He called to thank me.

The phone rang last night around 9:45. I was working on my computer, littlest cradled in my arm making the effort more difficult. I elected not to get up for the phone and hubs, glancing at the upward turned screen said, “Ike.”

I answered, “Chi’s dad. Yeah, I’ll call back later.” And I stayed where I was knowing that if I moved, the baby would once again awaken and stop my progress on these photos. I heard the phone chime a new message signal – pointless, because I rarely check my messages. Text me, if you expect reply, I can’t say it enough.

Then the phone rang. “He’s calling again. It’s got to be important, Rachelle. No one calls back to back unless it is.” Leave it to hubs to insist I answer the phone. He’s always encouraging me to do things out of my comfort zone – beyond my immediate objectives – and supporting me when plans don’t go accordingly. I think he knows me well.

So I got up, lay the baby on the pillows of our bed, and answered the phone on the last possible ring.

“Hello?”

“This is Ike.”

“Yes, I know. How are you?”

“I called to thank you.”

At that moment, with those words the brain started racing around my archives of thoughts. It stopped at the file of “I’m pregnant,” it darted past the “do me a favor…,” it hurdled over the “You ought to be seeking more for her…” and it crashed into “I’ll always keep contact information, but I’m not facilitating anything anymore.”

I laughed. “Thank me?”

“To thank you. I don’t have the words… I need to thank you.”

And at this point I’m thinking I’ve missed something in the translation between his Igbo thoughts and my English words.

There really isn’t anything to thank me for. My daughter – our daughter – has been my greatest achievement. And though I am no “mom of the year” in any regard, she has always been the center of my world and the focus of my efforts. Any sacrifice outsiders believe I’ve made was a conscious choice to ensure the life I carried had the richest existence I could provide. So what if there was no money to splurge? Who cares if I fell into a career and postponed what I believed was my dream job? My focus was on Chi – my life source, my most prized creation. My energy went to raising her, to memorializing our moments and treasuring her growth. There’s no regret. There’s nothing missed. Why then, am I being thanked?

He continued, “Thank you. Thank your mum. I – I… I don’t know what I was thinking. I thank you for not listening to me then. I see her pictures, oh, she is… wow. Thank you…”

And he told me of his regrets, of his shame. “I stopped calling. I can’t lie to her. I should’ve been to see her… I… and Nneoma, she asks about her sister. My sister, she says ‘Where’s my baby, my girl?’ I said there’s three girls and a boy. She says, “where’s my girl?’ My family, they all say, ‘I bet she’s big now?’ And I didn’t have a response.”

I replied, “She’s as tall as me, she wears my shoes. She’s smart. An honors student, in advanced classes. She is so understanding, she loves. She is an artist, an actress…”

And hubs, who had been showering, but was now seated on our bed, chimed in quietly, “athletic…” his pride in her apparent.

“Thank you. I know… I know… you… I… thank you. It’s been on my heart. I called. You didn’t answer. I shouldn’t have called back, but I thought… and you, you answered.”

We chatted idly about his children, my baby’s siblings. I shared with him her interest in track, in drama, in singing. And we said goodnight.

And I looked at hubs. “God. When I meet Him, He and I? We’re gonna have a serious talk.”

And he nodded, smiled. He, like me, knows what it’s like to have a vacancy in life that should’ve been filled with a parent’s devotion. We watched the Food Network silently, then, until he drifted off to sleep and I worked to finish polishing my shoot photographs.

This morning, despite a very restless night courtesy of Ri, I woke feeling a peace I’ve not had for several weeks. Chi was ready early and sat at the top of the staircase, backpack on and book open on her lap. “Okay, let’s go.”

On our three mile ride to her drop off, there was no music. I broke the silence.

“I spoke to your Dad last night. He said you can call him anytime.” That’s all I said, my voice even, a clear effort to avoid inflections that might reveal my thoughts. Will she open her heart to him only to have him disappear? Will she be able to understand him enough to create a relationship? Will she want to visit him, his family? Can I let her go?

“Ok. I’ll call him after school today.” And that’s what I most love about her: her willingness to accept others into her life if only they make an effort to be a part.

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