Ricci Shryock took this photo in Guinea Bissau from which I imagined this story.

Ricci Shryock took this photo in Guinea Bissau from which I imagined this story.

The air tastes quite offbeat when you find out that you are to father. Not wholly joyful and not particularly heartbroken. Djack and Fatoumata have been clasping palms since the very first year of secondary school when Fatou and her Ma came back to Guinea Bissau after the war. She spoke little then, and he too. Their silence must have drew them. Since the day they made friendly there was no reason to unclasp nor a reason to speak upon the matter. It was known, known by all. They were loving together. This was the village of Belel where the people think your business is their own so there wasn’t a person who didn’t know Fatoumata and Djack as a one. University tried to separate them but they just laughed at the sorry attempt and crawled toward each other every holiday growing closer between those gaps.

Djack was serious about his studies, as was Fatou. He would be the third architect in his family and she would be a chemical engineer. His handyman business had supported him through university. A business with a staff of just his dark hands and his bright truck but it has carried him.

Now it was Saturday morning and he’d slept alongside Fatou like every other Friday night. She had only found out this morning and told him yesterday evening. Their goodbye on this morning was weighted: measuring in at ’infant’. Not necessarily heavy but heavier than before when there was nothing there.

“The people will talk” Fatou spit out last night, staring at the ceiling while Djack lie inching toward slumber. For she worried, they were unmarried. Fatou was not a particularly religious woman and she’d always known Djack wasn’t going anywhere and thought that if leaving was his desire, she surely wouldn’t leash him by forcing marriage. Marriage would eventually come, they both assumed.

“Then they will talk, like they have done yesterday and like they are doing now.” Djack assured through the sheet over his head.

She squirmed around trying to find slumber and lose the fear of a swelling belly that tried to suffocate her. Wrapping his dense leg around her mid, he put her to sleep.

And so that morning, the porridge grew cold under pensive silence. Where expressive African jokes normally lived, forced smiles, instead, took its place. They knew the biggest of love lingered between the two of them — It was just that things would be different and that sort of thing must be digested. After a cheap try at eating, it was time for Jack to go work, for their new family, they both secretly thought. Most Saturdays when Fatou sends Djack off, she’s holding his foot begging him to stay “just small more.” Today she was willing to let him go, to be alone.

Anchored by his workboots, he held her and kissed her ear, “You carry our child, I carry you.”

Still, she was without words. Looking up at his face. First at his cheek, then at the hard bone in his jaw, over to the his pillow bottom lip, grazing over the weeds that were his brows — she found his eyes, his history and pulled out the only true smile of the day. He took it for safekeeping and tugged her by her little plaits before starting toward the door.

“Stand up straight, Papa!” She called out as he got into his truck. He straitened and said nothing, watching her more intensely then he did the road as he pulled out. The road was exactly how it had always been all of these years but she, Fatoumata, was different, changed.  She stood, filling the hole that was the doorway, letting him watch her until the orange was no longer in sight.