In Trinidad, when my mother tells the story of why how she finally left her two-year-old baby, she regales, she relates, she details, she pontificates. She illustrates newborn Samantha not swallowing her milk. My mother leaving being punishment for little Samantha being of the ilk of that kind of bad-mind child. Who dares make her mother suffer.
And I will perceive that this oft-repeated story is a narrative of a baby rejecting her mother. Who was only trying so very hard to do her utter best. Feeding her, nursing her, nurturing her from her own tender, swollen breasts.
So much so, Samantha puked. Samantha had diarrhea. Samantha had regurgitation all in her new-born baby hair. All on the floor. All on mummy good good dress.
And how it wasn’t fair. That this first-time mother, trying to care, should have to deal. Should have to struggle with an ungrateful baby who reels. And gushes milk out her nose. Out her mouth, out her rear. Out her ears. Out of every orifice that could declare itself unimpressed.
And why she must stay there. In Grenada. Depressed. With a toddler. With a baby who, when she was new, refused the golden, gurgling milk my mother’s gargantuan breasts produced.
Why stay. For a baby who didn’t value holding down what my mother’s seventeen-year-old mounds poured forth. Into her daughter’s mouth. Which scorched from the continual, unrelenting stream of milk. The flow my mother did not relieve Samantha from receiving till she was filled to the hilt. And needed air.
And needed release from the heavy mammary glands remaining there. In Samantha’s nose and mouth and face. Till white dribbled past Samantha’s lips. Going to waste.
And still, my mother did not replace her daughter’s prone form into one upright. And let her burp. And let her curl her tiny fists. And purr. Satisfied.
No. My mother kept squeezing that milk between Samantha’s lips pressed wide. Looking into her daughter’s flooding eyes. Listening to her choking daughter. Unable even to cry. Watching the pressure of liquid in this new-born rise. Beyond any measure that would reasonably suffice. For a new-born child.
While my mother’s own mother harrumphed and spied upon the neighbours. And denied teaching the seventeen-year-old, first-time mother. Who couldn’t bother to stop feeding her baby when it was clear Samantha had begun to be smothered.
But mummy didn’t know better.
Her eyes get wetter at this part of the tale. The part where she sniffs and inhales over her own mother’s skin-up nose and eye roll and turning away that fail to help. And tell mummy how to nurse well. And what mummy was doing wrong when she keep feeding and squeezing till milk spill to the ground.
And, at this juncture of being regaled, comes the time. When mummy tears accumulate. The point has arrived.
I, the not-first daughter, must make a reply. I must hold in my mind the image of a helpless woman-child. Pitted against her own scornful mother, looking out the window, maccoing the neighbours. Pitted against the wilful, wasteful new-born daughter. Refuting being fed. Which distressed mummy so much she took to her bed.
Lay down in weariness. And planned her escape to Trinidad in her head. While lying next to new-born, sick Samantha. Overfed. Little Samantha, the first daughter my mother left the first time she fled.
And I, the not-first daughter, am glad that I succeed. That I always achieve. In how hard I always try to be good for mummy. So I am never starring in her story. Of a baby who would not cherish mummy properly.
I am not the kind of baby who could ever vomit up milk from mummy. For spite. When mummy didn’t know better. And was just doing what she thought was right.
I am ten. And mature enough to hear these details of when mummy left her first child. And can sympathise with mummy plight. Can empathise when I ask, how could she do that. And mummy tells me why.
And in just three later years, I myself must try. To believe mummy’s tears. When she sings. And I hear. I’m leaving on a jet plane. Don’t know when I’ll be back again. And she tells me, keep the faith. We’ll be together again. Soon. And she warns me to act normal on her secret departure day. Before she sends me off to school.
And boards a one-way flight.
To JFK. And I can only eat cornflakes and milk. For a whole year straight.
And this not-mother starts another new life.