By Emmeline Bisiikwa, Uganda:
'Don't go daddy, please stay with me.' She sobbed.
'You can always come to see me baby girl, my house is yours.'
'But I want you to stay here with mummy. I want to live with both of you.' Their eyes met at the top of Abigail's head. Her mother knelt down and held her as she cried.
He hated having to leave but he had no choice. Veronica had given him an ultimatum, either he quit his job or left. It was unfair since the only reason he was away so much was because she had quit her job to become a stay at home mum. All this without telling him. How did she expect them to survive on just his salary? He sighed and rolled out his suitcase, steeling himself and walking steadily on even when Abigail kept crying. It broke his heart but someone had to be in control.
'Hallo. How may I help you?' the lady asked.
'I'm here to see Jake Mutoni. Does he still live here?' the young lady said.
'Who is asking?' the older lady inquired.
'His daughter, Abigail.'
The lady blanched and swayed but held the door to keep upright. 'I will let him know you are here. I am his wife Laura.'
Abigail's eyes widened. For the first time she wasn't sure of her decision to come looking for her father. If only—- she collected her thoughts and calmly followed Laura into the house. They walked down a long dim corridor till they came to a staircase that went all the way to the top. Laura walked purposefully and climbed one flight before turning to the right. That hallway led to a tastefully furnished living room. It has a coffee brown and peach theme and Abigail found her eyes drawn to the family portrait and other pictures lining the walls. There were two children in the photographs, a little girl and boy.
They looked like a happy family. Bile rose up in her throat as she tried to suppress her resentment of them. This was what had kept her father away from her all those years.
She peeled her eyes away and noticed an older distinguished gentleman playing with a little girl of around 12 years, the age she was when her daddy left. He noticed her and hesitantly stood up. He walked slowly towards her. He stopped a good yard away and said, 'Abigail, I wasn't expecting you.'
She retorted, 'No. I don't expect so. We have to talk.'
He said, 'Whatever you have to say, you can say in front of Laura.'
She spoke bluntly, 'Mother is dying.'
He flinched and told Laura, 'Please excuse us.'
She slowly took the girl's hand and left the room with her. One could hear the little girl asking who I was but Laura distracted her with offers of cookies.
When they were alone, Jake asked her, 'How long does she have? What do the doctors say?'
Abigail replied, 'She has one month. She got terminal cancer.'
'Are you sure? Did they try chemotherapy and other treatments?'
'They discovered it too late so the treatment was in vain.'
'I see. Is there anything I can do to help?'
'We need a place to stay. Mother could not pay rent for the last two months because she was admitted in hospital so the landlord kicked us out.'
'When will she be discharged?'
'Leave it to me, I will make the necessary arrangements.'
Jake asked Laura to arrange for Abigail a room. She wasn't hungry so she went to rest in her room. A little later on, she was bored so went in search of movies or novels. She wanted to ask her father where she could get some from but heard raised voices coming from the living room. She stopped outside and listened.
'You're planning to bring your ex-wife to stay here? Aren't we supposed to discuss such plans first?'
'She is dying Laura. She has nowhere else to go.'
'What about her parents? They were still alive last I heard.'
'C'mon Laura, you know they ceased contact with her when she married me.'
'But you can't expect me and her to live in the same house surely. Can't you pay for the hospital to keep her there?'
'She deserves to spend her last days in comfort.'
Abigail walked away and returned to her room. She lay on the bed and sobbed. It wasn't fair. She was about to lose the only person that had cared for her. She let out all her anguish and wet the pillow. She finally exhausted herself into a sleep.
Laura grudgingly prepared a room for Veronica. She got Abigail an adjoining room to more easily look after her mom. Abigail remained polite to her even though she knew the other woman didn't like her. Laura introduced Abigail to the little girl, Anastasia.
'Is my daddy also your daddy?'
'Yes he is.'
'You look like my other sister.'
'I thought it's a brother?'
'Kyle is the little brother. Kate is my older sister. She is as tall as you.'
Laura dragged her away but from the guilty expression on her face Abigail could tell Anastasia had revealed something she wasn't supposed to. She tried to piece it together but it didn't make sense. The photographs only showed two children and she had been told Kyle was visiting his grandparents. Were they hiding something from her? She shrugged it off and continued to the library which she had discovered the day before. It contained a large collection of books from John Grisham and J.K Rowling to Judith Mcnaught and Nora Roberts.
Abigail went with her father to collect Veronica from hospital. She knew how proud her mother was so hadn't told her that they would be living with Jake. Veronica was surprised to see Jake when he walked in with Abigail.
'What are you doing here?'
'Abigail came and told me what the doctors' said.'
She turned to her accusingly, 'How could you?'
'We had nowhere to go mum. The landlord kicked us out.'
The fight went out of her and her shoulders drooped. 'Am sorry Abigail. This must have been hard on you.'
Abigail nodded and went to hug her mother. 'I missed you so much.'
Veronica made an effort to be civil to Jake and Abigail sensed the tension between her parents. What had happened to sour their relationship? She felt like everyone was hiding something from her and she resolved to discover what it was.
Abigail fluffed her mother's pillows and tucked her into bed at Jake's home. He had installed a bedside bell which she could ring when she needed something. In addition he paid for a private nurse to come daily and check on Veronica. Laura only came to welcome Veronica grudgingly into the house then she stayed away from her. Veronica was relieved because she wasn't fond of her either.
Abigail settled into a routine whereby she checked on her mom in the morning then went to school as the nurse kept her. She returned in the evening and visited with her mom before doing assignments and reading. She barely had time to see her dad or Laura. Every time she bumped into Laura, the former bore a guilty look and Abigail tried to piece together the story to no avail.
One evening when she got back, she found a young lady of similar age and height at the house. Anastasia jumped up and explained, 'This is Kate.'
Kate spoke, 'You must be Abigail.'
Abigail was confused because if Kate was her age, it meant her dad had cheated on the mother with Laura earlier. She went to check on the mother and found her resting. She left her and went in search of her father.
'Hi dad. When were you going to tell me about Kate?'
Jake looked guilty and replied, 'It was a mistake. I never meant to hurt your mother.'
Abigail was disappointed. She had hoped there was another logical explanation but Jake had confirmed her fears. 'Does mom know?'
'Please don't tell her. It will only hurt her more.'
Abigail walked away and tried to think of a reason why she should forgive her father. He had abandoned them when she was 12, now she had found out that he cheated on the mother too. Was there no end to the hurt he would bring them? She decided to hide the new information from her mom since she didn't want to aggravate her further.
She began to take walks in the night to relieve her mind from stress. It was relaxing to walk in the cool night air and view the stars. At that time, the roads were empty and there was no constant noise or pollution. She began to walk to the nearby church and sit there for a while praying. It was a Catholic church and the priest always said the blessing for her when she was leaving.
The priest was a young man of 30 years and had joined the seminary as a boy. He enjoyed the conversations with the beautiful young lady who had sad eyes. They talked about death and God's will. She told him about her father and dying mother and he told her about growing up in the seminary. He didn't mean to fall for her. The devil whispered in his dreams about the girl and how she could give him something he was missing.
The first time he woke up wet he was scared and knelt down immediately to pray about it. He had taken a vow of celibacy and did not intend to break it. He began to think about her and what it would feel like to take her slim form in his arms and touch her. He could imagine her flowery scent and her holding him tight. The priest forgot that he was a man of the robe and began to yearn for her.
Abigail's only true friend was the priest and she began looking forward to the night walks and meditation. He was the only person who really talked to her and did not pass judgment on her. She trusted him completely and told no one about their meetings.
'I keep forgetting to ask you. What is your name?'
'John.' He replied.
'You don't look like a John. I kept imagining you were a Francis or Paul.'
He smiled shyly and said nothing. They sat in silence and while she was meditating he began to study her profile. She had such soft looking lips. His eyes travelled to the rise and fall of her chest and then to her slim legs. His gaze heated up with the desire he had for her. When she turned to look at him he quickly looked away. She was startled by the disturbing look in his eyes but she had no idea what it was so she dismissed it.
One evening when she came to the church, it was in absolute darkness and looked abandoned. She turned to leave, when the priest emerged from the shadows. 'Don't go.'
She said, 'I have never found the church locked. What is the problem?'
He replied, 'I wanted to close early for a change. Come join me under the trees.'
Abigail followed him to the grass and sat down. He was looking into the distance and seemed troubled by something.
'Is something bothering you?' she asked.
'It's just a beautiful night.'
She sat with him in silent companionship and was startled when he moved closer. He touched her hair and murmured, 'I like your hair.'
She looked down at her lap and he moved closer. He kissed her and pushed her to the grass. She tried to wriggle free but his kisses distracted her.
'It's going to be okay Abigail.'
She pushed thoughts of his vocation and how wrong it was to the back of her mind. It felt right and she forgot all about her cheating father and dying mother.He pushed up her dress and she let him. His hands on her body sent a tingling feeling down her spine. She felt a sharp pain as he pushed into her and after a while it began to feel good. It was over before she could enjoy it.
She pulled down her dress and looked at him.
He placed his fingers on her lips. 'Let's not talk about this. It never happened.'
'I'm a priest. I have my reputation to protect. Besides, no one will believe you.'
She got to her feet and walked slowly home, tears flowing down her face. She could not believe she had lost her innocence. It had felt beautiful but now she felt dirty.She vowed not to talk about it, it was too painful. Hopefully she would not get pregnant with his bastard son.
She slowly trudged up the stairs, hoping no one would see her in her disheveled state. She reached her mom's door and it was swarming with nurses. Everyone was too busy to notice her state. She asked, 'What happened? What's going on?'
A nurse replied, 'The patient just died due to mysterious circumstances. We are trying to ascertain what happened.'
Abigail fell to the ground sobbing. Her life looked bleak and she wondered where she would seek solace from. Her mother was gone and so was her faith.