Where I come from, they don’t name a child until seven days and seven nights have passed. They wait, because to name something is to give it life, and if you name the baby when they are still the colour of an overripe mango and their skin looks like it wants to fall off the bones, the baby may leave and go back where it came from. Then, you’ll have a name and no baby.
I should have remembered this the day I sat down, my swollen legs resting on the pouffe, and I chose a name: Daniel, after my father, for a boy; Daniella, because I liked the ring to it, for a girl. I should have remembered when I whispered the name to his scalp that rose and fell in tandem with my heartbeat when the nurse handed him to me; all slimy and so fragile.
The name dances on my lips like a song that comes from places we forgot existed within us as I cradle my empty arms and swing my ashy elbows in the wind. My breasts are still swollen with the absence of Daniel’s small, pouted mouth. My throat is dry with the lullabies that rose from the depths of my stomach and died before I could sing them to my Daniel. The sound of his bellowing – starting from the lungs and pouring out like lava in a volcano – plays in my head over and over again like a radio long forgotten by the owner.
The night Daniel died was exactly like this:
A warm, starless night with dirty cotton balls hanging from the sky. The sounds of Kahawa Wendani seeping into the single room on the third floor that I had rented three months before I was due. I had fed him the milk I had pressed from my breasts earlier in the day and kept in a bottle immersed in hot water. I had laid him on my bed and sat on a stool near the rails with a mug of tea. I hummed the lullabies that my mother and her mother had handed to me like a baton in a relay. I did not hear the wheezing sound. I did not see him grow stiff. Daniel, my son, died while I watched the sky.
His absence still clings to the room like a badly done mixture of paint and turpentine. I have tried to scrub his smell off my skin and my hair but even that seems impossible. Still, like a stubborn stain, the memories of the four days I had him refuse to be erased so easily. Under the bed, rolls of yarn unspooled. Blue onesies, folded. Boxed. Questions, I have many. One that lingers though is, how could something meant to bring you joy turn into an animal that eats you from inside?
I am not to have another Daniel, the doctor says. Neither will I have a Daniella. The surgery makes it impossible to have another. I close my eyes and I see red shadows dancing like a candle flame in the wind. I listen to the sound of the ocean as the waves slap the shore. The rain as it falls on the parched ground. The metallic taste of Daniel’s name on the roof of my mouth. The gush of the wind as it lifts Daniel and takes his giggles to a faraway land. This, perhaps, is how he meant to come into my life; fleeting, ephemeral – like the smoke from a long drag of a cigarette blown upwards.
If anyone asks, my name is Margaret. And I am Daniel’s mother.