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News & Features » February 2015 » “Safe to Cry” by Nyaboke Nduati

“Safe to Cry” by Nyaboke Nduati

Are you a parent going through the Terrible Twos? Did you live through them and survive? Terrible Twosdays is a place to commiserate over the unending shenanigans of your Darling Children (as the online parenting communities say). Nonfiction stories will be considered, so long as names have been changed to protect the guilty. Inspired by our best-selling gift book for parents, Go the Fuck to Sleep, Terrible Twosdays joins the roster of our other online short fiction series. Unlike Mondays Are Murder and Thursdaze, we’re looking for stories with a light and mischievous feel, all about the day-to-day challenges of parenting. As with our other flash fiction series, stories must not exceed 750 words.

This week, Nyaboke Nduati toughs out a difficult situation.

Nyaboke Nduati_2Safe to Cry
by Nyaboke Nduati
Four weeks

In my mind I could hear the phone ringing, but my eyes were fixated on the first page of a chapter in my thesis that needed work. All I could think about was how sick I was of that thesis. It all seemed pointless. None of the contents of this two hundred–page document was going to change the world in the slightest way.

“Your phone is ringing.” Madge tapped me on the shoulder as she walked past my cubicle. She was the only person in the office I had the energy to converse with these days. Being an international student herself, and having a background in counseling, she willingly took up the role of free therapist for a bunch of us in the office. She could tease a genuine laugh out of me even when all I wanted to do was curl up in a ball and not talk to anyone. Tough for me though because I had to paint a smile on my face every day and hold whichever undergraduate hand I needed to hold that day in order to earn my tuition.


“Hello. Is this Mrs. Watena?”


My heart sank when I heard it was the NICU where my preemie twins were admitted. Ever since my water broke thirty-one weeks into my pregnancy, my heart had developed the habit of going into some kind of panic every time a medical professional called me.

The nurse was trying to get my permission to put a special kind of IV line on one of the boys because the one he had on was not working as well as they would like. Phew! As far as I was concerned anything they needed to do to make my sons better, they could do. I told them to go for it.

I could not get out of the office fast enough after my last student meeting. My husband was waiting patiently in front of the building, and we drove together to the hospital just like we did every evening, and every morning on the weekends. Silence was preferable to any attempt at a conversation. I knew he meant well, and he was hurting just as badly as I was that our boys were so fragile and so tiny. But I could not stand to see him anything but concerned. I wanted constant evidence on his face that he cared.

I reached for Michael first. I always reached for Michael first. He cried more, had more days under the lights for jaundice, and I felt he needed more attention than did his happier, calmer twin, Matthew. I had just put Michael back into his incubator and fell back into a chair when I saw his neck. There was an IV line in his upper neck going up into his skull. The nurse explained that it was the special kind of line they had called me about earlier.

“They didn’t say they were going to stick a needle in his skull!” A backlog of tears, stubbornly held back for weeks, flowed freely down my face.

My husband rubbed my back as I slouched forward and buried my face in my lap. The nurse tried to explain that the IV line was not causing Michael any pain. In fact, both boys were doing very well and would probably be ready to go home soon. But I was not listening. I cried like I had not dared to cry since my two preemies—so beautiful, and yet so fragile—were first held out for me to kiss before being promptly rushed to the neonatal intensive care unit.

A few of the other NICU nurses and a nurse practitioner came over to try and reassure me. Panicked—and perhaps a little embarrassed—my husband moved back to make room for the nurses to deal with my breakdown. I could hear them, and I could see them surrounding me, but it felt like they were not there. In that moment it was just me, alone, allowing myself to grieve the full term pregnancy I had hoped to have. I knew both Michael and Matthew were out of danger, and I knew the doctor wouldn’t have recommended they put that IV line in my son’s head if it was going to harm him. I knew they were okay. And somehow that meant it was finally okay for me to cry.


NYABOKE NDUATI is currently a PhD candidate in the literacy education program at Syracuse University. In the past, she has worked as an English teacher in her home country, Kenya, as well as a writing consultant and a teaching assistant in the US. Nyaboke earned an MFA in creative writing from Syracuse University in 2010.


Do you have a story you’d like us to consider for online publication in the Terrible Twosdays flash fiction series? Here are the submission terms and guidelines:

—We are not offering payment, and are asking for first digital rights. The rights to the story revert to the author immediately upon publication.
—Your story should focus on the challenges of parenting. Ideally, stories should be about children aged 0 to 5, but any age (up to early teens) is acceptable. Stories may be fiction or nonfiction.
—Include the child’s age at the time of the story next to your byline.
—Your story should not exceed 750 words.
—E-mail your submission to info@akashicbooks.com. Please paste the story into the body of the email, and also attach it as a PDF file.

Posted: Feb 24, 2015

Category: Original Fiction, Terrible Twosdays | Tags: , , , , , ,