It was a hot day. Baba was sitting on an old, shredded reed mat under a baobab tree in the homestead, with his aching back leaning against its trunk. He was looking ahead in the horizon with a faraway gaze in his tired eyes and absentmindedly chewing his lower lip. His strong arms were crossed at his chest and his legs stretched out on the mat. His aged, wrinkled skin was flaky and scaly and scarred, like the skin of the snake whose poison killed Mama, his first wife, during the season of the long rains in the previous year. The medicine man’s bitter, astringent herbs and his thick, nauseating concoctions could not save her. She ailed sorely for a few days before succumbing to the poisonous bite. He mourned then took another wife soon after, a younger woman, who was now heavy with child. The midwife had told them that she would give birth at noon, but the sun was already past overhead. It was Pim’s first pregnancy, and the child would be Baba’s ninth child. His hands and feet alike were cracked and full of dry blisters from toiling in the farm and making wooden benches for Francis’ church.
Francis was a tall, thin missionary priest who lived in a little brick house next to the small church that was built by his people not so long ago.
“I have seen strange man,” one of his young daughters had reported to him, beaming with excitement.
He was sitting outside Mama’s kitchen at dusk while brushing his teeth with a green twig from a young tree.
He spat and ran his tongue over his teeth.
“Wakdi is a sorcerer. He has to be strange,” he had said.
“Not Wakdi. This one, his skin is like tongue and his hair is like that hair on young maize on cob in the farm.”
Baba couldn’t pronounce the priest’s name correctly.
“And he has string of beans on his neck. Beans!”
“Who is Frans?” Mama had asked from inside the kitchen.
Mama heard everything.
“The priest I told you about last night,” Baba had answered.
Francis had learnt their language impressively fast, and it was easier for him to teach about Christ. Few people bothered to go to the church to listen to him, among them, Pim. She had become a loyal and staunch member of the church. She would go to the church almost every afternoon and some evenings. She spoke highly of the priest, and anyone could tell that she was fond of him. Even though Baba was not against Francis and/or his religion, he had once mentioned to Pim that her visits to the church had become too frequent and he was beginning to feel thoroughly uncomfortable.
Perhaps he had felt a little jealous and insecure because she was blisteringly beautiful, and he knew that men would let their eyes linger on her shapely, enormous buttocks, which would jiggle and joggle whenever she walked. Her breasts alone could make him erect and pulsate with wild desire and urge. They were young and tender and firm and succulent, like those wild, ripe fruits that grew in the bush, which he’d eat on his way to till land. Her delicate, supple skin was dark, as dark as the hair on her head, and silky, like banana leaves, and smooth, like the yam pulp she would cook for him to eat with a broth that tasted as sweet as the thing between her legs. She cooked well, that one. As well as Mama. But not as often. Baba loved her. And whenever the opportunity arose, he would shamelessly show her off like a prize bull in the market.
He had arranged for a small feast to welcome the first child of his new wife. He could see his elder daughters and a few women making preparations. He had asked for Pim’s favourite food to be made and several chicken be slaughtered. There was laughter and mirth in Pim’s kitchen, and songs and dramatic ululations.
“Baba! Baba!” a child called, running towards him.
Baba looked at him.
“Ma’mdi says I call you.”
The boy then quickly scuttled off to play with the other naked children in the compound, where maize and millet had been spread out in the sun to dry, and hens and cockerels trying to have the grains for lunch.
Baba got up slowly, his bones snapping and crackling like dry Acacia branches in fire, and trudged towards Pim’s hut. He walked with a limp. He had broken his hip when he’d tragically fallen from a mango tree while harvesting mangoes years ago. He couldn’t walk again for a long time, and when he finally did, the limp in his gait never left.
He could see Ma’mdi, the midwife, talking with two women outside Pim’s hut. He could hear Pim screaming from inside the hut.
“The child is coming,” said Ma’mdi as soon as Baba had approached the women.
She rushed inside.
He felt nervous. After eight children, he should have already gotten used to the exciting emotions that drill through someone’s insides when their child is being born, but this one was Pim and his. It was new. It was like his first child all over again.
He contained his thrill and elation and started walking back to his reed mat under the baobab tree to wait. Just when he got there, the relieving cries of a new born were heard slicing through the hot air, heavy with pollen, like they were the knives that would slaughter goats in the celebration of a bountiful harvest.
It’s a boy, he thought. It sounds like a boy.
He turned around to see his young daughter running towards him, calling out to him.
“Baba!” she screamed in excitement.
“Not now, Sampa. We will play later.”
“It is mother’s new child! I’ve seen mother’s new child! It has skin like tongue and hair like that hair on young maize on cob in the farm!”