My baby taught me a lesson last Sunday but one. A lesson so sweet it should be a dream summoned for sleepless nights and mundane days. When I think about the arm twisting that went on, what I promised in order for him to accompany me to the Christening’s after party - because he wanted to stay and watch Ogochukwu battle it out with aliens on the Xbox360 - I realize that kweli hindsight is 20-20 and he probably would not have given me such a hard time, had he been able to see into the future.
Since we had set out early we took the long route, driving down a windy road through lush neighborhoods with green lawns, some were large enough to graze horses and we saw a few lazily munching the balmy afternoon away. We arrived at the house promptly as was requested on the Evite - 3:00 pm, exactly fifteen minutes before the hostess and the food (thankfully some was already prepared, like the mind-blowing Jamaican Roti). Anyway, her groovy husband had graciously let us in, phoned to tell her to hurry up, that her first guests had already arrived Mon!
We made ourselves useful when she finally pulled into the driveway, offloading her truck, decorating the basement, and setting out tables and chairs for the guests. The first time he asked me what time it was, an hour had already gone by and no more guests had arrived. I could tell he was just tolerating her 7 year old son and his high pitched PSP incantations “look Chidi, I beat the level!” I busied myself with goodie bags, spreading them generously around the 19” celebratory cake, hoping he would jump in and busy himself as well. Mr. DJ was next to arrive, in his Miami Vice shirt, and a selection of Reggae beats fit for clubbing under his armpit. He proceeded to the bar, and shortly after setting up, began blasting the tracks, interrupting each one with loud repetitive comments like rewind and come down with it and rude boy! “Where is your wife and kids?” our hostess shouted at him. His response was drowned out in a smooth riddim; I wondered how many ladies he had on the side.
Thankfully, the basement began to fill up with families arriving two hours late. By then little man had resorted to sign language, every now and then, pointing to his wrist and mouthing what time are we leaving? I grabbed his arm and brightly whispered into his ear, to go outside and play in that nice back yard, that I saw two bikes out there, and didn’t Jay have a soccer ball or something, and more kids your age will come soon, I am sure. We will leave after we have something to eat, I assured him, knowing full well we had surpassed our time limit, 2 hours maximum, and one promise broken.
The boy flashed past the basement window. I barely captured his image before two other children, another boy and a girl ran past, then Jay and Chidi, with a football in his hand. Playmates his age had finally arrived, I sighed and settled back into my chair and smiled at my coworker Winnie, who was also one of the early arrivals. Her eyebrows were raised and it surprised me that they remained that way even outside of the office, away from Mr. Ken A.S.A.P. Howler, the tyrant of an attorney she supports. I had no interest in pursuing an intimate conversation as she was a big contributor to the rumor mill at work. So I just pointed to my ears and waved my hand towards the speakers. She pursed her lips and moved her head up and down, like she understood.
The five of them trooped into the basement, Chidi bringing up the rear behind the boy, whose posture immediately grabbed me. His large cream-colored cardigan covered a hunchback, but it was lopsided because he had made a mistake and buttoned the first button in the second buttonhole. He seemed to creep as he moved around the room, two incisors jutting out of his mouth, his lips stretched into an enduring smile, his neck protruding like he really wanted to get to know you. I tried not to stare. He was very fair in complexion, bordering albino, and just as short as my soon to be eleven-year-old, my kitindamimba [last born].
"He is nineteen, mom." Chidi provided me with the unsolicited information, I guess he thought I should know, he could read my mind, or he felt like sharing the surprising tidbit, not understanding his stunted growth.
"What is his name?" I asked, but he did not hear me, he'd already gone back to following the boy around the room, and they finally positioned themselves against the wall, facing the room. Other kids milled around them, one of them who squatted beneath them, bopped his head and mouthed the chorus emitting from the speakers, a love song by Pressure:
"Let me give you some love and affection
you got my attention u need no correction,
May Jah pour blessings in your direction
you got my attention what an impression…"
At first I thought it not a particularly age appropriate song for the boy who looked like he could be eleven or twelve. It was much later that I realized perhaps life and its lessons had prematurely matured the young one and that there was something beautiful and spiritual about those lyrics.
The room quickly filled with folks because the food had been served and the baby’s great grandmother was to bless the food, as soon as Mr. DJ turned the volume down, which he did reluctantly after a third request. Chidi’s full attention was directed at the boy, I was amazed at his complete rapture. He looked at him, square in the face as he talked to him. He even refused to eat, and chose to sit at the boys feet as he ate; it was like he wanted to delve into his mind, the way he focused on him.
"He is adopted." Another unsolicited tidbit came my way shortly after I started devouring my food.
"He is?" It was the response I mustered from the myriad questions floating through my head, followed by "are you sure you are not hungry?"
"Nope," and moved back to his position, without asking what time it was. The boy had got his attention and had made an impression. I worried that other parents would notice his complete and utter fascination with the boy, like the sheer force of his presence had totally eclipsed his heart. Would they label it untoward social behavior?
I waited a few minutes when we first got into the car to go home. I hoped Chidi would launch the conversation, perhaps read my mind as he had done earlier.
"That was his brother and sister," he strapped on his seatbelt and looked out the window.
"Really. Is he special needs?" sometimes I say things without thinking, I wished I had not uttered those words.
"No. He is not. He just doesn’t talk a lot. You have to talk to him to get him to talk. He is like Johnny in my class. I help him a lot, if he does not understand a question, I explain it to him and help him understand it."
I was familiar with the program called Inclusion at Chidi’s elementary school which provides special education children the opportunity to visit regular classrooms and interact with other children.
"That was fun, mom. I enjoyed talking to him, he was nice. And we played football outside."
"What’s his name?"
"Tommy. His brother was the one that was singing. He likes music. His mother was the lady in the yellow dress. They adopted him, they are nice people."
Back in 1968, Ayi Kwei Armah wrote The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born, where the hero struggles to remain clean while everyone round him succumbs to corruption. The title (I first read it years ago in high school), came to mind when I thought about my beautyful one who has been born and his pure love; and now that mama has learned, he will not succumb to corrupted ways of thinking. He comprises the pool of future leaders who must continue with efforts to stop marginalizing children and families that are different. My kitindamimba’s instruction was so clear, it stays on my mind.