10 days ago, I read a post by a friend and a writer whose work I admire a lot. This piece was unlike anything he’d ever written. This time the characters were real, and the melancholy heartbreakingly so. I read it thrice and I have to admit, I cried a little. Because this person is a resilient person, very few things faze him. He’s always upbeat, darkly comedic and forever seeing the humour in the worst of situations. But as I read through this particular post on his blog, it was painful… I couldn’t help but identify with what he was going through. So I decided to write this in honour of him and the child he lost, and tell a story about the child I lost.
I love children. I don’t know why but children are drawn to me, especially babies. Some of my earliest memories are of me volunteering to babysit for my aunts. In December, 2005, one of my uncles came to live up north. He came with his wife, R. She had a daughter that was about three, and she’d just given birth to a son, Nosa when her husband decided to bundle his tiny family from the Benin and bring them up north so he could change careers. He wanted to go into water engineering, basically drilling boreholes. It was the start of the upper-middle class financial boom and everyone had money to sink into boreholes. Now aunt R is one of the first people I’ve met with a genuine predisposition to mental illness. But she and her husband kept it away from everyone, even though at one point, I started to suspect she had Post Partum Depression. She did all the prerequisite things; breastfed Nosa, changed him and washed his clothes. But she did it with a kind of listlessness that terrified me. She showered all her attention on the older child and almost never showed Nosa any, she never rushed to pick him up when he cried, didn’t play with him. It was about the same time Gwyneth Paltrow had the same illness so I infered. Her husband was always away and I was running away from my own problems so I spent a lot of time at theirs.
Slowly, the task of caring for Nosa slowly began to fall to me. He was a delightful baby. He hardly ever cried, was always insightful and perceptive. It was like he could tell his mom was sad and was trying to be as good a baby as he could with a soiled diaper. I didn’t mind changing or feeding him, or playing with him, or carrying him. It was a happy distraction, having to care for someone other than you. He was about three and half months when the responsibility fell to me. I was a pseudo-parent for more than a year. He was inquisitive, he’d paw through anything in his reach and once he started crawling, he went everywhere, climbed up the stairs. He’s flat footed like his dad, so he had this totter in his walk, like he was going to fall over. He could never fall asleep if he wasn’t being carried and when he eventually did, he’d burrow his head into my back, and hunch his shoulders in. I still remember the first time he called my name, he called me ‘eesi’. My name was the first he said. He was/is in many ways my first child.
His mom got better when Nosa was about a year and a half, and she fell out with the extended family soon after. She pressured my uncle into moving elsewhere, took Nosa away. Just one morning, they called the family and asked for blessing to move away. But they had already paid for the new place and moved most of their stuff there, so it was more a formality than anything else. But I knew before then, something had happened. Nosa wanted to go play in the backyard and his mom asked him to put on his sandals. I was around that day and offered to help. She turned to me and coldly asked me to let him do it himself. He wasn’t a baby anymore and didn’t need ‘help’. So when they left I was somewhat prepared but not really. It still hit me. That I’d probably wouldn’t see him again.
As I read my friend’s post. My thoughts went to Nosa. Next year, there’s going to be a lot of babies in my family, and I am horrified by the thought of any one of them dying, or my sisters and cousins having to go through that kind of loss. I have experienced a tiny fraction of what it means to be separated from a child you’ve helped raise. I understand. So this is for you, Kecy. Somewhere out there, someone understands and is praying for you.
Here’s the link to Keside’s post.Here