I always knew it would be a girl for a first born. I would name her Audrey. Meaning strength and influence and grace. To have a daughter and be her friend, the way my father and sister were friends seemed perfect to me… Behold the secret conspiracy between fathers and daughters. A father can never be jealous of his daughter and through a daughter’s eyes, a father could do no wrong.
The world is full of perfect plans. This particular one I kept close to my heart.
“How about Fiona?” said my wife, “If you’re thinking grace and nobility and stuff. Or Diana, let’s call her Diana!” she had found her leverage. She liked Diana. She would hold onto Diana. She said even the baby liked the name.
“She kicked. The baby wants to be called Diana.” She said.
“No.” I laughed. We’re on a sofa. I was massaging her feet. “She kicked against. She doesn’t like Diana.” Her eyes threw daggers at me. Her mouth turned into an unpleasant shape like the Nigerians she liked to watch on TV. I always thought her frown was her most endearing trait. She forced back a smiled. She was also very expectant and slow to move meaning I dodged the playful kicks that followed.
Your child’s name carries with it a sort of silent and continuous prayer. May it always give them confidence. May it make a worthy first impression, or stand out on name plates and honours lists. It had to be everything the parents and grandparents weren’t, especially since we were both against family names. “It’s like wishing pieces of someone’s manners and eccentricities onto something new,” said my wife.
I am Joel Lawi.
“You romanticize everything,” my wife, Mercy Lawi, always said.
“Not true…” I said, “Audrey Lawi sounds better than Diana Lawi. It’s got more…more rhythm.”
“Rhythm…more rhythm,” she replied sarcastically. “What do you mean rhythm and grace?”
“Okay, sawa. We should ask Greg,” I said, reaching for my phone.
“You can’t ask Greg. He’s your friend.” she said.
“But you like Greg. He’s my longest friend…He’s your friend too,” I said.
“He’s cunning. He never fights fair,” said Mercy.
“…also the baby’s godfather, we agreed.” I said.
“No, no Greg business. None of Greg’s wisdom or advice either,” she said wisdom and advice with quoted fingers.
Greg somehow talked us into letting him help. He said we would settle the naming thing “playground style”. We were being childish and he would treat us as such.
He took two pieces of paper, equal squares. From what we saw, he wrote down both names, folded the squares and clasped them into his hands. He shook them like dice. Even asked if we wanted to do the shaking ourselves, or close our eyes or blow into his hands. We were being childish and he would treat us as such.
“Best of five,” he said. “If we get more Dianas than Audreys, and vice versa, that’s the baby’s name. Period!”
The first round, I picked and got Diana. The second, Mercy got Diana as well. A lump formed in my throat. Mercy let out small fits of ululation.
For the third and fourth and fifth round, Mercy wasn’t too delighted. We picked Audrey all through. He wrote the names again. We picked the squares, we shook, and we blew and each time, picked a square that read Audrey. Mercy asked for more rounds, Greg obliged. She lost some more. Felt cheated.
“This Greg is weird. I told you. How is he doing this?” she said. Greg had worn her out completely. There had to be a secret turn to the whole paper routine. We just didn’t notice it. I can swear I saw him swallow some squares, but that was probably nothing. To this day, he keeps this trick to himself.
And so, through some obscure children’s game, Mercy and I named our newborn girl Audrey.
On most days, I worked from home. I converted the extra bedroom into a study. There was space for a cute desk at the corner where little Audrey could do schoolwork. The two columns on her portion of the room were embroidered in flowery wallpaper. Near one such column, I squeezed in a mini sofa and a mini book shelf where she kept some of her school books, stationery and dolls.
“What’s an old soul?” little Audrey had skipped over to my side of the room. I had just printed building floor plans and the noise was enough to distract her. The plans read: Proposed Refurbishment and Extensions to Old Souls Retirement Home.
I softly poked her chest, “Means there’s an old lady living inside you.”
There are a million fathers making jokes like this, another million children who think their dads are funny…But not my Audrey. She stood arms akimbo, playfully smirking, playfully unimpressed. When she makes that face, she looks exactly like her mother. The attitude, the pretty and fierce face, a gift of love designed specially to melt my heart. I mean, wow!
Work could wait. “You want to check?” I point to the desktop with my mouth. She sits on my lap as the computer purrs to life.
“Old,” she begins to type, “soul.”
We found a compendium of info about old souls. Also called wiser-beyond-their-years. They are assertive, big on literature, purists, full of empathy, reclusive et cetera. I didn’t tick all the boxes but straightaway, felt like an old soul. My wife Mercy could be one. I suppose little Audrey was one too.
I remembered the day she was born. At three kilos and two hours old, she wasn’t crying.
“At two months, four months, you weren’t crying enough. We asked nurses and other parents if it was normal, for you not to cry at night, or at all. Mummy said we were told that we were lucky. Eti at least we got to sleep,” I said.
“But we weren’t sleeping. Worried sick about our baby who didn’t even give as much as a fuss,” I said. Little Audrey is half yawning by this time. She looks at the wall clock.
“Like-we knew nothing about you. Were you sick- hungry- happy? Did you even want us the way we wanted you?” I said.
Her legs are fidgety; she looks at the wall clock again. “Is this a sad story?” she says.
I’m about to tell her that in the end, we were at peace with her being special. Somehow she was wired different, an old soul for that matter. Her mum and I took turns sleeping in her room. One of us would be on standby, just in case. Eventually, we got our sleep back.
“Can I go give Mr Pink some yoghurt?” she said.
“It’s not a sad story. Promise. Cross my heart,” I said.
Too late, she was off. She said I could come outside too. She loved that puppy of hers, Mr Pink. Mr Pink was her friend. I would be her friend too if I let Mr pink have my yoghurt. I said okay. Mr Pink could have my yoghurt. And Mr Pink fatuously accepted my cup of yoghurt.
Any moment now the light would start to fade completely. We would begin to hear distant prayers from a mosque just outside the estate. Another day as the father of this lovely angel would be over. Audrey Imani Lawi. I smile. Tomorrow, I will wake up and do this again. Get her ready for school, bless her, tickle her, answer her million questions, be her friend.
I cross my fingers. Tomorrow…and all the days to come.