NOT MY BABY PART 2: By Henny Daniels

Mariah stood on the porch of her mother’s duplex in her favorite form-fitting, multi-colored maxi dress, contemplating on if she was ready to settle their differences. Her young daughter, Mia, wobbled around on the sidewalk familiarizing herself with the concepts of balance, speed, and momentum. At eleven months old, she was only a few days from her very first birthday but far into the stages of running and stumbling.

The day was perfect— no clouds or disruptions of the sun in any form—yet a cool, euphoric breeze provided adequate relief. Under normal circumstances, Florida seemed to reveal an exclusive portion of sunshine that faithfully radiated dangerous degrees of heat. But today— in late April—the atmosphere was blissfully forgiving. When away, Mariah always missed this version of a Florida day.

Looking around at the slightly discolored, wooden deck, she considered dusting one of the hunter green Adirondack chairs with her hand-towel and camping there— luggage scattered across the mahogany-planked floor and rambunctious little Mia giggling and frolicking on the lawn. Just as she placed her bags down and reached for her towel, Mariah heard a startling screech.

In her peripheral she could see the bulky beige blinds in the front window shift and sway, followed by the red, weathered door flying open with a loud crash—her mother stood there in disbelief, eyelashes sprawled and displaced, drenched in fresh tears. She held a closed fist to her mouth as she spoke through her emotion.

“I was just in my bedroom on my knees, praying so hard.” She inhaled deeply, then released more tears and exhaled silently. “That you and my grandbaby were ok. I know you’re mad, but you are the most important part of me in this world. You misunderstood the situation, baby girl; I would never choose some man over my own baby!” Tamika embraced her only child with a firm, motherly grip. This hug reminded Mariah of simpler days: when her mother would hug her so deeply that she ended up in the air being spun around with playful force—she returned an equally passionate greeting.

“I know, Ma. I’m sorry I reacted that way. Even if that were the case, I had no right to curse at you and raise my voice in anger. Please forgive me for disrespecting you in your home,” She pulled away, looking into her mother’s eyes, “and if need be, I’m willing to apologize to Larry too. I just really need to come back home Mommy, please. I’ve had a really hard time out here.”

With a raspy chuckle, Tamika gripped Mariah’s chin between her thumb and forefinger. “Girl, I been kicked that fool out; I’ve been calling like crazy to tell you. Who you need to be trying to make things right with is your dad. I don’t know why you won’t suck up that little pride and give him a call.” She gently maneuvered around Mariah, jogging a few yards out to where Mia sat on the grass, periodically rolling in a dense spread of dandelions as cabbage moths scattered away to safety.

“Hey, my little precious chunky monkey—look at these cute little bows all over your head. You are just the prettiest little Gerber baby! Give me kisses! Muah!” Mia spasmed and giggled with excitement, accepting every kiss with a toothy grin. A fluttering moth teased her attention, and Mia sprang up in the air chasing behind it.

“Mom, please tell me you cooked something recently; I’m starving!” After collecting her belongings using every available body part, Mariah fumbled her way inside dropping her bags in the foyer. A tantalizing aroma tickled her senses and promptly answered her inquiry—she could smell freshly fried chicken. Oh, how good it feels to be back—and I don’t have to worry about that big good-for-nothing-grown-ass-baby-man!

As she made her way through the chic abode, Mariah could hear news being loudly reported from a Bose speaker system. Upon entrance of the common room, she recognized a familiar face plastered on the large projector screen—her mom’s version of an in-home theater (with movies rarely featured).

“The Jacksonville Sheriff’s department is still on the hunt for a deadly hit-and-run driver that claimed the life of four-year-old, Trinity Amora Wright just outside of her Mandarin home back in February. There are no known suspects or vehicle descriptions due to limited witness testimony. Authorities are asking that any tips or leads applicable to the progress of the investigation be called in on our toll-free information hotline 1-888-INFONOW.”

Rubbing her eyes, Mariah was confident that she would see a different picture at their next opening; surely, they were playing tricks on her. But much to her horror, the adorable angelic face displayed on the wall was none other than her tiny fiery friend, Trinity; the news channel used a photo from her latest birthday bash to identify her with—Mariah was one of many in attendance.

“Oh, no! GOD NO!” Grasping her chest in shock, Mariah lost her balance while wrestling with disbelief. Amidst her clumsy tumble, she knocked over one of Tamika’s end tables causing a small chest to fall open, emptying its contents. Among the spilled debris was a tiny plastic bag filled with sandy-brown powder and a sealed needle and syringe. Mariah’s mind was unable to focus on either alarming realization at this point—she sat frozen in shock, tears steadily developing.

Down the hall, Tamika shut the door and engaged both locks once Mia was safely inside. It’s a good thing I decided to finally fry all that chicken! Here I was worried about who was gonna eat it all, and my babies show up hungry as ever.

“Ma-ma! Ma-ma!” Mia galloped around, searching for her mother.

“Awww, listen to you! I didn’t know you were talking now! Come on, let’s go find your mommy.” Tamika caught up to her grandchild and gently led her to the kitchen; her attention suddenly returning to the fresh batch of chicken that sat resting in the oven.

In the Livingroom, sounds of clanking pots and the oven door grew distant and then faltered off —Mariah was no longer at her mother’s home. Now, she was a young child again, witnessing her parents scream insults and profanities as their faces displayed mutual hatred.

Her dad— Isaiah— had always been the bad guy in her eyes; Tamika could do no wrong. After all, he was the one who left—which Mariah could never understand why. Nor did she gather enough courage to ask either parent what really happened between them. Though Isaiah later returned for her with a court-ordered full-custody arrangement, nothing could change the fact that he left with no explanation or goodbye. Furthermore, once Mariah was living with him solely, a cold exterior inadvertently developed as a result of his failed marriage, driving a wedge between a father and daughter (who shared major facial features with her estranged mom).

The memory returned to her psyche as a test of her rigid beliefs and feelings; was her perspective completely accurate, or had she only been privy to a very small fraction of her parents’ marital woes? Was her dad a bad guy—at all?

“What the hell are you doing with that Mariah?” Tamika disrupted her pondering by snatching the drug paraphernalia from Mariah’s hands.

Shaking her mind free from the pull of an intense memory trip, Mariah realized how quickly Tamika’s nurturing, motherly tone had shifted, and drew back her torso out of retaliation. “What you mean, ‘what am I doing with that’? Why THE HELL do YOU have it?!” She jumped to her feet, making sense of her troubled childhood too quickly for her comfort. “I only knocked the table over by accident; is this YOURS?”

As Tamika’s eyes shifted around for a response, Mariah grew impatient and painfully aware as the moments passed. The two engaged in a stare-down followed by an explosively vulgar verbal battle that ended with Tamika striking Mariah in the jaw with a closed fist. With the blow, not only had Tamika knocked drops of moisture from Mariah’s mouth, but she also bumped a bit of sense back into Mariah’s head—why was she carrying on with her own mother this way? She had to find a way to diffuse the situation.

Mia’s little face popped into her thoughts; the baby had a way of making the worst times seem almost comical with her innocent, playful joy—that’s how she would diffuse this dangerous bomb. With one hand over her lip, nursing her wound, Mariah put her other hand up to surrender. “Ok, ok! Please calm down, Ma!” Mariah looked around and listened for Mia’s tiny feet shuffling around on the tile floors. “Where’s the baby?”

Almost immediately, Tamika’s face softened. She spat out a brief apology then turned around and listened for herself. Heading toward the kitchen she said, “She’s right in here—I gave her a drumstick a few minutes ago.” Tamika left the scene of the fight and began calling out for the baby. “Princess, you done eating that chicken?” But as she reached the kitchen, panic enveloped her thoughts; the kitchen door leading out to the backyard was wide open, and Mia was nowhere in sight. “MIA! MIA WHERE ARE YOU BABY GIRL?” Running out into the yard, her head was on swivel looking high and low for the teetering toddler. “MIIIIAAAAAA!”

Mariah sprinted to the kitchen, confused by her mother’s screams; when she exited the ajar door and saw Tamika pacing in circles, flustered with tears and worry filling her mien, her heart dropped and began aching. “Where is she, Ma? Don’t tell me she’s gone…. My baby girl— not my baby too!”

TO BE CONTINUED

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