I look at the calendar on the wall; October 10. Ten months since Fred left home. He has not replied to my letters for two months now. Is he still alive? The thought flits through my mind, and I force it away with all my strength.
My husband, Fred, is one of the soldiers deployed to the Northern part of the country to fight insurgency. When he broke the news to me, I was down in the dumps. I didn’t want him to leave. Now, it seems he is never going to come back. Our daughter, Sarah, was two months old when her father left. Now a precocious one-year-old, she has no idea who her father is. There is no daddy to play with her, cuddle her and sing lullabies to her. No father and daughter bond between them.
Tears run down my cheeks as I stare at nothing, the creamy walls of the sitting room blurring and blending into moving shapes through my hazy vision. Pictures rise before me—mangled bodies, limbs askew, ground soaked dark red. I see Fred’s face amongst the bodies strewn on the ground. I jerk up immediately. I have been hallucinating again.
I burst into full-blown tears. My chest heaves. Sarah toddles up to me on shaky legs. She is supposed to be taking a nap. She takes a look at my face and puts her right thumb in her mouth. I do not have the heart to tell her to remove it. She fixes her eyes on me. The deep eyes, like Fred’s. My precious daughter! I gather her into my bosom. I rest my face against her downy soft hair and cry, I pour the pain out in torrents.
I remember the days before Fred left. The good old days that seem to be a dream these days. Fred, my loving, caring, husband. He was always quick to support my ideas, finding humour in everything. I didn’t know soldiers could laugh until I met Fred. His selflessness was on a whole different level. Having him in my life changed a lot of things and I will not regret my decision to marry him, no matter what happens.
All the while, we have been communicating. Fred replies my letters as soon as he receives them and I keep his in a drawer, where I sometimes go to read all over again. Until two months ago when I got no more replies.
I miss my husband.
I miss cooking him dinner, going jogging with him in the early hours of the day, fishing during the weekend, our long talks in bed at night, his touches that make my heart race and my body tingle. I miss his voice.
What is going on in the north? I wonder. The news channel never reports it. Every single day, my husband risks his life for his country. His fellow soldiers die, yet they keep doing their jobs. My heart constricts in pain. A wave of helplessness and hopelessness steal over me. Several times I do night prayers and fasts for Fred to return home safe. Ten months have passed, and I am still waiting to get my answer, for Fred to return.
“God! Are my prayers in vain?” I moan. But for the steady breathing of my daughter in my arms, the room remains silent.
I snap out of my reverie and take my daughter to our bedroom. I come out in time to hear a knock on the door. Might be Mama Kamal, the next-door neighbour who does not mind borrowing anything from anyone. I have begun to avoid her. I only have enough for my baby and me. The knock comes again. I tighten my face and go to the door.
But then shock has me running into the bedroom and banging the door shut. My head rings, and my heartbeat can be heard miles away.
Fred! I’m dreaming. Fred’s ghost is at the door.
“Mercy, it’s me, flesh and blood. I’m alive,” Fred speaks from the living room. I left the door open.
“You’re really alive?” I say from the bedroom.
Fred gives a chuckle. A warm, sweet feeling settles in my chest as I hear the sound.
“Come and see for yourself, my love,” he replies.
Tentatively, I open the door and slip out. We stand staring at each other. His uniform hangs on his spare frame, his eyes have hollows, and the wrinkles on his forehead rival a periwinkle’s. I burst into tears. He comes and engulfs me in a hug. It feels strange, almost awkward. I stand rigid in his arms.
“It’s okay darling, I’m here for you now. Where’s Sarah?” he asks.
“Fred,” I whisper.
“You’re really here,” I say again.
“I am, my love. I have been given leave,” he tells me.
I sink into the embrace now. I feel his body through his clothes. Bones.
“Come see our daughter,” I tell him. We go to the bedroom and he stands still, watching our sleeping princess.
“She has grown,” he says in a hoarse voice and bends to touch her cheeks. Then he sits on the bed and pulls me to his laps.
“I’ve missed you, love,” he says softly. I nod. My thoughts are incoherent. There are many things I want to say, questions I want to ask. But I sit on his lap, and we stare at our sleeping daughter. When he turns my head around and tugs my mouth down to meet his, I follow without missing a beat.
My husband is home.