, my dear. Ruth 1:16, I think. Yes, that’s it. Ruth 1:16.

That is the story, the last I’ll ever tell you.

I know you know the lie there; I know you can see it.

Your mother, at that time was too old, too weak to even turn her head, let alone speak. I held her hand in the dark as she took her last breaths but I could swear to you, Chika, swear to you on all the gods in the sky and all the humans on the Earth that I heard her speak to me as she lay there, dying. And I saw her in all her beauty as she left, on a white unicorn named Rainbow.

I’m sorry, you had to see this letter like this. The poison will take me quickly; I made sure as I added it to my tea — I always loved Lipton. The berry flavour is the best, you should try it sometime.

This is not a suicide note, nothing like that. I died yesterday with your mother and this here is just my body.

This is how a couple lives, Chika: single and together, their souls tangling and twisting, tightening and tugging, as they push through the sandstorm of time. And this, my rose, is how they die.

Together and single. Two and one.

One soul, one life, one unflinching memory of a love that could outlast even the gods in this game of eternity.

Three people died yesterday, Chika, I told you that much, and a tragedy it was.

Yes, three of us died.

Your mother, me, and us.

A tragedy indeed.

Your loving father,

Kenneth.

p.s Your mother always joked that she’d get the nicer tombstone, do me one last favour and prove her wrong, hmm?

Anthony Azekwoh is a Nigerian-based author and artist. He has written five books so far, and is now working on the sequel to his fourth book Ṣàngó, Oya.

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