I swayed gently from side to side, then I felt myself being picked up; this was not me being rocked, it was different. I opened my eyes lazily and saw mother bending over me. Why will she not let me sleep? Hold on, when did I even fall asleep? I remember being put in my special seat, I remember mother leaning over me and pushing the clips of my seat together around my chest to hold me in place. I remember wondering briefly where we were going to this time, only briefly.
Maybe it is the coolness of the inside of the car, or the softness of my seat, or just the gentle rrrrrrr sound of the car as she drove. All I know is that here we are, the car is parked and mother is reaching in and lifting me out of this cool softness into the harsh brightness of the afternoon sun, and then there is the heat too. This heat cannot be for babies!
She holds me close and pats my back and I am preparing to return to sleep when I feel another pair of hands reaching for me. I try to turn and see who they belong to but too late, I am pressed against a hard chest. I hear the heartbeat and feel it too: strong and fast, though not as fast as mine. I lean back to see the face. The haze of sleep is lifting from my eyes and a face swims slowly into focus. I have seen this face before. I find that I am not afraid or alarmed.
I look to mother as she walks beside us, she is looking straight ahead. I look back to this face I remember. He looks down at me and smiles. Even in my sleepy confusion his smile does things to me. There is this feeling inside me, it is similar to how I feel when mother smiles at me and makes funny noises, yet it is different. I suspect this is another type of happiness. He leans closer and sniffs my neck, his nose pressed to the point between by right cheek and shoulder and it doesn’t feel strange – though mother usually buzzes my belly; I like it. Then he mumbles “I love you son.” He is my father. I have looked for this face in every face I have seen since I last saw him a month ago.
He tries to press me to his chest, but I want to see his face, to drink in the sight of his chin covered in very short hair, his eyes brown and filled with love, even as he tells me those words over and over, his nose I can overlook if only because from my position I see more nostril hair than anything. His lips are almost an exact replica of mine except I have a cleft in my lower lip and he has a scar.
We walk into a very small room and mother moves to a corner, as far away from father as possible. I smile and stretch my hands to her hoping she will draw near to touch me, she stands in that corner and returns my smile, but makes no move toward me, I suspect it is because of him. She presses a button and it lights up, he presses another and I am wondering if we are not going to the same place; Are we not going to be together? They stand there silent as I feel the room going up and then the room stops moving, the doors open and father walks out with me. I turn around and see mother is coming out with us too, and I relax again.
We walk into a very colourful room, more colourful than my bedroom and bigger too. Everywhere I turn there is a different colour, I cannot sit still; I want to see everything. There are also a lot of games. Already, I like this place. Mother asks a man there for the ‘play pen’ while father takes me into a shop. Here again there are toys and clothes and shoes and toys. Father greets the woman there and she smiles at us, making funny noises and expressing surprise at how alike my father and me look. I want to ask her what is strange about that, but my gum is itching; mother says it is because my teeth are growing. What do I need the teeth for? I suck my lower lip and grind my gums against it. Can this itching stop already?
After walking round the shop, I find a toy that I like and I let father know. This one makes noise and has flashing lights, unlike the stuffed animal he got me the last time. He gives me the money to pay and I squeal in delight. Feeling grown up, I let the woman take the money from me, and father told her to write my name on the receipt – my first purchase.
From there we go to the play pen and father joins me. Mother is sitting close by on a chair outside the area. Father unwraps my new toy and I start to shake it and press it, I want to make as much noise as I can. I am playing there with father taking my pictures when somebody brings this child into the pen. She is a girl and can walk about, which is more than I can do. I still need help standing up. Father tries to get me to talk to her, but why should I? Shebi she can stand by herself? She should go and play by herself jo.
I play with some other toys there and soon it is time to leave. Mother takes me from father and wipes my hands and face, then she puts a bib around my neck and gives me a biscuit while father continues taking pictures.
Downstairs in the car, she puts me in my seat again and works all those clips again. Father leans in and kisses me softly on the cheek, “I love you son,” he says and I feel a wrenching in my stomach. I want to cry and my face must have betrayed me because he smiled at me through eyes that reflected how I was feeling and said “I will see you again soon. Be good and take care of your mother.” He trusts me to take care of mother, I trust him to keep his promise. I smile as he gently shuts the door in my face.
PS: When the little girl joined us in the play pen, I wanted to teach M.O.N.C to be a gentleman. It was not like I wanted to teach him to pick up girls or anything like that. I pulled him up off his behind to his feet, holding his hand to support him. “Say hello,” I told him. Rather than look at her, he turned and gave me a look the meaning of which I could not mistake. Then he sat back on my lap and turned his back to the girl.
She walked round us on her tiny legs till she was standing in front of him. With hands on her thighs, she bent at the waist just enough to be at his eye level and then stood there. I looked from the girl, (probably fourteen months old) to my son and I started to laugh.
At 10 months, M.O.N.C had perfected a move that is classic, and it got me wondering, not for the first time, where he gets these things from.