My mother bore me in the southern wild,
And I am black, but O! my soul is white;
White as an angel is the English child,
But I am black, as if bereav'd of light
And just as James Smith departed the world taking off from the earth of Salisbury, his Jake stepped into the world landing on a cot in London. And minutes later when her body had relaxed from the parturient travails, the baby was brought to Linda to breastfeed. A thousand goose pimples erupted on the nape of her neck. Now she knew the meaning of the guarded looks and awkward shuffling around the baby. She understood the inaudible whispers and the gesture of “come and have a look” passing amongst the nursing crew. Baby Jake was so black, it was nothing but a feminine, miniature replica of Sondoko.
Linda took the baby into trembling hands. For a moment she was out of breath.
“Suckle the baby!” the officious concern in the matron's voice brought Linda back into the room. Perhaps, she would have taken another minute to convince herself that breastfeeding this baby was the right thing, but the overbearing matron had not let the decision be hers for with something of overzealousness matron Hannah had positioned the baby in Linda's arms and would have offered Linda's nipple to the newborn if Linda had not quickly offered it herself. Old Matron Hannah somehow thought that every first time mother was confused and needed help and it was on her to make sure that the mother and baby born under her care were accounted for as all right.
As the infant suckled, Linda's mind flew through the delicate screen hung over the scene of that careless noon in the kitchen of the stone house. This moment she allowed it without any fight. In the past she would have put up a conscious, determined effort to banish the memories, flinching and shaking her head to dislodge the thoughts each time her mind had veered in that direction. It wasn't the act in itself she regretted; no, not so much as the social blunder of it had repulsed her. She had not guilt that she had played the sacred music to a stranger; there was no place for any form of conscience that had been seared since after the days of Harry-love. Let this portion of pains pass round, Linda had taken her own turn and fill. Sleeping with Sondoko was the issue. That was the thing beneath dignity and the only secret worth concealing.
She had begun to congratulate herself for all the progress made in trying to forget that despicable blunder because until now the recollections of those moments of spell did not come as frequent and forceful as they had used to when the event was still fresh. What had gotten into her anyway? She still couldn't tell. All she knew was that those days just like now had been very empty and meaningless. In England, love and devotion had lost its flavor of trust and fidelity. Coming to Salisbury was a big disappointment too. Life was best lived if Linda wished for nothing, struggled for nothing and built no ideals. If she only just lived to fill her given days. Like a teenage bored from being disallowed into the street, Linda found Sondoko something of a play object come in handy on that day. Nothing preconceived; nothing serious. It finished before it began. Against the kitchen wall, where the heat of thoughtless emotions joined the heat of the humming cooker. And afterwards no mention had been made of it. Did Sondoko himself even think much of it? Did he even think it really happened or attach any extraordinariness to it? He had continued to act within his bounds. Maybe in his gullible black mind he had considered the whole thing as something required of him by a mistress he couldn't disobey. Another duty not different from the mundane clearing up of the dinner table and cleaning of the dishes after the white master had taken his fill. After that time she had not made another similar gesture towards him again and he had had no reason to offer it. It was not in his place to do so. He lived only to act as required of him by the master.
All noon, Linda sat at the edge of her bed, bearing her chin in the cup of her palm. She would look out through the window and turn around to cast a furtive look in the direction of the little bundle breathing easy and stirring subtly within the crib. The commonwealth of two worlds tossed together and riveted through an incongruous joint. Linda worried. She expected James to come bursting in through the door at any moment, impatient to see his Jake. And as the noon softened into night and James was not seen Linda’s anxiety mounted.
She barely touched the dinner served. Her sleep was fitful throughout the night, she wasn't sure if it was the baby's soft cries that had woken her so often or she hadn't even been really asleep.
Following morning, she picked up the day’s issue of the London Times brought into her ward. The cover screamed aloud of the Salisbury uprising. With bated breath she read names of people she knew. When she found James' name listed among the fallen settlers, a wave of mixed feelings swept over her.
And in the years to come, baby girl Lucy had turned half-sixteen and wanted an answer, “Mom, why am I half-black and half-white; why do I look different than all my siblings and friends?”
Linda would smile a practiced smile and take her to the threshold of the past. “Dear daughter, life is full of pains and shattered dreams,” she would say. “And in the pains it brings none is spared; there is a size for the young and another for the old; but we all survive; somehow we survive if we don't ask for too much and seek not answers to all the whys there are ?”
Previous Posts in the Series – In Linda's World
IN LINDA'S WORLD Synopsis
IN LINDA’S WORLD I: Coming to Salisbury
IN LINDA’S WORLD II: Uncle Jake – the Dreamer
IN LINDA’S WORLD III: On the Day That James Learnt to Ride
IN LINDA’S WORLD IV: A Man Like Mr. Mwanyisa
IN LINDA’S WORLD V: Meet Sondoko
IN LINDA’S WORLD VI: A Miscarried Hope
IN LINDA’S WORLD VII: A Dream Came True
IN LINDA’S WORLD VIII: The Straw That Broke The Camel’s Back