Hope. Her name is both a reflection and a supplication. Hope because we waited eleven years to have her. And Hope because we anticipated that her arrival would bring more babies.
We were mistaken.
The adoption process was smooth. The surgery to remove my numerous fibroids was not. I eased in and out of pain for so many days that I lost count. By the time I became aware of myself, my baby had been home three weeks, cared for by Jeremiah’s mum. Weak as I was, I took over immediately.
It has been five years. Last year, my gynecologist told me there wouldn’t be any natural babies, except adopted like Hope. But I’m used to it now, I guess…most of the time anyway. I have been barren for sixteen years, but now Hope has deadened the pain. She’s my daughter, and I want no other. When she hugs me, which is often, I get a glimpse of heaven.
“Mamee…” she breezes in from the bathroom, her hair tangled and smeared with shampoo.
“Hey, baby.” I reply even as I try to turn away. She’s going to rub soap all over me, and I’m already dressed for work. Pudgy hands grab mine and I smile despite myself.
“The toilet won’t flush, and the floor’s filled with water.” She begins to pat the soap onto her hair. Proper grooming, I think. “Where’s dadee?” she has a unique way of jumping from conversation to conversation, as if all the time in the world wouldn’t be enough to talk.
“Gone to work. Now we’re going to bathe properly.” I have to rush her back into the bathroom and clean her up properly.
At last we’re done but I’m irreparably late. “Come sweet, let’s get going.”
“I love you, mamee.” She says it every morning. And it still sounds fresh and original.
“I love you too, Hope. More than anything else in the world.”
“You’re hugging too hard.” She laughs and pats my back with her chubby little fingers.
Jeremiah sits across the table from me, his fists curled into balls. His eyes are two red slits in his face, and he is not yet done with weeping.
Me? I haven’t been able to cry. I sit rigidly. My heart feels like melting ice and the cold is freezing my toes and tongue.
Didn’t you send someone for her? He had a note signed by you, authorizing him to take her home. Her class teacher had said.
I didn’t send anybody. I never did. Afternoons were our special time together, and I couldn’t have sent someone. I couldn’t.
You have to wait twenty-four hours before you can report. That’s when we regard someone as officially missing. They’d said at the police station.
Didn’t they understand that my only child was missing? A child I’d waited eleven years for?
We can only wait and hope, honey. We can’t lose hope now. Hope will come back home. Mum’s words didn’t make sense to me. Could she wait and hope if I ever got missing? Would she have the patience?
My head is aching now, and my eyes are burning. The tears are struggling for release but I won’t cry. If I start, I’m never going to stop. I rise shakily to my feet. Jeremiah looks up at me but refuses to talk. He hasn’t said a word since he heard his daughter got missing.
“God, please. I love that girl more than life itself. You can’t take her away from me. Hope? Lord, that girl is my only hope.” I walk to where her five-year-old picture stands. Her face is scrunched up in concentration for the camera. A half eaten chocolate bar is partially hidden underneath her dress.
Do as your mother says, I hear so clearly I almost trip, wait and hope in me. In me.
We didn’t sleep at all. Jeremiah is still not talking to anyone but he has stopped crying. Mum’s been in the kitchen all morning but the smell of food nauseates me. My heart still feels like the North Pole. We’ve made our report official at the police station. We’ve contacted all our friends.
We can only wait.
The phone rings. My husband and I both lunge for it.
“Let me answer it.” I request and he obliges.
“Hello, madam. I’m calling from Onilekere police station. It’s about Hope.”