“Jolomi come downstairs and eat” says Amaka. “Yes mummy”
He runs down the stairs barefoot, still wearing part of his school uniform, dark grey shorts with an unbuckled belt dangling from his waist. She hugs him.
“Mummy, what are we eating?” he asks.
Jolomi frowns. “Beans again?”
“Yes, so you can grow up healthy and strong”
“I want Ice cream”
“Ice cream is not food. Sit down and eat your food”
The boy folds his arms across his exposed belly and pouts. “I don’t like beans”.
“Nobody likes beans, but if you finish your food I will buy you ice cream”
Jolomi’s face lights up with a smile and he picks up his spoon. His mother keeps standing and watches him eat. The plate is just about halfway gone when a baby starts crying. It’s so loud, as if the baby is right there on the table but it is a sound Amaka has since stopped hearing.
“Mummy, he’s crying again” Jolomi says.
“Eat your food”
“Mummy Chukwuma is crying”
“Your food is getting cold”
Amaka walks to the open door and shuts it quietly.
“If you finish your food quickly we can go and buy ice cream now” she says.
The boy looks at the closed door and looks at his mother. The thought of ice cream encourages his decision and in a moment, he has cleared his plate and run upstairs to change his clothes.
Amaka waits for him by the stairs, staring at the door she closed as her mind travels beyond the reach of a baby’s cry. Of all the things she considers, opening the door is not a part of it.
“Mummy let’s go” Jolomi appears at her side tugging her dress. It takes a moment for his voice to draw her out of her thoughts. She looks at him and manages to smile. “Let’s go”
“What of Chukwuma?” Jolomi asks. “I can still hear him crying”
“Don’t worry about Chukwuma, worry about what flavour of ice cream you are going to have because you only get one”.The Ice cream Jolomi buys has three flavours, chocolate, vanilla and blueberry, stacked in that order on a crunchy cone. Amaka has barely parked the car when Jolomi opens the back door and runs out.
“Daddy Daddy” he shouts.
The front door is open and a tall man in a blue kaftan is standing in front of it. Amaka’s heart skips when she sees what he carries.
“Daddy Daddy welcome” Jolomi says as he wraps himself around his father’s legs.
“My son, see how big you’ve grown in just two weeks”
“I’ve been eating beans daddy”
“Beans? Wow. I want some beans too then”
“Welcome” Amaka says, “I wasn’t expecting you today”
“That’s why you left my son at home alone? He was crying so much, I could hear him from the gate. What’s wrong with you?”
“I went to get ice cream for my son” she says.
“Is Chukwuma not your son too? What if something had happened to him?”
“Let it happen” she shrugs, “has something not already happened? Is this how a normal baby looks?”
“Do you want Ice cream?”
“Ice cream” Jolomi says, holding up the half eaten ice cream between his parents. They both look confused.
“Jolomi go upstairs” says his mother softly.
“Wait, Jolomi carry your brother to his room. Can you do that for me?”
Jolomi gives his ice cream to his mother and stretches out his hands. As he carries his brother inside, the remainder of his parents conversation rises in the air.
“You are the one that is abnormal” his father says.
“Me abnormal?” Amaka laughs, “Three weeks off one week on, you spend seven days a month in this house and you think you have any idea what that boy puts me through? If I had known he would spend all that time and still come out half formed, I swear he would have died in my womb”
“Please please” she hisses “If something wants to happen to him, let it happen, because I’m tired”
Jolomi drops the baby in his cot and stares at it. He had always wondered why Chukwuma’s head was bigger than his whole body and why when he cried, it sounded like there was a faulty microphone in his throat. “Is this how a normal baby looks?” he asks himself.
He can hear his parents screaming at each other now. He should be used to it by now, since Chukwuma was born. He tried to distract them with ice cream but it didn’t work. The baby starts crying again.
Jolomi looked at the baby crying and covered his mouth with his hands. “Please stop crying, they’ll hear you and keep fighting, anytime you cry they fight, why are you always crying?”
He pressed his hands down until the baby’s cry was barely audible and when he took them away, the baby was silent and still, his tiny eyes glassed over and blank.
Amaka walks into the room and sees Jolomi sitting on the bed staring at the cot. Her eyes follow his own and she screams.
‘Jolomi, what happened? ‘
“He has stopped crying. What did you do with my ice cream?”