(A short story by Contributor Noellè Joseph) The room spun slowly above her head. Faces she vaguely recognized looked down at the frozen form on the wooden floor. She closed her eyes, hoping the dizziness and nausea would soon pass.
Two young friends played noisily in the park. The girls were kindred spirits and spent most of the day in each other’s company. In school, they shared a locker, shopping they raced for the same shopping basket, at their place of worship, they sat in the same pew, shoulder to shoulder for the two hours duration of the service. Both desperately wanted to grow up quickly and to marry successful men. Not time nor the turbulent onset of womanhood could affect or diminish the strength of their friendship.
The young woman tried to open her eyes but felt it impossible. She heard gentle voices whispering but had great difficulty understanding what was said. She tried to stand upright but was paralyzed and unable to move. The voices continued to reassure and comfort her.
The young pastor of their Church was very handsome. Tall, with smooth skin, and a melodious voice. All the young girls of the parish were beside themselves with heady dreams of catching Pastor Orsene’s romantic attentions. The two friends shared the same desires as their peers and often teased each other as they good-naturedly competed for the young pastor’s attention. They both made sure they attended every prayer meeting, bible study, and Sunday church service immaculately dressed with the hope of catching his eye.
The woman felt soft hands carefully lift her onto a stretcher. At last, she managed to open her eyes and realized that one of the voices she kept hearing was that of her husband. She tried to ask him what had happened but was placed swiftly into an ambulance. Her husband held her hand tightly and started to pray.
After months of searching and unsolicited advice from the church elders’, the eligible pastor had made his final decision. He chose an attractive, petite, and intelligent girl as his bride. The congregation enthusiastically welcomed the news of their engagement. Even those whom he had not chosen felt some consolidation that a local girl and not an outsider had captured the young pastor’s heart. Everyone looked forward to an invitation to the forthcoming wedding – the main event of the Church’s social calendar.
One person, however, tried but failed to share the excitement of the congregation. Good fortune had placed her friend into the spotlight and cast her into the shadows. Unintentionally friendship was pushed aside as preparations were underway for a large Church wedding. The soon-to-be pastor’s wife was placed on a pedestal stool and segregated from other women in the congregation. Acquaintances could no longer assume ready access to her company or counsel. Instead, they had to navigate through a band of elderly and over-protective elders’ wives.
After the wedding ceremony, the guests moved into the large Church hall where the food and refreshments were available. No one left the reception without feeling that the long day had been a great success. Late into the night, members of the congregation reluctantly returned to their vehicles and drove to their homes.
On the hospital bed, the woman heard muffled voices. She could not fully comprehend what they were saying but often caught some words and phrases that she understood like ‘long-term, paralysis and constant care.’ She wondered if they could be talking about her.
The young woman headed for the forest as she had done numerous times before. She remembered that people in her village used to warn children not to touch or play with certain plants. Carefully the woman gathered an array of them then placed them into a plastic bag. At her home, she painstakingly pounded the concoction into a sticky paste.
The pastor and his bride opened their numerous gifts, which were practical or decorative. Others were food, preserves, and homemade beverages. A beautifully decorated fruitcake placed in an expensive plastic wrapping caught the bride’s attention. The icing and decorations made the cake look like an ornate hat, with delicate bows, ribbons, and buttons made from icing sugar. The bride cut through the top layer and placed a small piece into her mouth. The fruitcake was pleasant enough, but the icing had a slightly bitter aftertaste. Later as she headed to the bathroom and reached for the door handle, she collapsed.
The woman wrestled with the terrible sense of despair that overwhelmed her. She could not move the left side of her body and had to be assisted even to complete the simplest tasks. Although her husband was loving and attentive, she wondered how long he would be able to endure the pressures of having a disabled wife.
A few days after her return from the hospital, an old friend appeared at their home. The pastor’s wife felt great comfort knowing her childhood friend was by her side. It was a blessing to have a friend that would be a constant, especially now that she no longer resembled the person she was a few months before. In her mind, she would always have the support of her great friend and was comforted by that thought.
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