Monday, December 17, 2007

Monitor baby

The way it unfolds is this: I can’t tell Sunkari has had the baby because she wears big clothes and she’s pleasantly corpulent, and it’s not yet time I suspect. Each time I pass by, she’s bent over washing clothes or cooking, I realize she practically lives in this contorted position, with the exception of carrying water on her head, a slightly cruel irony. Since it’s not polite to discuss the matter directly, I also don’t ask, and the husband comes to visit, chats, asks me for a “road gift” from America, and never mentions the child. I can afford to sift people at this point- from the day my neighbors gathered around me when a crazy Senegalese vagabond followed me into the village, I knew there were people looking after me. Even old Mailainy stood there with her sleeves rolled up, ready to kick some Francophone ass. So a man who doesn’t think enough of me, or his wife, to share the most important news of his family, but who can make the time to solicit trinkets from abroad, no longer warrants my time or consideration.
“But Wuyeh didn’t inform me, I didn’t know,” I plead to Sunkari who has probably been wondering why I’m so rude as to not come over and see the baby. “And I saw him a few times.”
“He’s not good,” she concurs softly, and puts down the washing, wipes her hands dry and motions towards the house. “Adama is inside.”
I realize she’s had twins- Adam and Eve are the typical names chosen for a pair of girls, but she must have lost Hawa (Eve) and I’ve crossed over into my discomfort zone once again, because I don’t know an appropriate prayer for the death of a baby.
Sunkari looks like she’s sorting through laundry when she pulls out a rolled up wad of tie-dyed cloth and hands it to me. It’s feather-light, this can’t be a living child being stored in a plastic tub full of clothes and a horrifying possibility flashes through my mind, but this is little sleeping Adama’s face poking through the layers of cloth.
“She doesn’t look strong,” I tell my host mother later, as we’re sitting on cement, under stars. “Her color, and she’s small.”
“I’m sorry I forgot to tell you,” she says, but she knows Wuyeh should have said something, she knows he’s calculating and this was rude, but the difference between us that I get mad and she and Sunkari just let it bend them down a little closer to the ground. This one isn’t really the one to get mad about, but such an omission from the long conversations I had with him just comes off as insulting. The peanut farmer himself probably hasn’t taken the time to hold his fragile little child, I think, and I’m sure my eyes narrow as I mentally add this small infraction to the list of subtle insults urged on women by some of the slimier men we live among. What a snake, I fume to myself.
“You know that big lizard,” my mother asks, “It looks like a crocodile but it’s smaller? That’s what Sunkari saw when she was pregnant. That’s why Adama has a wrinkled face. That’s why she can’t get better.”
It no longer occurs to me to make light of this belief. I’d rather blame the magic of lizards than the difficulty of carrying twins to term under Sunkari’s particular condition. And my mother says they will catch a monitor lizard and soak its skin in water for a week and that will help Adama. I think of the crocodile tooth and other jujus hanging around her own baby’s neck, a baby whose umbilical cord was cut with my friend’s Swiss army knife. Magic and religion can be useful because if they don't work, some other counter-magic was probably stronger, or God willed it, and that’s just the sucky reality you’ve been dealt. It pushes the responsibility off of us as well, so we don’t have to sulk about our lot .
God, I can understand, has a will beyond our comprehension, but why does magic tend to prey on those who believe in it the most? I'll let Sunkari trust the lizard skin to heal her baby, but just in case, a little nutritional juju couldn't hurt. And as for husbands, I can have an opinion all I want, but I'm better off looking at the dirt, because I'm not sure there's magic strong enough to do my bidding. But Wuyeh might just get an earful from me the next time around.