There is no sound so shrill, so pure and as urgent as a baby's cry for nourishment. The infant's scream pierced through the rancorous banter of his elders, summoning his mother into the shaded living room where she wasted no time in gathering the little bundle up into her arms. Maureen hooked the baby's frail body into the strategic span of her fingers, tucking her third finger and thumb under his arms, while the babe fixed his eager mouth onto Maureen's cheek, sensuously sucking it, presuming it to be a nipple. Maureen pulled up her top to let an engorged breast break free from a padded, reinforced bra cup. She lowered her son onto his meal, angling his head to the nook of her elbow, and body along the length of her forearm. Maureen did not hear Arlene enter the room, and was a little surprised when she looked up to see her standing above her, watching.
"Sorry, I didn't mean to startle you."
"It's not good to spend so much time on your feet you know. Come, sit down beside me."
Arlene didn't sit down. She looked on intently, and didn't move for some time, until she was forced to notice the flicker of Maureen's questioning eyes.
The infant's eyes were fixed on his mother's face, trying hard to focus. Arlene's were like those of a glutton being introduced to a banquet as she devoured the scene of the baby contracting his jaw, flexing it up and down, resting occasionally as he grew tired, only to resume siphoning the warm sweet liquid down his throat, as eagerly as before. After a while the baby let the nipple slip from his lips, and seemed to stare up, to take in the small world of adoring faces that gazed upon him. When he had finished Maureen gently propped her son upon her thigh and began patting his back. The baby looked at Arlene quizzically.
"Let me try," she said, "I was always good at bringing up Shirley's kid's wind. I've had loads of practice."Maureen was tired, so was glad for Arlene to relieve her. Arlene draped a hand towel over her shoulder, then whisked the infant into her arms, and held him upright, resting his head on her shoulder. Using the heal of her hand, Arlene began to rub the baby's back rhythmically, gradually applying firmer strokes, suddenly relaxing the pace, then slowly quickening again. Gently, she built up the pressure. In no time the baby began to respond to her assured ministrations, and burped away, to the resounding sighs of approval emanating from his mother. Arlene held onto the baby, letting his body recline into the cradle made by her arms. She began to coo and babble lovingly at the child, lightly sweeping her fingertips over the smooth surface of his forehead as she let her body sway in a slight rocking motion.
"He's beautiful," she said. "You don't know how lucky you are."
"So are you Arlene girl. In a few months you'll have your own baby to hold. Everything will be alright, you'll see. And the way you're going to spoil him! Danny won't know what's hit him."
All at once Arlene felt the effects of the summer's day swarm down and hit her violently. The pores of her underarms dilated, her skin tingled, and her palms grew clammy as she looked into the innocent black eyes of the baby she wished was hers, wriggling at the apex of her protruding abdomen. She feasted her eyes upon him, drinking in his beauty. His skin was rich, auburn brown, shiny and plum tender. His hands curled over into soft fists with flaky white fingernails. His mouth was glistening wet, pursed seductively as if they were politely forming the letter O. Arlene wanted this baby. She knew that soon she would have her own child, but soon was too late. Her longing was present, and could no longer be deferred. She ached and yearned for this baby, any live, kicking, squalling, gurgling baby to be hers; to have and to hold, to nurture and cosset, cherish and keep, and shower with kisses, and so very much love.
Her lips were dry, she licked them moist. She wanted to pull the baby to her and lick him too, his ears, his fine downy eyebrows, his round button nose. She wanted to cling to this baby and float away, with the smell of his spicy sweet baby sweat filling up her nostrils, intoxicating her into blissful sleep.
The baby inside her womb started to kick, lightly at first, then faster and firmer. They were healthy life affirming kicks, which both hurt and pleased her. Maureen watched Arlene's cotton shift rise and fall.
"Girl, that baby's fighting to get outta there. He's jealous, can't you just hear him –Tyrone's getting too much loving. It's my turn, it's my turn."
The two women laughed, and Tyrone gurgled.
© JacquieR, July 2006 (all rights reserved)
'A Special Kind of Hunger' (a yet to be published novel), set in a South London of the mid nineties, is a contemporary tale of desire, loss, guilt and conflict, rooted in the trials and tribulations of inter-generational family life.
The debute novel interweaves narratives to explore themes of identify, loss, belonging and the meaning of success, ending with hope and rebirth delivered through the most unlikely source.
The family forms the cultural universe of the novel. Arlene and Danny who both have a vested interest in creating their own. Arlene through biological need, Danny, seekingto atone for the son he abandoned as a youth. Shirley (Arlene’s sister) who seemingly can’t stop having children. The women's strong mother Larris, who wants to return to her homeland: Jamaica. Denzil (Danny’s father), of Windrush mindset stuggling with his moral highground in a moral-free society. And, Shirley's teenage daughter Raya, whose self assurance and strong views on life bring her into conflict with the 'traditional' values of her mother’s generation.