When I realised that she was pregnant, I was angry with her. She had four children already, 1,2,3,4! She even had two boys and two girls, what else did she want? An angel? It wasn’t like they were so comfortable. I don’t know what her husband did but she plaited hair in the house, she didn’t even have a shop- not that she needed one though. The six of them were crammed in a two room apartment and they had to share the bathroom and toilet with several other families, they shared a kitchen too. There was no reason for her to have another child.
But you don’t express such feelings in a land where children are considered an uncontrollable resource, a blessing that flowed from a tap with a broken valve. You ignore the pregnancy because we do not like to talk about pregnancy, there are too many witches and wizards around.
She plaited hair all through the pregnancy, she even made wool braids for me in January, two weeks before the baby was born. She put to bed on the last Monday in January, at 1am and she with the baby were discharged that same day. When I went to see the baby, she was smiling and telling me how it was the smoothest pregnancy and labour experience she’d ever had. She’d even plaited that evening and had a customer lined up for Monday, she was that strong she said.
The baby was probably the tiniest non premature baby I’d ever seen, she reassured me that he wouldn’t break before I gingerly accepted to carry him. His name was Hassan and he looked exactly like his immediate elder sister. I soon became one of his wives, he had a lot of wives, and everybody loved him.
Hassan was a good baby, his mother didn’t need to exaggerate his placidity, and we could all see it. He did not cry irrationally, he only cried when he was wet and when he was hungry. He did not cry when strangers carried him, he’d look at you with his huge eyes like he was committing your face to memory. His mother would leave him in Iya Ibro’s shop and go to the market or anywhere else she needed to be, you wouldn’t even notice him when you go to Iya Ibro’s shop to buy coca cola or to buy needle and thread or to collect your dress from her.
On the Sunday before the Farafina workshop began, I went there to plait my hair. He was growing bigger every second, it was hard to believe he was the same baby I had been afraid to carry. He looked less like his sister, I told his mum he was developing his own features now. We talked about exclusive breastfeeding, she was going doing the full haul- six months. She told me it wasn’t that hard when I told her I wasn’t sure I could do it, she encouraged me like I’d had the baby already.
Today, I went to buy coca cola and Iya Ibro asked me if I’d told them sorry. My face must have betrayed my confusion, then she asked if I knew my husband had died. When one talks of death, one does not think of a six month old. Then she said, she said Hassan had died.
When I went in to see his mum, she was sleeping. I told the children I’d come back but before I got to the gate, she’d woken up. What does one tell a woman who’d lost her baby? How does one console a mother grieving for her child?
She said she wasn’t crying anymore, all the tears in this world wouldn’t bring her baby back to her. He hadn’t really been sick, he was never sick. He had diarrhoea, the kind that accompanies teething, the kind I tell anxious mothers not to fret about. They took him to the hospital on the second day and he died that night, on Sunday night.
I’m not sure now what I said then, I must have said God gives and God takes, that God will strengthen her. I know I asked how the other children were taking it, I know how much they loved their baby. The youngest girl looked so sad, she’d always said he was her baby and no one else’s. Not even her mum was allowed to call him “my baby”.
I can’t imagine how terrible it could be to lose a child, I remember the sobs that shook my father’s strong frame when his father was buried, I remember how he cried after he poured the sand on the coffin. He was fifty-two and Papa was eighty-six years old. I’d been told that the pain of losing a child is much worse than losing a parent, I can’t comprehend that scope of pain.
I finally called a beautiful young woman who’d lost her mother, I’d sent her messages on facebook but I hadn’t called yet, I didn’t know what to say. She said it was ok to call even though I had nothing to say, the calls were a comfort she said. As we talked, I started crying. While asking about her wellbeing and that of her father and siblings, I lost it. I tried to hide it but she caught it and asked if I was ok, when I told her what had happened, she told it was ok. The comforter had become the comforted.
After that call, I cried a little. I cried for Hassan, for his mother, for his father, for his siblings and for all who knew him, he had been the apple of our eyes. At times like this praying for strength to move on is the only thing we can do, hopefully the pain will ease with time.
There’s a Yoruba prayer that is usually said when a child is named; “we know where you were born, may we never know your grave and may we who attended this naming ceremony never attend your burial”. It didn’t work this time.