I want us to have our own baby, I told my mother forlornly for the umpteenth time in so many days. We have just come from visiting three women who have just had babies in a short period of two weeks. You see I love babies….i look for babies in the village, in church everywhere….they draw me.
The little bundle tightly wrapped in multi coloured lesos is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. I love holding the small bundle in my hands and staring at their tightly closed eyes. The small hands when I peer at them under the leso are bunched into a tight fist. Everything about the baby seems to be coiled. I gingerly lift the leso and peer at the folded legs. The baby stretches appreciatively. I take the opportunity to slip out the woollen booties and lightly rub the soft feet.
The baby purs like a cat and stretches further. It strains to open its eyes but I guess the light is too bright in the dimly lit house and the eyes quickly shut. I count the toes…..one two three four five……they are the most perfect toes I have seen.
The best part however of a new born baby is the smell. Babies have this undefined smell…..its hard to place it really. A freshness that defies the smoke filled room where the babies lie for most part in our village. The smell is only comparable to the smell of fresh raindrops on red soil….you can almost taste the smell with your tongue.
I love burying my head in the soft folds of the babies clothing and touching my face to the soft skin on their faces.
My mother scolds me for exposing the baby to the cold. It’s still too early and the baby has no fat to cover its body, she explains, and the baby is likely to catch pneumonia.
I wonder what pneumonia is. But I conclude it must be bad enough if it has my mother worried. I wrap the baby tightly again and delight in the feel of its warm body next to mine. I look at my cousin’s wife stretched out on the bed. The window to the bedroom is open, and is the only source of light in the mud walled house. She seems to have no interest in the beautiful baby am holding in my hands. She winches as she tries to sit up on the narrow wooden bed.
My mother reaches over and helps her up and arranges the blankets around her. She stretches out and picks the baby from my hands and places her on the mother’s breast.
I scoot over and squeeze myself next to the baby so that I can watch its small jaws as it suckles. The baby hungrily pulls on the breast and is soon contentedly swallowing loudly. I smile and reach over to touch the baby’s forehead.
My mother slaps my hand away and I pull back hurt!
You will make the baby choke!
She tells me angrily. As if on cue, the baby sputters and chokes on the milk. I guiltily pull away my hand and wish the ground could open up and swallow me.
My cousins wife looks at me kindly and explains that the milk is too much for the small mouth and hence the reason for the choking.
Thank God! Imagine me being the cause of a baby choking!
She quickly tips the baby over and rubs its back and soon enough the baby is back to its contented suckling. I swear to never rub the forehead of another suckling baby as long as I live!
I think to myself as I look at my mother with a pained look. Surely she should apologise now that it is clear that I am not to blame for the choking of the baby!
My mother totally ignores me and instead fills a mug with the traditional porridge we have brought for the new mother and places it next to the bed for my Cousins wife.
It helps with the milk production, she explains to me, the slap to my wrist and the withering look quickly forgotten,
I sometimes marvel at the capacity of my mother to punish me in one minute and educate me in the same breath as if nothing has happened.
I have come to conclude that the punishment is like highlights and makes sure that I do not forget the important lessons in life.
I am unlikely to forget that traditional fermented porridge is good for lactating mothers (Yea, I came to learn that breastfeeding mothers are lactating mothers! I don’t remember whether the lesson was also delivered with a stick most likely by my English or biology teacher, but I suspect that it was).
My mother says we need to leave. I am heart broken and wish I could stay longer with the baby but I know better than to contradict my mother. In any event we still had two more mothers with small babies to visit and take porridge to.
It was as we are living my cousin’s house to go visit the next baby that the brain wave hits me!
How great it would be if we could have our own little baby!
Then I can sit around the whole day and take care of the baby. I can count the fingers and the toes all I want and we never have to walk away and leave the baby. I want share this great idea with my mother as we walk companionably along the narrow path a gourd of porridge balanced with a leso on her back. I am walking a head of her carrying two smaller jugs where we shall share out the porridge for the two mothers we are going to visit.
The idea is like a light bulb going off in my head. Its so profound that I turn abruptly and stop on the path right in front of my mother who walks straight into me and steps on my toes painfully.
My mother mumbles some unprintable words as she successfully stops herself from dropping the gourd on her back.
I barely notice the murderous look on her face as I exclaim excitedly
I think we should get a baby of our own!
My mother looks at me strangely and I thought she was going to do something like slap me or give me a lecture on the importance of watching where I am walking etc.
Instead my mother looks at me long and hard, shakes her head at me and bursts out laughing. My mother laughs so hard that I think she is going to drop the gourd!
I am confused, what’s so funny about us getting a baby! I wonder to myself. I am not sure. My mother stops laughing long enough to tell me to precede her down the path to where we are headed….to see someone else’s baby!
I decide to play along and continue my trudge down the path but the more I think about it the more convinced I am that we do need to get a baby of our own. I will raise it at another opportune moment. Perhaps when my mother does not have a huge gourd on her back.