The mosquitoes buzzed in through the open window along with the residual heat of the day. The sun had sunk below the buildings of Upington but it brought no relief – only more mosquitoes and the heavy, dank perfume of the syringas. “Persian lilacs,” Mrs Claasens called them. She preferred the name. It was more romantic. Syringa sounded too African. She’d imagine Persia – the land of Eden where the Tigris and Euphrates flowed. She sat in the old rocking chair and thought of Ur of the Chaldees, the land of the Garden of Eden where everything was in perfect order. She liked to lose herself in thoughts of paradise and heavenly order. She no longer heard the baby cry, nor the mosquitoes whining. She gently rocked and thought she could feel the cool breeze of a palm leaf. The baby lay in her cot. She had cried now for more than an hour. The screaming had subsided. Her almost exhausted lungs panted for breath, her little heart beating. Then another bubble of air began to pass through her minute digestive system, the pain searing through her gut. With the stewing frustration of being abandoned she whimpered, softly at first, but as the pain intensified her bottled up discomfort exploded into fury.
Mrs Claasens heard the doorbell only after its fourth ring. It rang and then she heard it open – the jangle of the bell on the handle. Mrs Reitz, the neighbour, called out, “Mrs Claasens? Mrs Claasens? Are you in?”
Mrs Reitz picked up the crying infant. Her little face was puckered and puce from pain. She instinctively placed her pinkie finger into baby’s mouth. “There, there,” she murmured. The baby sucked on Mrs Reitz’s finger.
“She’s hungry, Mrs Claasens.”
“Yes, but it’s only three hours since her last feed.” Mrs Claasens’ chin held firm in a stubborn grip. She knew that to spoil a child was the beginning of the going off the rails. Then she’d never regain control. Mrs Reitz sized up the situation. She gently told Mrs Claasens to come and sit in the kitchen.
“Come dear, you look so tired. Come, I will make you some tea.”
The two women moved to the kitchen. Mrs Reitz found the honey jar and dipped her finger into it and placed the tip into the tiny girl’s mouth. “There, there,” she said as she rocked her, the little head against her soft pink cashmere jersey. With her other hand she put on the kettle. Mrs Claasens sat dazed on a kitchen chair. When the tea was ready Mrs Reitz asked Mrs Classens to carry it through to the lounge. They sat there rocking in the green draylon chairs and the baby sucked longingly at Mrs Reitz’s loving pinkie.