You notice the gaunt child gnawing at the hem of her mother’s dress, innocent and insistent. Her mother slides her fingers across her phone screen in a steady motion, ignoring the child’s desire for acknowledgment. You wonder about how easy it would be to ignore the thing forming in you. To simply not notice how creation swam to your shores, docked in your body, and is basking inside of you until birth.
Upon further inspection of this mother, you see roots of her hair, branching in different directions, gathered into tight braids that span her head. Thick, long stalks of kanekalon fiber intertwined into her scalp flows down her back and have become the newest fascination of the small child. Initially, the child is bashful in her curiosity like a puppy being introduced to a new toy. Then her hesitation lightens to merriment as she tugs and tweaks at her mother’s braids. Pulling on more hair, the child’s joy rises, and she swings her tiny feet back and forth like pendulums. She lets out a loud squeal, which seems to register as an alarm to her mother. “Nwatakịrị, M ga-agbaji gị olu, if you don’t stop this nonsense!” The child jumps as her mother’s harsh tone brushes against her skin and then she ceases, letting go of both the braids and boldness.
As your brain recognizes the accent coating her words, you smirk to yourself. Another Nigerian has crossed lands and landed in America to raise her child with better opportunities and the related sorts. But her accent has more Nigerian threads woven into it than American, pulling her closer to her native home timewise. Still, it makes you think of your own mother and her constant attempts to shove the tight sweater of English over her fleshy Nigerian accent when she interacts with outsiders. And then, the familiar identity crisis rumbles through your mind, but with different notes: Will I be the perfect balance of Nigeria and America for my own child?
The seatbelt sign is off, passengers feel free to move about the cabin. But make sure to have your seatbelt secured if you are seated.
You are not surprised though, to encounter another Nigerian. After all, you are traveling from Houston, the current American hub for Nigerians. You are going to visit your family in another (slightly smaller) hub, Baltimore. Your mother will probably have an assortment of stew-soaked meats, soup, and bouillon-doused rice for you to choose from. She will insist that you take something from each pot after exclaiming, “Ah-ah Kasi, you’ve gotten so thin. Agụụ na- agụ gị. Please eat something,” as she always does when you visit. Perhaps this time might be different. Perhaps she will look too long at your belly and see the tomato-sized mass resting inside. Or was the baby the size of a small melon now? You are unsure which fruit mould your child occupies, but you know it is growing, sprouting, ripening.
The words, your child, worsen the nausea already nestled in your stomach. Your child. Your Child. YOUR CHILD. No matter which way your mind spins the phrase around, the knots below your ribcage become taut. “Kids having kids,” a popular saying you remember hearing under the breath of your teachers growing up whenever they would see the ball of a baby
beaming out from their students’ bellies. Now you have become the kid having a kid. I guess 21 does not count as a kid, but still, most parts of your innocence are still intact. Besides the one big part. Ironically, you look out the window at the sky’s floating sea to steady yourself. You marvel at how everything looks strange, yet placeable. Tree tops resemble your 4c hair post-wash. Flat building roofs look like spread-out pieces of paper. Clouds beneath you become piles of cotton frozen in a ready position for a race.
You are about to find a resemblance for something else in the sky when you notice that the child across from you has taken on a new obsession: clasping and unclasping her mother’s purse. The bag is strung loosely around the mother’s elbow and is decked with a name brand that veers slightly off-center. Various shapes and outlines jut out of the bag, the way knuckles poke out of latex gloves that are too small for large hands. You make out a tube of lipstick, a phone, and what seems to be the corners of a small book. Confusion raises your face as you try, but fail, to recall ever seeing your mom read. Given how books and words hold your heart closely, you wonder whether your own mother liked to read as a child. What her literary genre of choice was. What quotes made her feel less alone. A stubborn, wishful daydream presides over your mind as you picture you and your mom sitting on the worn, blue couches in your home, discussing your individualized takeaways from your favorite books. Debating about whether an author was skillful with their words or simply a master at telling a good story. You frown internally as you realize that this is yet another thing to add to the list of stuff you do not know about your mother. You make a mental note to be the kind of mother who carries around books.
Would you like cookies or pretzels? Anything to drink?
You politely decline and the flight attendant hesitates before moving forward. Maybe she knows what you have done too. Perhaps she is aware of how you committed one of the few sins you can commit against your own body, the one your parents warned you about. But before your brain funnels more anxious thoughts out, your attention is pulled back by the sound of a thud. The woman seems to have hit her child’s hand away from her purse. The little girl tries to hold her emotions in—a feat that she will most likely learn to master one day as the daughter of immigrants—but her heaving body is pulling them out. Her wails are long and drawn like a foghorn sending warnings out. People on the flight turn to look at the mother and child disapprovingly, and you think about how this is something the woman will have to unlearn soon. She will come to realize that America is not fond of public corporal punishment for kids.
The memory flashes in your head of the time your mother slapped you hard across the face at the store for spilling juice everywhere and a white woman passing by threatened to call child protective services. This is something you and your mother now laugh at today. Your mother always laughs the most at the part where she had to ask the lady what child protective services was because she did not know at the time. But you know that was one of the first moments she felt fear as a foreigner and things in her began to change, to fall. She widened her view of America as a place that could take away as much as it could give.
With the spotty plane Wi-Fi, you text your dad to let him know what time to be at the airport to pick you up. He replies “ok” within the next few minutes. “Ok” is his standard answer. When you scroll through your recent and old messages with him, they are mainly marked by simple questions and simple answers. Typical immigrant dad-daughter relationship filled with bare-boned conversations and recycled topics. For the first time on the flight, you wonder where the woman’s husband is, if he was left behind in Nigeria to fill the role of sole provider. To send money to them in America. To consequently continue the legacy of estranged immigrant-child relationships.
For the first time on the flight, you also think about the father of your child. A failed Nigerian dream who opted to study art instead of biology, who had your heart as soon as he was able to discuss both Afrobeats and Afro-surrealism. Your previous white boy obsession was washed clean once you first kissed him, smelling faint and familiar food smells from your childhood woven between the threads of his shirt. “At least he’s manageable,” is what your mom commented when you were watching a Nigerian movie with her that featured a mediocre husband who did not care for his wife. You were reminded of how Western it is to marry for love. You currently find yourself in your situation because of an act of love or lust or hopefully something shaded in between the two.
Trash? Any trash?
The flight attendants power through the aisles with flimsy plastic bags, heading towards your row. Your hand hovers over your twisted stomach as another wave of nausea blows by. You look at the woman as a distraction. She keeps twisting her wide neck towards the back of the plane cabin. After another moment, she gets up and heads towards the bathroom, warning her daughter not to talk to anyone while she is gone. Once she rises from her seat, you see her hips, just like your mom’s, wide and shapely. You wonder why nearly all Nigerian women, including yourself, have sizable hips. When you were younger, you asked your sister this question and she wittingly replied, “It’s because that’s where they hide all of their secrets.” Your young, impressionable mind entertained that idea for years before ruling out that theory upon realizing that they would need far more space for that.
You think about the secrets your mom has told you, or mainly the ones you have gleaned from bits of conversations and cornered looks. Mom has always been good at hiding her emotions from dad, but not towards her kids. You think it is because you are her extensions, her limbs. The most notable secret is the belly protruding underneath her white, applique wedding dress in photos. Yes, she committed a terrible sin: a pregnancy outside the covenant of marriage. She let feelings like lust and desire color over wisdom and discernment. Maybe she cursed your family. Maybe you can blame her for what you are experiencing now, for what you are carrying inside of you. She reset the hands of God and set a precedent in your family of bearing children out of wedlock. No, it is not your fault. The blame does not reside with you.
The little girl plays on her mom’s phone, causing dings to sound from whatever game she is on. She looks up from the phone to check if her mom is returning from the bathroom. Her eyes scan around and catch sight of you. You smile at her, and she stares at you, blankly, with her wide-child eyes before returning to the excitement of the game.
Ladies and gentlemen, we have arrived in Baltimore. The local time is 5:46 p.m. The weather is a cool 67 degrees. For your safety and the safety of those around you, please stay seated with your seat belts fastened until we arrive at the gate.