Adura watched her parents closely from her elevated position on the armrest at the back seat, strapped in securely with the seatbelt. Something was wrong; she could feel it in mama’s sighs and daddy’s fake nervous coughs. Something had been wrong for a long time actually. Adura was tired of it all- the moodiness, the tension….
Where was the fun in that? There wasn’t.
And without fun there was no smiling. Without smiles people were easily annoyed and ugly – and nobody liked ugly, at least not her.
“Daddy, please would you play music? Today’s car ride is boooring.” She sang the last word loudly, as if to lay emphasis on her longing for a melody.
Charles glanced at his wife who sat silently beside him, staring out the window with the morose look that had caked her face for the past year and some months. “Honey?” She shook her head slightly, barely glancing in his direction. “Sorry princess, mama would rather not have music.”
“But mama it’s so quiet and nobody’s talking and the car is so boooooori-.”
“Young lady, what have I told you about whining?” His voice was stern.
Adura scowled at the back of her father’s head and leaned back, annoyed. However, it didn’t stain her cherubic face for longer than a few seconds because a smile wiped off the foreign expression as a thought came to her.
“Okay. I’ll tell you what we did at Sunday school today!”
Her mother sighed. “Adura….”
“You’re going to love it mama. It involved you and daddy too! We were told to look for all the words or phrases God uses to describe His children in the Bible. I found redeemed, beloved, gods and sons. Although that last one made me feel rather left-out until the teacher explained better.”
Her father nodded approvingly but her mother just went back to staring out the window. Adura would not be deterred. She was on a mission.
“Then, we were told to use three words to describe our daddies and mommies each. Can you guess what words I chose for you?”
Her father laughed out loud. “Now I’m a little curious.”
Ebube stuck her tongue in her cheek and glanced at her husband. She couldn’t understand what was so funny that would not allow him hold his noisy laughter in his belly so she could be with her thoughts in peace. Thoughts that drain me of energy and happiness nonetheless… She shook her head and quickly glanced at her daughter, looking exhausted. If she was given to violence and misplaced aggression, she’d have swiped her across the mouth by now but she knew her misery was not born of her effervescent, cheerful offspring. Still, she could try to be less aggravating couldn’t she?
“Tell us later dear, okay?”
“Oh mama, it’ll only take a minute.” She giggled like her mother was being cold simply for her amusement. “So for daddy the words I chose were hungry,” she grinned when her father shot her a mock horrified expression through the rearview mirror. “Patient and funny.”
“Ye-he-he-hes daddy.” She squealed. “You use hunger to talk about everything. How you’re hungry for success, how you’re hungry for knowledge, how you’re hungry for mama’s hugs whenever she travels for a long time, oh and you’re always hungry for food. You know that!”
He narrowed his eyes at her through the rearview mirror. “So you told everyone in your class your dad’s a hungry man? I’ll get you for this, mark my words.”
Adura was pleased that she’d gotten him playful. One down. She turned to look at her mother. “Mama your words were generous, hopeful and happy.”
“Great.” Charles murmured, keying into his daughter’s mood and hoping the light banter could cheer his wife up. “I get hungry and funny and you make her a model citizen. Where is the love between us baby girl?”
Ebube stayed quiet, although she was a little surprised at her daughter’s picks. She’d been anything but those three for the past eight months at least. She glanced at her husband, knowing her gloomy unresponsiveness was wearing him out but she couldn’t bring herself to get out of her misery. She almost felt like she’d be playing the traitor if she even tried to.
“Oh I still love you daddy. And your words were good too. Let me tell you why I picked them.” Adura adjusted her sitting posture so she could project her voice better, although her voice remained the primary sound bouncing around.
“After we’d gone through some names that God calls His children, we were asked if we were always peacemakers, or cheerful when we gave, or gentle and meek and humble and kind. All of us realized we didn’t always behave like all God said His children were made to be. So at that point I got confused – why would he say that I’m perfect for instance, when I’m actually so clumsy and always spilling things and messing up my dress when we go out to eat?”
Ebube had shut her eyes and was feigning sleep but her ears were fully tuned to the sound of her daughter’s voice.
“Then our teacher explained how when we accept Jesus, God doesn’t look at us from the angle of what we do and can do but from the angle of what Jesus already did on the cross – and is able to do through people if they’d let him.”
Her father smiled, impressed. “True, true.”
Adura’s own smile broadened and she chattered on. “So even when I don’t act like it, it doesn’t cancel out the truth; that’s just me acting contrary to my true nature. Sort of like faking…like when I fake to be full whenever its time to eat vegetables. Right Daddy?” She giggled. “You and mama always know I’m faking because I just don’t really like how they taste.”
“Ahh, it’s good you’re confessing now young lady.” Her father said, winking at her.
“Yes, I am. And vegetables are actually really good right? And I’m making my body unhappy by running away from them all the time and going for candy – just because of the taste. So its the same way, sometimes we pretend to be who we’re not because maybe being the real you doesn’t seem to taste so nice- either to you or your friends. Maybe they make fun of the real you or sometimes you feel ‘you’ is hard and you want a break so you pretend and lie through your actions.”
Charles honked his horn to get the attention of a distracted pedestrian and then covertly glanced at his wife’s still form, knowing she was hearing every word and hoping it would sink into her heart.
“But mama remember you told me that God doesn’t support anything that has a lie in it? So if I pretend all the time then I’m keeping God from helping and supporting me. If he says I’m a good girl and I choose to be a bad girl then I’m either saying he’s lying or I’m living a lie. And God never lies does He? So it would be me. Right mama?”
Sensing his wife fully intended to ignore her, Charles quickly jumped in. “Wow. Who was your teacher today?”
Adura shrugged. “He is new. Aunty Beatrice said his name is Uncle Yusuf.”
“It sounds like he had a lively class today.” Charles laughed at his daughter’s energetic nodding. “So am I always hungry, patient and funny?”
“Nooo daddy! Sometimes you’re impatient with me when you send me on an errand, and sometimes your jokes really aren’t funny at all-.”
“Adura, you hurt me.” Charles laid a hand across his chest, looking injured, and was rewarded with a giggle.
“Your jokes aren’t funny but you do things that are way funny and make mama and I laugh till our bellies hurt. And you say you’re hungry to learn new things, but you won’t let me teach you the dance from Barbie in the twelve dancing princesses!”
Ebube eyed her husband as he burst into laughter. It really isn’t that funny mister man.
“No-thank-you-very-much Miss. I like that kind of ignorance.”
“See? But I won’t use that to say you no longer like learning things.”
“Adura, daddy and I understand okay?” Ebube cut in, sounding irritated. “I’m glad you had fun at Sunday school. Now, let’s have some ‘fun’ in silence, can we please?”
Charles coughed loudly, making obvious what he thought of her reaction, but his wife ignored him. He was upset enough to voice the questions that had been swirling in his mind for a few weeks but, as usual, he kept them within. Why can’t she just try to liven up a little? Acting like she is the only one licensed to mourn…
“But…mama?” Adura sounded slightly subdued. “Don’t you want to know why I picked yours?”
Her mother groaned exasperatedly. “Okay fine, if that is what it will take to have peace in this car until we get home, tell me.”
Adura ignored her mother’s tone and expressions of displeasure and clapped her hands, a big grin brightening her face instantly. “Yaaay! Okay, I chose yours because before my baby brother went back to be with Jesus, you were always giving me and daddy hugs and kisses and many aunties in church always thanked you for giving them one thing or the other. You also used to say to me that everyday, from the moment I wake up, I should trust God to make my day go great because people who totally hope in Him can never be miserable. That’s what I thought of when I was choosing your words because the teacher said we should choose based on how you are usually. So that’s what I did.”
Ebube could feel her eyes welling up and she looked out the window quickly so her daughter wouldn’t notice. “Is that so?”
“Uh huh. You’ve been sad because of a sad thing that happened. But I know soon you’ll be happy again because you always have hope. You’re the most hoping person I know mama! And then you can give me smiles and hugs again and stuff. That’s why I’m happy.”
The car suddenly became extremely quiet – even worse than it had been before Adura began her chatter. No one even corrected her grammatical error. Her parents glanced at each other – Charles’s expression was sad but understanding, Ebube’s was full of shame and regret.
“Mama’s been making you sad hasn’t she?”
Adura leaned back in her seat and kicked her legs distractedly. “Mmm, yes. Sometimes. Well, many times actually. Worried and sad.”
Ebube turned in her seat to look at her daughter; she was no longer interested in trying to hide her remorse and even as she spoke the emotion within her seemed to drench each word. “I’m so sorry baby.”
She sat up, startled at her look. “Oh mama, don’t cry. I wasn’t sad for me; I was sad because it’s like…you’ve seemed so empty…not like you anymore. And I’d hate to not be myself anymore.” Reaching out to wipe her cheek, Ebube watched the concern and affection splayed on her daughter’s face and chastised herself mentally, amazed at how she got so distracted that she forgot to be grateful for the kind and intelligent soul resident in her ten-year-old.
“You know why I’m happy?”
Her mother thought for a moment. “Because you believe I’ll be happy again?”
Adura nodded. “Yes. But also because I know we’ll get to see my baby brother again too. And I know he’ll be having a great time up there right now. He’ll never have to struggle with math or mean friends at school or any of that stuff. And when another baby brother or sister comes along, I’ll be older and stronger, so I’ll be able to take care of them and protect them better than I can now because right now I’m just too skinny!”
She heard her father chuckle at that and she grinned.
“I know he’ll be happy too that we at least got to meet him for a few days before he had to leave – I don’t think they have so many awesome sisters up there but I may be wrong anyway. Still, he has Jesus as company. And he’s more fun than me even.” She winked at her mother who cracked a smile through her tears. Ebube nodded and wiped her cheeks with the back of her hand as she turned to face the road again.
“Alright baby. I’ll make my own list of why I should be happy too. I’ll try to be myself again. Forgive me okay? Mama’s sorry to you…and daddy too.”
Charles let out a relieved sigh, smiling where he sat and sending a prayer of gratitude up even before he heard Adura’s loud ‘Awesome!’ from behind him. He glanced at his wife but she wouldn’t look up at him. He guessed she was about to let guilt start bugging her. She obviously had no idea how contented he was at this big break in her response.
“Boo boo?” She kept her head down, sniffing quietly. Oh come on. He reached out a hand and covered both of hers where they sat folded in her lap. He squeezed gently and she nodded, fighting back the tears.
After a few seconds, Adura tapped her mother’s shoulder. “Oh and mom?”
“Mhmm? Yes darling?” She turned to look at her.
Adura’s voice had gotten a lot more solemn and she gazed at her mother with an expression of undiluted devotion. “For the record, I’m really really happy you didn’t go to be with Jesus too. Really.”
Her mother gave her a watery smile, reached out and pulled her face closer, kissing her on the forehead. “Thank you baby. I love you so much. I’m sorry okay?”
Adura nodded and pulled back. She didn’t want to start crying too.
After about five minutes Charles glanced at his daughter to find her smiling as she stared out the window, an expression that blended fulfillment and delight gracing her features.
“I’ve got a word for you.”
She turned to stare back at him. “Oh yeah?” Her laughter bounced round the car. “Oh my goodness, daddy! You just want to pay me back for calling you hungry!”
Charles laughed and shook his head. “Not really. It’s always been yours but I probably never mentioned it to you. You might need a dictionary, that’s all.” Adura rolled her eyes, still grinning, and he winked.
“Ebullience. Your word is ebullience.”