He is naked and smeared with gooey mango. His mouth is stretched wide open in a horrific toothless scream.
“Isaiah,” I intone impatiently.
I cross my arms in what I hope looks to be a gesture of parental assertion. I tap my foot. I am sweating profusely despite the coolness of this September evening.
“Isaiah,” I repeat, more sharply this time, taking a menacing step toward him.
He ignores me, runs in zigzag lines across the front yard laughing hysterically. There are fine gravel particles stuck to the back of his chubby brown thighs. I intend to sigh but it comes out in this strained feral puff. And then…give me patience, Lord. He is climbing the tree now, like a little brown monkey.
“Isaiah get back here now or else…”
My voice is an uneven screech. I fly across the front yard barefoot.
He is already halfway up the tree trunk, finding easy footholds in the low mossy branches.
God help me. I cannot climb this damn tree.
The bones in my feet have forgotten how to splay and clench like this. I look up at him in horrified awe. He is sitting in a fork high up, swinging his plump little legs and giggling gleefully. I search his round dimpled face to find any shades of my own, but I am unsuccessful. For this moment in time, my son is alien to me. My body just cannot remember his presence, his essence. I cannot decode his energy; there is no serene unspoken complicity between us. Christ, he doesn’t even call me mommy. He insists upon calling me Glori. Can you imagine? As if we used to pitch marbles together in primary school. There is no neediness in his little arms when he reaches for me at bedtime. Jesus. Who is this little person? Have I not loved him enough? Is it because of what happened between Roy and me? Maybe a boy really does need his father.
“Aye Gloriaaa!” trills Jeanette, heaving her mammoth bosom over the short wall separating our properties.
“What going on there baby?”
Jeanette has the profoundly irritating habit of calling me ‘baby.’ Perhaps because I’m a young single mother, and not blessed with a loudmouthed, big bellied, furry-yet- balding husband like hers.
“Isaiah,” I say sadly.
I sound helpless and tired, even to my own ears.
“Gone up in the mango tree and refuse to come down.”
She clucks and tisks, her second chin jiggling. Poor me, poor me. Momentarily I see myself through Jeanette’s and everyone else’s eyes. I am small and defeated. I wear stretch tees with cute slogans on them, not because I like them that much but because they’re cheap and don’t need ironing. My hair is overprocessed and frayed irreparably at the edges. My son’s father needed less than nine months to know that he didn’t want us in his life. I shout a lot. No one listens. I do not have the slightest idea how to be a mother. My son, for Christ’s sake, is six years old, naked, and up in a tree. I am defeated.
“Oh, just leave him be, baby.”
Jeanette’s voice is lilting, impossibly cheerful. I hiccup like a child and am instantly ashamed of myself. God. I am a grown woman, for heaven’s sake. I can figure this shit out.
"Seriously?” I murmur, wrapping my arms around my midsection.
Suddenly I am lonely. The loneliness is thick and tangible, like a cold sweat, like a fever.
“Leave him. Boys do this kinda jackass thing all the time when they growing.”
She waves her fleshy hand absently. “Don’t study it too much, babes. Go inside.”
It’s about six now, and a cool, wet wind is blowing. Isaiah is wearing only tattered Superman underwear. His ass will get cold. I bet he will be sick tomorrow. If he comes down, that is.
I give up, and go inside slowly. Part of me feels as though my son is some sort of exotic bird that has escaped, and I fear that he will fly away forever. I make a cup of hot tea and sit down, my nerves shot to hell.
“God, make Isaiah come down now please,” I pray fervently into my teacup.
My breath creates little ripples on its milky surface.
Honest to God, I don’t know how or when I fell asleep. Does that make me a bad mother? Christ. I wake up damp to the scalp with sweat. The house is in pitch darkness.
My eyes flick to the microwave… Nine eighteen.
I leap from the chair and run outside, fling open the door. I can hear this sound, like a puppy whining… my son, my son in this goddamned tree. Jesus.
My breath comes in rasps now as I try to climb this thing. I can’t see shit. I claw my way up the rough slimy bark. Nails break, skin tears. Leaves scratch my face. It’s all wet, prickly and gummy up here. The whining is getting closer.
“Zaiah,” I say desperately.
He hiccups. I reach into the darkness, and a soft little paw finds mine.
“Zi,” I breathe.
Are you safe? Are you hurting? Are you scared? I’m here now. I’m here. But I don’t say these things, they are all just jumbled up in my head. What matters now is my son’s trembling little body in my arms. I brace myself between two solid boughs, and where I stand, I am illuminated by a single shaft of moonlight. Somehow I am calm, I am still. I do not dare question myself, so fragile and artfully balanced is this moment.
“Zi, Mama is here, I’m here,” I say softly, cradling him.
I croon words I’ve never spoken before. My hands, unbeknownst to me, are now able to smooth away, to comfort and caress. He looks up at me teary eyed.
“Mama,” he whispers, with his mouth that I suddenly recognize as my own.
“Mama, I love you.”
Danielle Boodoo-Fortuné lives in Sangre Grande, Trinidad. She is an English teacher, and has been drawing and writing for as long as she can remember. Previous publications include Bim: Arts for the 21st Century, The Caribbean Writer, and Tongues of the Ocean.