It’s around mid-day and I am home alone. I am alone because the sorghum plants in our shamba are the size of a small child crawling and so mother is out weeding the plants. Reki, my brother, is not here because he went to Dubai, a place my mother tells me, is far far away. Further than Nairobi. One has to get onto an airplane to reach there. I have never been to Nairobi but I have seen an airplane on the pictures that Reki sends mother. I think mother doesn’t like airplanes because she pulls her mouth like an angry person whenever Reki sends her photos like those. I would like to tell Reki to stop sending mother those pictures but he has never come back. I hope that he will come back.
I would love to go and help mother weed the shamba but she says that I am small. She calls me baby. This makes me angry because I am big.
“Baby do this. Baby eat that. Baby come and sit on my lap.”
I don’t like it. I liked it when she called me Dedee. A proper name. Like a big person. But Reki left and she says that since my brother has gone, I am her only child. That gives her the right to call me baby.
Today, before mother left for the shamba, she said to me, “Baby, please look after the chicken. Feed them and give them food”
“And lock the gate, don’t go away.”
“If you don’t lock the gate they are going to steal you. Do you want to be stolen from your mother?”
We only have one hen. She is called Sunny. Mother calls her ‘chicken’ because Sunny hatched just the other day and mother still acts as if Sunny has chicks. But Sunny is a very stupid hen. She is very stupid because she does not know how to take care of her chicks and now they are all gone. Taken away by the hawk. The hawk is a very big bird. It looks like a vulture. It is always hovering above us in the sky. Even now it is there, waiting for Sunny to hatch more chicks do so it can take them away. I pity Sunny because she still clucks as if calling for her chicks to come and eat. She clucks and clucks and clucks. And when her chicks do not come, she climbs on top of her small poultry house and clucks and clucks, and looks up in the sky as if waiting for the hawk to bring back her chicks.
I am going back into the house to bring left over ugali for Sunny when the gate opens. I forgot to lock it. I am scared when I see Wanja walking right in, smiling and holding a heap of rags that she cuddles like a baby. Wanja does not smell nicely. She smells like the bad egg that Sunny slept on for weeks and it did not hatch. She is wearing a torn American T-Shirt and a dirty Fuji Film lesso and she does not wear any shoes. Mother says that she is mad. Her head is not correct.
“Mother is not in,” I say, hoping that she will go away. She sits on the bench outside where Reki used to sit and chew sugarcane after coming from the shamba.
“You look like my child,” Wanja says and massages her swollen stomach.
“Yes,” I say although I have never seen any of her children. The other day, mother was telling me how Wanja is mad and keeps getting pregnant and giving birth, and how her people keep taking her babies away. Mother says she cries every time as if she would be able to raise her babies with the garbage that she eats.
“Come and see my child,” Wanja says to me and points to the bundle of rags that she is cuddling like a baby. I don’t move.
“Come and say hello to your sister,” she says and scratches herself here and there. I am scared, for real.
“See that boy; he is your elder brother. Wave at your brother so that he will take you with him when he goes to school tomorrow.” She is now talking to her bundle of rags and helping the ‘baby’ to wave at me.
“What is her name?” I ask, still standing by our door.
“Hope,” She says and smiles. Her eyes are happy.
“If I let you hold her, will you return her to me so that I can suckle her?”
I think she is scared because her eyes are pleading. I don’t want to hold her bundle of rags, they do not smell nicely.
“Let us give her tea. Does she drink tea?” I ask.
“Tea is for me, Hope just suckles and suckles and sleeps all the time,” she says and massages her swollen stomach. I go into the house and come back with tea and the leftover ugali.
“I am putting Hope down, please don’t take her away from me.” She puts her bundle down, takes the tea and ugali and starts to eat.
All this time, Sunny has been standing on top of her house while clucking and clucking and looking at the sky expecting the hawk to bring back her chicks. On seeing the ugali, she comes down and waits for when Wanja drops a fluff of ugali. She uses her beak to break the small ugali into many tiny pieces and calls for her babies to come and eat. But the hawk took her chicks away and they cannot come back. So she clucks and clucks and clucks and waits for her chicks to come but they do not. Wanja stops eating and stares at Sunny.
“This hen’s chicks are not coming to eat,” she says and looks at me.
“They are not here,” I say.
“Where are they?”
“The hawk took them away,” I say.
Wanja looks down at Sunny and shakes her head.
“Where?” She puts the ugali on the bench.
“I don’t know. Mother says that Sunny could not take care of the chicks, so the hawk took them away.”
“Who told the hawk that the hen could not take care of her chicks?”
“I don’t know.”
And then all of a sudden, Wanja starts wriggling this way and that way and screaming and screaming and screaming. I can tell whatever makes her wriggle this way and that way is painful. One minute she is putting her hands to her waist and the next she is picking up her bundle of rags. And the next she is putting it down and screaming before picks her bundle of rags again and starts screaming and telling it to suckle. Sunny stops looking for ugali fluffs and stares while Wanja continues to wriggle and scream. I am scared. Very scared.
I run to the shamba. Mother is still weeding.
“What is it?”
“Come.” I am panting and scared and mother does not ask questions. She follows me.
When we get home, Wanja has removed her Chicago Bulls underwear. She is still screaming and shouting and shouting.
“Basards, during the day they say that I am smelling, at night they rape me.”
“Baby, bring a lesso from my bedroom,” Mother says.
And bring me water to wash my hands.”
She tells Wanja to draw in air.
“Bring me my phone,” she says after I have given her the lesso.
“Stupiiiid peeeeple, they take my babies from meeeeee… Oh my Goooood” Wanja is shouting after me as I rush to bring mother her phone.
Mother is now kneeling between Wanja’s legs. She does not seem to care that Wanja smells bad. She tells her to push and push and Wanja screams and screams and screams.
By the time I come back Wanja is smiling and crying and mother is holding a baby and she is crying. When I give mother the phone, Wanja shouts, “Please don’t.”
Mother says to me, “Bring me scissors. They are in the drawer where we keep Reki’s certificates.”
I run and come back with the scissors. Mother takes them and cuts the long rope that connects the baby to the mother. She gives Wanja the baby and Wanja looks at mother and says amid tears, “Our secret?”
“Our secret,” Mother says after a while, and they hold their arms and look into each other’s eyes.
“What do we call her?” Mother asks
“Her name is Hope,” Wanja says and smiles.
“Dedee, bring firewood, we are going to make food for Mama Hope and baby,” Mother says.
I notice that she does not call me baby this time and I am hoping that Hope will stay with us so that mother will stop calling me baby.
Sunny looks at us confused. I wish the hawk would bring her chicks back.