Long Time: mother and child

Ruby studied the child but could find no resemblance to anyone she knew. Looked it over. Its feet. Its frail fists. Its scrunched up face. The lungs pumped and pumped, rocking the entire vulnerable frame. Ruby looked over at her daughter lying, exhausted, in a moist pool on the bed, almost asleep, the deep scent of her screaming perforating the thick air. It had lasted for hours, for hours Gertrude had screamed and screamed, her eyes exploding with fear and surprise. She hadn’t given it much thought, what it would be like, having a baby. She knew about the pain, but no-one had told her about the pain; betrayed, her eyes sprang out of their sockets as she screamed, as her hands seemed to want to push her away from that bloated belly grinning up at her as she thrashed around on the hard bed. Ruby had tried to be of assistance to the midwife. It wasn’t in her to hold her daughter’s hand or mop her brow; she had never done it before and failed to see why she should be doing it now, so she said, “Come, now… come, now,” and when Gertrude’s screams ripped into the air, she shouted irritably, “Cho man, yu nat di only person ever give birth, calm yuself down!” and she thought; you want be a woman? Well, now yu know. Yu damn well learn to live wid pain if yu want be a woman, yu hear wat me saying to yu? She wrapped up the child and left the house.

Gertrude saw her mother leave. Watched her through the corner of her eye. Started crying softly; my baby… my baby… The midwife looked over, said, “Hush now. Yu done good. Hush,” as she sat in her chair near the window, looking out into the yard. She only wished the mother would do her business soon and get back home so that she could be on her way. She did not want to get involved. Listened and nodded as Ruby told her the story she was all too familiar with, as Ruby explained how she had had to beat her daughter into seeing reason, that the last thing an intelligent young girl needed was a baby. A baby. No money. No man. Just the baby. Complained how the young people had no self-respect and that when she was young –

then she broke it off.

My baby… my baby… The midwife sat in her chair, looked out of the window and tried to close her ears to the girl’s plea. This child was sensitive; it is not every mother you can take a child away from. Some of them turn, and this child, she could feel Gertrude in the room and her nose was full of the young girl’s motherhood, she had them easy-hurting eyes. Gertrude’s voice rose, expanded, taking on the features of a song. She toned it, nursed it, and at some point beyond naming, where pain takes on some amorous quality that breathes a mysterious beauty, Gertrude, for the first time in her life, found that she was singing. No words, not even really a song, but beyond her control; the secret language, and it wafted over to the midwife in dolorous clouds to smoke a dance before her eyes. It danced of pain. Of shame. Of broken pride. It circled the room in search of promises. Stroked the panes in need of visions. Rose from the girl on the bed who could not have her baby. The girl, taken over by a voice so new it was almost not her own. The midwife was lifted to her feet and carried over to the bed. She looked into Gertrude’s eyes, and knew. Not from this one, oh Lord. Lowered her hand to Gertrude’s hot brow.

Hush now. Hush now.

And at her touch Gertrude fell asleep.

*

‘Strands of fate magically interwoven to give you a reggae-type experience full of pain, sweat, suffering, pride, poise and grace.’ (Goodreads)

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