I Like the Look of Freedom on You
By Ifeoma Okwuka
“I Like the Look of Freedom on You” is a fictional piece that examines the intergenerational relationship between a great-grandmother and her great-granddaughter.
My great-grandmother, Ebere, says that there’s something magical about my freedom, the vigor with which I trudge through life. She’s nostalgic for the days when she wasn’t confined to a wheelchair, and when her words weren’t intertwined with painful coughing spells. Her frame is not what it used to be. She’s much smaller now, a bit shrunken like a slowly shriveling flower.
I look to the corner of our living room where she cautiously runs her fingers through the beads of a plastic rosary. There’s an eternal scream encapsulated in her eyes, amplified by the rivers of light that so often penetrate our window panes. When juxtaposed with her tranquil demeanor, she becomes something of a walking paradox. Two stories merged into one being—the being I’ve always loved and forever will love. It is noon and I am just arriving home from school. If my early return surprises her, she does not show it. There is no greeting or sign of acknowledgment, only the hushed sounds of conversation between her and her God.
I find her voice to be warm and all-encompassing like the sun, and she takes major pride in this. Its ethereal murmur gives the illusion of ecstasy even in moments of undeniable pain. She says it’s a coping mechanism, but I have yet to decipher what she means by this. I’m told that my strength liberates her, but my strength is a fluid thing. I am left wondering how one could possibly find hope in something as fleeting as butterflies?
The other day she told me that I was fearless. “Egwu adighi atụ gi!” She cried before proceeding to finish a horrendous tale of her own making while I stood transfixed by the kitchen door. I only managed a weak laugh, but it seemed to do the trick. She was convinced that my courage flowed from an infinite source, and I didn’t want her believing otherwise. What I really wanted to say, but didn’t, was: “I’m scared of losing you. I dread the day your lungs will give out, and my love will prove insufficient to revive you. Don’t you know that the death of you will also be the death of me? You must understand that I love you, but I cannot save you.”
This morning she watched as Mama transformed my tight coils into finely braided cornrows. There was something about her presence that moved me. Although the intensity of her gaze was unnerving, I could tell that there was much love behind the stare. I was confined between Mama’s thighs and attempted to read Ebere’s mind. Maybe if she could claim me as her daughter she would? I doubt I would object to that. I doubt I could object to anything she did.
I now move slowly towards her, deciding how best to approach her. Her sunken cheeks are stained by tears that glisten like metal under the sunlight. I can only conclude that she is thinking of Chiamaka, my late grandmother, whom we lost to lung cancer five years ago. I resort to awkwardly kneeling down beside her and make an attempt to join her in prayer. Her face remains mostly unchanged, except now her lips are pursed. I maximize the distance between us, wondering if I have crossed the line between reassurance and intrusion. I retrieve the rosary tucked in the corner of my school bag, and utter the next decade. A faint smile unfurls across her face, and I can now feel her eyes on me. Once I am finished, I motion to her to continue. Now, it is my turn to stare. I watch her movements carefully and search for fragments of myself in her being.
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She says I am a replica of her younger self, albeit a little taller. She finds my strides humorous, the way I always bounce off my toes as if ready to take flight. I’m different from my mother in that way. Mama’s steps are often quick and constrained, as if she were safeguarding something of sacred importance. I’ve been told, however, that I give the impression of levitation. It’s not just the walk, but the way my arms hang freely at my sides, ready to embrace whatever comes my way.
Mama says I’ve always been a curious child, perhaps too curious. She often recounts the pure horror that enveloped my eyes as a toddler when I clasped a rose for the first time. The thorns pricked my delicate skin and sent blood, the color of red wine, streaming from my left palm. When she and Ebere realized what had happened, they searched frantically for the medical kit. Ebere claims that I didn’t shed a single tear, but instead appeared puzzled by the biology of my intricate little body. I suppose there was a hint of betrayal too. How could something so incredibly beautiful be so incredibly menacing?
The inspiration for this story derives from a prompt my mentor brought up during one of our weekly meetings. The prompt in question asked me to reflect on the phrase, “mind, body, and soul” and craft something meaningful with my reflection. I chose to narrow my focus on the “body” because I was drawn to the process of aging and how it affects us not only on an individual level, but an interpersonal level as well.
Ifeoma is a high school junior residing in The Bronx. She has a genuine interest for STEM-related topics and finds immense joy in writing fiction and poetry. At school, she is a member of the World Science Academy club and is a Girls Who Code (Summer Immersion Program) alumna. She is also a proud member of Teens For Press Freedom where she serves on the press team. During her free time, you might catch her reading (sci-fi, poetry or realistic fiction), playing one on one basketball with her twin brother or simply learning random skills on YouTube.