Green Point, where we’d been living, is an upmarket little neighborhood that slopes gently up from the beach. Cool breezes dry the sweaty foreheads of its residents as they enjoy sundowners on their porches, and there is little real wind there.
In Vredehoek, where we moved the next day, you are perched upon the steep wall of the city bowl. It’s a quiet, well-to-do neighborhood, and pleasant, except for the sinister wind that whips around the inside of the bowl with no outlet and no choice but to escalate. If you’re fool enough to leave a window open to lure a breeze, the wind possesses it, slamming it shut and back open again until you pry it out of the wind’s grasp and resign yourself to the heat.
Two chatty, suntanned men from the rental agency had shown up in Jeeps that morning to help us move our lumpy mountain of belongings to the apartment. We all stood around awkwardly at first, looking at our pile of suitcases and baby equipment, an assortment of oddly shaped contraptions made of nylon and cotton, with springy rods that come popping around to hit you in the face when you try to tuck them in, and unwieldy metal frames that can only pass through a doorway if hooked onto your shoulder as you do a shimmy, like Pat Benatar in Love is a Battlefied.
David and one of the men, a giant man with round eyes and dark curly hair, had spoken heatedly the night before about our contract. We were all tired, us from being angry and them, I assumed, from partying. After a few minutes, none of us had the energy to be curt. The other man had a young baby himself and we chatted as we loaded. When you’re a father, you’re allowed to be excited about the foamy pink and orange accessories that have excellent lower back support and names like Bumbo and Hoppalong. We managed to get everything we owned into Jeeps, along with A’idah, the baby, and ourselves.
The apartment was small but stocked with food and wine. There was no internet and nothing to do but wait to move again, so we invited a friend over, who brought a creamy liqueur and an ice crusher. Things were looking up.
Then the apartment got hot. The sun struck the tiny place from both sides and baked it even with all the shades down. David and I weren’t very talkative. We hadn’t spoken to each other all that morning except for the communication of necessity, did you find the charger, if you want to pack this box I’ll get out of your way.
After a while our friend made a graceful exit.
Knowing that we’d be moving again the next day, I felt the way I feel on long layovers. On a good trip, I read peacefully, or when I was working, hammer out tasks on my laptop and feel self-satisfied. On a bad trip, there was nothing to say or do but wait until you could begin the next leg.
We lounged in our swimsuits on the microfiber couch, or aimlessly rummaged through the kitchen cupboards again, doing nothing but trying to avoid touching one another and stepping gently around our piles of luggage.
We had started drinking too early in the day, and felt sleepy and lazy. Spenny wouldn’t nap, though A’idah tried her best to coo him into submission.
At some point I realized that we didn’t have the stroller with us. We kept it in the trunk of the rental car that I had turned in earlier in the week. I called the rental car company, fearing that they’d say they never saw it, and they did. It took me several attempts to explain what I was asking for.
“Oh, a pram,” the woman said. “No, we haven’t had one of those turned in.”
“I’m coming down there tomorrow,” I said. “It was there. So if you don’t have it, someone took it.”
I was rude. David was irritated.
At night, the wind picked up but the apartment didn’t cool down. We had just managed to coax Spencer to sleep when the windows and doors began shuddering and the wind began to hum in the alien pitch of a machine. The bedroom door slammed shut, and Spencer woke screaming.
When we finally calmed him down and decided to try and sleep, I started to get into the side of the bed furthest away from the crib. I take night duty except for when David has a day off the next day, and David was scheduled to have the rest of the week off.
“Thanks a lot,” he said.
I couldn’t see his face in the darkness.“For what?”
He didn’t say anything for a moment. “I need more support from you.”
That irritated me. I knew it was stressful to acclimate to a new job, and I knew that it was his peak season for work, and I knew I hadn’t gotten a hell of a lot done, and I really knew how stressed he was. But we were here on his visa, not mine, goddamnit. I had no choice but to leave most official administration to him because our new life here was in his name. Though he had spent hours online finding properties to view, I had been the one to go see them, take notes, correspond with the agents, none of it on a full night’s sleep.
Spenny had been getting hungrier and weepier since we got to South Africa, waking up every two hours needing comfort. Every time we moved him, from the Luxembourg apartment to a hotel, to the ten hour flight, to a hotel, to the apartment in Green Point, to the apartment in Vredehoek, he became more fearful, less sure that he was safe. David had picked out our car and arranged for the sale, but he had done that in Luxembourg too. I assumed that he wanted to.
I turned away from him, silent and angry, and thinking that he was probably right. He had done all these things on top of his job. I could have offered to do more, but instead I had spent my days absentmindedly compiling lists. I told him I would try harder. He said he would ask me directly if he wanted help with something. We switched sides of the bed.
He fell asleep, and again, I couldn’t, though I hate being the last person to fall asleep. It feels like you’re being left behind.
As I lay there it occurred to me that I vaguely remembered taking the stroller out of the rental car before turning it in, and leaving it in the garage of the Green Point apartment.
I’d accused an office full of innocent people of stealing.
I would have felt bad anywhere, but for some reason it felt as if falsely accusing someone of stealing in South Africa was like tempting fate. There was a hazy gap I had just widened. I knew I was karmically destined to have something stolen from me in the future, and I fell asleep picturing the things someone could steal from me, how they would do it.
I fed Spencer for the rest of the night, but when he started crying at six in the morning he wouldn’t take the bottle. Normally, if you put your head next to his, and tell him it’s all right, and feed him, he falls back asleep in a minute or two. That morning he just kept crying, pushing the bottle angrily away, getting milk all over us. One of his flailing arms hit me in the eye.
I got up and went to the other bedroom, covered my head with a pillow, and fell back asleep.
David came in an hour later and said, “Thanks a lot.”
I couldn’t speak.
There was Spencer, our unbelievably perfect baby. It’s physically impossible to be unhappy if you’re gazing at your baby when he’s happy. Unlike most other babies his age, you can hardly see his hair because it’s so wispy and blond. It’s the softest thing you’ve ever felt against your cheek. He has this smile, more like a grin, that gives him a dimple and wrinkles his nose. He’s just started to wrap his arms around my neck when the world is too much for him.
And my unbelievably perfect baby takes everything I have, and I mean that literally. My hair had been falling out, in thick shanks. I spent half of every shower unwinding strands from my fingers and twirling them into a ball. In the evenings when I took my hair down, I ran my hand down my thin rope of hair until I reached the end, where a chunk the thickness of a chopstick would detach in my hand. I had David check my head for bald spots. You just can’t lose this much hair every day and not get one, I thought.
But he never finds one. My hair just gets thinner. I take vitamins that don’t help, although the tips of my fingernails are bright white. After nine months of pregnancy and six months of breastfeeding, there are deep purple circles under my eyes, and my teeth are sensitive, as if the calcium Spencer’s taking from me is leaving holes in my teeth. I weigh what I used to weigh in high school. In the mirror my skin looks gray. I know for the first time what I’ll look like when I’m old.
I’m tired of breastfeeding, and so I’m slowly losing my milk. My body is trained to start producing milk when I see Spencer and when I hold him, it’s so attuned by evolution to motherhood. So I have to trick it into thinking that Spencer is now old enough to be fully weaned, when really I’m switching him to formula. I mourn the loss of the life-giving force, but not enough.
I ignored David and fell back asleep.