Before this serene-but-bitter moment, there had been a moment when wails flung out of our mouths and collapsed in the air. The moment the doctor came out, pity drawn on his face, and announced to our ears that “the baby has gone.” That moment when the baby’s father, my elder brother, who had dragged himself out of the chair, followed the doctor, pulling his white coat, shout-crying behind him: “doctor, doctor, wait, I didn’t hear what you said. Wait. Repeat your statement.”
The doctor stopped, patted his shoulder, and said, “I’m sorry. There’s nothing we can do.”
My brother stood still as though numbness had pinned his feet to the floor. His lips trembled, and the veins of his forehead bulged as though itching to tear out of his flesh.
But before that wailing, there had been a moment of euphoria, when the baby crowned in the living room and we – my mother and I – rushed in to help; when fear overwhelmed my mother because she had never seen a baby being delivered outside of a hospital. She couldn’t touch the baby as it squirmed in the blood and water that broke out with it.
The baby’s mother was bleeding, red waste tricking onto the baby’s face, sneaking into its nose. I picked it up and wrapped it in a cloth, gently. I noticed a bold mark on its forehead and a scratch, like a finger had grazed its left cheek. Its face was round and its hair was thick and old. I knew I had seen an older kind of that face but I wasn’t concerned about it at that time. My brother, the baby’s father, whom my mother had phoned while trembling, rushed in with a nurse. He must have hurried to the hospital to get the nurse. They ferried his wife and the baby to the hospital for proper care. Later, my brother phoned to say that “the baby is fine and we would be home soon.” The words came out of his mouth, through the phone’s speaker, with happiness so raw we felt it on our flesh. I was happy. Very happy because childbirth had never occurred in my presence.
When they arrived, my brother started calling everybody, telling them, “we gave birth,” and a boisterous and long “aah” blared out of each speaker’s mouth, followed by a joy-filled “congratulations!” That moment of happiness came with enormous presence that nobody felt its ephemerality.
Then came this serene-but-bitter moment, when those that came to congratulate us switched to sympathizing with us for the death of the baby, and those who came earlier to congratulate the baby’s mother returned with their consolations. Friends and neighbours trooped in; bitterness hung on their faces, morphing to sobs.
I sat in a corner of the living room, afraid of walking over the spot the baby had dropped on. I sat here, observing (or imagining?) how a room, formerly suffused with the tension of labour and songs of happiness, had turned into a silent space of remorse, which began after Ma’ Leke, while bathing the baby, noticed that she had gone cold.
For everyone that sat with us, burning in them were similar stories that might have happened to them or someone close to them or someone close to someone close to them; stories waiting to be exhumed. A woman would sigh heavily, and another woman would respond with a story. Ma’ Leke was the first to break the silence.
“It has also happened to my brother o. One should just be grateful for whatever portion God gives us. His, ehn? His wife was operated and immediately after the baby was removed out of her stomach, the baby went back. The hospital collected their money o. But what can one do?”
And as she narrated her story, “aah!” – a different kind of ‘aah,’ – and ‘eeyah’ fell out of the other womens’ mouths, reifying the weight of the story. I pushed a finger between my teeth, directing my anger to biting it, wondering why these people thought it wise to drown the parents of the deceased with such sad stories. They left later, dropping a take-heart or just-thank-God-for-life consolatory words for the mother.
But before these, there was a day in that week, a Wednesday, when we all travelled to Ibadan to check on Ma’ Yemi, my mother’s elder sister. Her daughter, Fiyin, had called to say that Ma’ Yemi “woke up and felt an ache in her backbone. She struggles to stand but as much as she struggles as much is the pain.”
We arrived in Ibadan by afternoon and met Fiyin sitting beside Ma’ Yemi, fanning her. There was a nurse filling her syringe with yellowy liquid she drew from a small brown bottle. Ma’ Yemi at first didn’t notice our presence. She was faintly grunting and mumbling statements behind her breaths. My mother sat beside her and held her palm. She turned her head and caught my mother’s face. She stared at my mother so intently that tears started to form in her eyes. Her round face looked distorted and the mark on her forehead was swollen and ripe as if filled with water. The cut on her left cheek was fading into her skin that if one looked at it at first, it appeared obscure and flat.
She said, with her low but vibrating voice, “Muinah. This pain is too much for me. Can you please pray to God to snatch my soul? Tell God to kill me today and set me free from this pain or else I will cease from worshipping Him.”
My mother’s eyes reddened and tears streamed down in strokes down her cheeks. My elder brother held his wife, who was holding her bumpy stomach, firmly. I stood beside a cupboard leaning on the wall and just watched. Ma’ Yemi was old and already, death can enter on her without knocking at any time. But we weren’t expecting it like this, not the one she sought herself. I just stood there and watched.
The nurse gave her the injection and some minutes after, she fell into a sound sleep. My mother returned her palm on her stomach and sighed. She asked me to keep the fruits we brought at a corner of the room. My elder brother called Fiyin and wrapped some notes into her palm. She knelt and thanked him. While she was putting the money inside her bag, my brother’s wife groaned. She grabbed her husband, shifted unstably on her seat. My mother rushed over and asked how she was feeling.
“My stomach is rumbling,” she said.
My brother asked the nurse for the direction to the nearest hospital and she described one down the street. They drove off, leaving me with Fiyin and the nurse. I sat on the chair my elder brother had sat on and fixed my eyes on my toes, listening to the clatter of spoon and cup as Fiyin prepared tea. Or was it pap?
I only lifted my head after they returned. “The baby was just moving,” my mother announced when they entered. After some minutes, she told Fiyin to let Ma’ Yemi rest well-well. “We will be leaving now before it gets dark,” she said.
The second day, Thursday, Fiyin phoned to say that Ma’ Femi didn’t wake up from the same sleep we left her in. The following day, on Friday, my brother’s wife gave birth to a baby that died.
It was now us. My mother sat on the two-seater sofa and my brother sat on the floor. I moved my stool closer to them. The brother’s wife remained on the longest sofa.
It was in this same room that my brother had announced to everyone that a baby, female, had been born. It was also this room that welcomed the mourners. My mother was still as a metal rod, pain wrinkling her skin, aging her. It is said that it is a blessing when a mother becomes a grandmother; but when a mother witnesses the death of her grandchild, there is a curse hovering.
“That baby did not wait for a name,” my mother said.
“At least we know its gender,” I said to myself.
About the Author:
Ahmad Adedimeji Amobi a Nigerian writer. A reader at Fractured Literary and Pidgeonholes, his work appears or forthcoming on A Long House, Voyage YA Journal, Hobart Pulp, Litro UK, FlashBack Fiction, Brittle Paper, and elsewhere. He was longlisted for the maiden Punocracy Prize for Satire.
Feaute image by Hardae / Pixabay