The baby slept peacefully. Her small, pink lips were pursed tightly, like the last words she had said before she dosed off were ‘mum’. Next to her, on the bed where she lay, her father watched over her, adjusting the pink shawl that covered her, being a first time father meant he watched her every move, and now he realized just how sleepy he was. He rolled over and called out, and a young woman, the baby’s mum appeared. Her hands were soaked, and the foam from the cheap dishwashing liquid that dried her hands but didn’t hurt her dripped onto the floor that was littered with the potatoes skins she had been bruising earlier.
The baby’s father played with one of the many dreadlocks on his head, he didn’t know how to ask if the food was ready, but he knew it was not a man’s job to get his own food when he had a wife in the house. She raised her eyebrows, and he asked how far away the food was. The dishes were almost done and she’d get to frying the rice and potatoes. He sighed, a little too dramatically for her and she disappeared into the kitchen with disgust on her face. She had spent the day washing, cleaning, running errands, and he wouldn’t lift a finger when he got home from the bakery. Not that it was easy working at the steakhouse, but he could have been more considerate.
She regretted the baby sometimes. When the neighbours left, and it wouldn’t stop crying. She used to cry the first days when the baby wouldn’t stop crying, she was twenty, not much of an adult, and she didn’t know what to do. Then helplessness had surrendered to frustration, and she’d ignore the baby when she wouldn’t stop crying, put her in one corner and let her cry herself to sleep. She knew she should have felt sad to see the baby cry, but for a sick reason, she didn’t . She’d still be home if it wasn’t for the baby. Waiting to go to college. Getting pocket money from her father, and not from a dreadlocked waiter who sold cannabis on the side.
The baby woke up. Blinked at the blue light on the ceiling. She found herself staring into her fathers eyes, and he attempted playful gibberish, while asking questions he didn’t expect answers to. She sucked on her fingers and blinked her big, black eyes. Then she yawned, and demanded for food. Loudly. Her father called out. A gas burner was turned off and the sound of boiling rice was replaced by a wailing baby. Then she had a tit in her mouth and she went silent. Her mother was a beautiful young woman, and even in her long, flowing dashiki dress, her father could see why exactly if they didn’t stop taking their contraceptives religiously, they’d have two babies to think about.
The food was served steaming hot. The steam rose into the ceiling and in the silhouettes created by the dimly light bulb, the tiny sitting room looked like a scene from a haunted movie. She shivered and hurriedly made the sign of the cross with her free hand. Then she shook him gently. He woke up confused. She almost laughed but she didn’t want to wake the baby, and he had drooled, and she didn’t like how it smelled on the pillow. They ate in silence. His sleep making him itch all over, and not even notice that the rice had almost burnt. He wolfed down his portion and smiled at her and mouthed the Swahili word for ‘thank you’, then he rolled down his pants and disappeared into the covers. She liked this side of him, the side that cared, the side that was generous to a fault, the side that would give up his life for his family. Then she took the dishes to the kitchen and got her hands wet again.
The baby laughed gleefully. Her mother was bathing her, and she loved it when she was bubbling in the bath tub. It helped that she couldn’t yet understand words, and she didn’t hear it when her mother cussed when the baby couldn’t stop crying. She could only read facial expressions now, and now she was lost in laughter, her tiny frame immersed in soapy water. Her mother prepared a clean towel, it was white and blue and had a picture of a smiling train. The baby’s mother layered the baby in clean, fresh-smelling clothes. Before the baby’s grandmother had cut them off, she had sent continuously sent money for the baby’s mother to ensure that the baby would never be born. This meant that the baby never lacked cereal and baby soap. Now the savings from the payments, that were not known to the baby’s father, were running low, and it was possible that the baby might not smell as sweet any more. The baby’s eyes fluttered. She struggled to keep them open. The last thing she saw before her eyes closed was her mother’s frame standing over her, her long hair obstructing the blue light in the ceiling.
The baby’s father knocked on the door. A little heavier than he had the first time. He was in his socks, stepping on the heel of his shoe. He carried a newspaper on one hand and meat, a fluffy toy and a hairband in a plastic bag on the other. He looked at the curtain, radiating a blue hue into the tiny verandah where the laundry was done. He called out. Nothing. He knocked a third time, a frustrated knock, a heavy knock, one that sounded threatening. He was almost feeling his pocket for his phone when the next-door neighbor, opened the door, said hi and walked out with the baby. The baby was sleeping peacefully. Under the cold Kinoo sky, the moon shone down on her small, pink lips, pursed tightly, like the last words she had said before she dozed off were ‘mum’