By Emmanuel Obi, Jr.
Copyright 2016 Emmanuel Obi, Jr.
Published by Emmanuel Obi, Jr. at Shakespir
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The sun had set long ago. He stared out of his windshield, his headlight illuminating the seemingly desolate road. No music played over the radio, no news, just silence. It had been a long day, his back was killing him, his head was throbbing and all he wanted right now was silence.
He pulled into his driveway, switched off the engine, turned off the headlights and sat there, trying to gather the strength to get out of the car. He took a deep breath, opened the door and made his way to the front door.
He opened the door to a dark house and was instantly confused. He checked his watch.
“Of course…” He whispered to himself. He had checked his watch several times but somehow just hadn’t realized how late it was. His three daughters and wife were already in bed.
He dropped his bag by the door, tossed his keys into the small bowl on a table next to the door and dragged his feet to the kitchen. On the marble kitchen counter was a note on a piece of paper that had been folded once. He opened it:
There is lasagna in the oven.
It might still be warm but just heat it a bit.
See you in bed.
I love you.
A wash of disappointed flooded him as he sighed and placed the note back on the counter. He reached into oven, the lasagna wasn’t warm, but he was too tired and impatient to warm it up. He placed the lasagna on the counter next to the sink, found a fork in one of the drawers and shoveled the cold noodles, ground beef and tomato sauce into his mouth. He couldn’t help but think how good this must have been when it was fresh.
He left the empty dish in the sink, made his way upstair, got ready for bed and rolled under the sheets. Unconsciously and without opening her eyes, his wife rolled over, placed her arm across his chest and kissed him on the neck before continuing to snore.
His mind was wound tight, it was almost impossible for him to find peace in his own mind as he lay there with his eyes closed and tried to force himself to fall asleep. The harder he tried the more it did not seem possible.
Finally, he found himself in the twilight of awake and asleep when he heard commotion coming from downstairs. His eyes bolted open, his body stiffened, his muscles tensed in preparation.
Is there a burglar in the house? He thought as he tried to focus on his hearing. Next he heard the giggling and whispers of his little girls. Half-relieved and half-annoyed, he rolled his eyes and sat up in bed.
“Where are you going?” His wife asked sleepily without opening her eyes.
“The girls are out of bed, playing around and I’m going to put them back in bed.” He replied with a simmering frustration.
“They aren’t playing around. They are try to set up something for your birthday tomorrow.”
He was a bit startled. He had looked and written today’s date a million times yet it had never crossed his mind that tomorrow was his birthday.
His tone softened, “that’s great but I really need to get some rest. I’m dying over here. I just want to sleep…”
“Baby, just let the girls have this. Please.”
He knew this was an argument that he was doomed to lose from the beginning. There is no real argument against your daughters trying to do something nice for you. So he laid back in bed, his eyes open. He heard the pitter patter of their feet and wondered how a three, five and eight year old could have such heavy foot steps. He drifted in and out of consciousness, the whispers and giggles of the girls hanging in the air.
He tried to be understanding but a ping of anger and frustration quietly burned inside of him. He kept reminding himself that they were trying to do something nice for him but with every noise his frustration built more and more. He just wanted to sleep.
Eventually the noise stopped, he had no idea when but he heard the girls’ bedroom doors close and now there he lay, drifting in and out of a shallow sleep. After a while, he looked at his smartphone.
In less than two hours he would need to get up. Another full day waited for him.
Evidently, he was able to get to sleep because he woke up to the sound of his smartphone alarm. As his eyes began to focus he could see that the little girls had surrounded his bed, his wife was already up standing behind them with a smile.
“Good morning, daddy.” The said nearly in unison, fighting giggles that might reveal their surprise.
“Good morning, girls.” He replied with an exhausted smile.
Immediately they began tugging at his arms, begging him to get out of bed. Slowly but surely, he rose to his feet, kissed each of them on the forehead and allowed himself to be pulled out of the room.
As he walk down the stairs, rubbing his eyes, his frustration was gone and he felt almost a childlike excitement, wondering what they had done.
He couldn’t help but feel a lump in his throat as he saw the words of the banner which hung across the doorway to the living. None of the girls were tall enough to hang it very high. It was clear that the oldest had stood on a chair and reached as high she could which was still only to his neck. The slightly misshapen letters had been cut out of different colored construction paper and glued to a long piece of blue yarn. Daddy’s favorite color.
He smiled as he ducked under the banner and saw that the living room had been more destroyed than decorated. Streamers woven through all of the furniture, glitter seemingly every where, footballs and basketballs that had been cut out of construction lay everywhere. All of which framed by a large piece of cardboard paper with daddy, mommy and the girls drawn next to their home, a smiling sun and clouds with Happy Birthday Daddy carefully written across the top.
“Thank you, girls.” He smiled and spread his arms to hug them.
“That’s not all.” His 8 year old sighed, exasperated.
She handed him a stack of papers that hand been folded and stapled together.
“What’s this?” He asked.
“It’s your birthday gift. We didn’t have money to buy gifts so we made them.”
It had been rough for them the past few months. A pipe burst in the house and left thousands of dollars in water damage. They had to use all of their savings to repair their home. So truth be told, he wouldn’t have had money to buy gifts for them either.
It wasn’t until he turned it over that he saw the heart drawn on it with we love you written in the center. He began to flip through the pages and saw that there was a little heart drawn at the bottom corner of each page.
“It’s a notebook. So you can take notes at work.” She said innocently. He looked at her speechless.
Before he could reply, his five year old handed him a misshapen piece of dried red clay.
“It’s a candy dish.” She said proudly. “We made them in school.”
All he could do was take a deep breath and smile. But he was interrupted again by his three year old.
She handed him a red plastic cup. A piece of paper was stretched across the top, a rubber holding it in place. On the piece of paper were a few crudely draw pink circles that appeared to be a pig. In the middle of the pig a small hole had been cut into it.
“It’s a piggy bank.” Her meek, insecure voice squeaked. He quickly wiped a tear from his eye. “Are you sad, daddy?”
“Sweet pea, I couldn’t be happier. He pulled them all in and squeezed them almost a little too hard. He stood, still holding girls and pulled his wife in for a kiss.
In that moment he paused and tried to soak in everything he could. He wanted to remember every detail.
He placed the candy dish on his desk, next to his new piggy bank, opened the bag of peppermint he had bought on the way to office and filled the dish. He took his notepad and placed it next to the picture of his wife and girls that sat at the opposite side of his desk.
He knew he would never write in it.
He sat back and stared at the seemingly endless stack of contracts, reports, reviews and miscellaneous documents, then back to his birthday gifts and then to the picture of his girls. He felt a swell of emotion, pride and rejuvenation.
Times for his family were hard. There was no money, work was nothing but long hours and felt like a constant battle between paperwork and the stupidity of management. Many of us go through the same difficulties. But every once in awhile we all need reminders that there is beauty in struggle.
I hope you enjoyed this story. Writing is one of my passions and hopefully sharing it has brought you some entertainment.
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Born and raised in Auburn, Alabama; Emmanuel Obi has lived in Switzerland since 2007. Emmanuel’s passion for writing began at a young age, though he never pursued it as a profession. A graduate from the University of Manchester with a Master’s degree in Healthcare Ethics and Law, Emmanuel uses writing and filmmaking as a way to “maintain his sanity” and share passion for storytelling
Life can be a struggle. We all need reminders from time to time of why we endure. Available today only, December 17th, for IWC Christmas Event. And please check out my Crowdfunding page https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/indie-writer-s-laptop-died#/