Dedicated to Fareeda Rasheed – an aunty-in-law and a dear friend taken too soon!
I am one of 2 girls and for most of my childhood my mama was a single mom so my house was a boy-free zone mostly. No one peed standing up so we didn’t have the toilet-seat-left-up issue or the bits of wee that missed their mark and ended up outside the toilet ball with the associated whiff. No one with boy bits so walking around naked was never awkward outside of ‘visiting hours’. Nor was accidentally opening the toilet door when someone was on the toilet. We were all the same so it was a quick sorry and everyone forgot about it minutes later. As a result, whenever I pictured being older, getting married and having babies, my babies were girls. And to tease me, my sister would say you will have only boys and I would react either with a strident ‘God forbid’ or ‘I hope not’ or ‘please God don’t do that to me’ or similar save me somebody phrases.
My uncle’s first baby was a boy, who we nicknamed Baby A. His mother was lovely so we became fast friends after the wedding. I was 12 years old. She turned up unexpectedly for one visiting day at my boarding school when I was in JSS1 (first year of secondary school) with a baby bump and I got so excited! This was going to be my first cousin within reach (I have 2 cousins in faraway America). I prayed hard that it would be a girl so I could dress her up and play with her hair. We spent the summer with my aunty and the baby was due the week before we went back to boarding school. We hoped and hoped it would arrive before we had to leave but as these things tend to happen, there was not a peep from the baby. We said our disappointment goodbyes, patted the bump one last time and left.
2 weeks later, he arrived with great fanfare but I wasn’t to meet him until the end of term. He was 10 weeks old when I first met him and at that stage, he was cute but didn’t do very much. He just fed and slept and I couldn’t even dress him up in cute pink dresses and hair bands. I was pleased but not bowled over. This all changed 5 months later. It was the summer holidays and his mom had decided to relocate to my hometown Yola to learn Fulfulde (the Fulani language), do a HND in Law and generally learn the ways of her husband’s people.
On weekdays, my sister and I were on babysitting duty from the morning until she came home from Legal studies as the college was called. Being adolescents on holiday, we stayed up late every night and then had a lie in each morning. There was nothing much to do apart from visiting friends and going to buy sweets or drinks from the one main road where all the shops were situated. Sadly, we were by then too old for playing sand games or climbing trees. We were young ladies. Haha.
So back to Baby A, his mom would wake up bright and early, feed him and bring him round to our house. Then, rather than wake us up (which was an impossible task) she would place him on the blanket between my sister and I and sneak out. My sister was the better sleeper so I was generally the one to wake up. The first thing I would notice as I stirred was that the blanket wasn’t moving with me. Then I would feel like I was being watched. Eventually, I would be awake enough to crack open one eye and scope out the situation. Each morning, Baby A would sit patiently and wait for the eye to pop open. Then his face would break into the most disarming irresistable grin. My heart would melt and instead of the usual grumpy awakening, I would pop up and give him a cuddle, drawing from him happy chortling. My sister was soon up in the face of all the merriment. We spent nearly 3 months in this idyllic way.
We would compete over who would feed him, who would carry him, who would burp him and even who would change his diapers. He was the sunniest baby. Hardly ever cried. Always smiling or laughing. We were there when he mastered how to sit without support and there as he started to crawl and then pull up to stand. By the end of the summer, he was standing and even attempting to take a step. It was with a heavy heart we said our goodbyes when it was time to back to boarding school. This was the beginning of my boy baby love.
We relocated to London so I missed the infancy of the next boy cousin to be born. Then, when I was in medical school, the news came that my other aunty (wife to uncle no 2) was expecting a baby and he was due during Easter holidays. His grandmother is Egyptian so his mom went to Cairo in preparation for his arrival. My grandmother (her mother-n-law) was also going to be there so I saved up money for flights and I flew to Cairo. He was due the first week of my 4 week holiday. Her tummy was so huge it looked like it would burst and everyone predicted that he would be early being the second baby. Despite her busy upping and downing with the hope of inducing natural labour, she ended up having a caesarean section as there were safety concerns.
I was much more excited to meet this little boy and he was gorgeous. All black curly hair and very Fulani features. I spent 2 weeks with Modi (that’s his Fulani name) then had to come back. I didn’t see him again until he was 11 months old and I had a 3 month summer holiday. I spent most of it in Kaduna in their home getting to know him. I was his constant companion. Imagine my joy when his first proper word (after da-da and ma-ma and ba-ba) was Diya! I was chuffed. We all went to Abuja together when it was time for me to head back to Birmingham. I was off the next evening. In Abuja, I stayed at my grandparents whilst they stayed at their Abuja home. I went over the morning of departure and spent a few hours saying goodbye to my little sidekick.
As I got into the car to go back to my grandfather’s and get ready for my flight, he came running out as fast as his little legs could carry him. He bent forward with chubby hands on his thighs and screamed my name as loud as he could. I heard him through the closed windows and slid the window open. His tears broke my heart and I felt myself welling up. I was going to stay a little longer but his mom said ‘no go! I will get changed and bring him over before you go so you can say a final goodbye’. She lifted him to the window and I gave him a quick kiss then detangled him and we drove off. She never did bring him. Looking back, I am glad because I would have made him cry a second time and made it even harder to say goodbye. It was 2 years before I saw him again.
Baby A and Modi were the best convincer for me to be happy with whichever sex baby I may have in the future. Now I look to the near future as a married woman wanting children and all that I pray for is a healthy boy or girl.