John Edward Ellis
In our neighborhood, the electricity dies at night. On those evenings—the blackouts—my father holds a flashlight, and he and I walk out the front door of our house, into the yard, to a shed—inside, a generator. When I press the switch, the generator howls. The house is floodlit again, and the silhouette of my mother, eight months pregnant, presses against the balcony window, her stomach reaching against electric light.
Around the yard is a high wall and an iron gate; beyond, night collapses. Mosquitos thread the humidity in the kind of space and time that gnaws on the imagination. It is the end of April, and as my father and I sit in the yard, he tells me he’s going to have to leave soon, for work. He tells me to help my mother while he’s gone.
When I go to sleep that night, I see Liberia’s coasts, the beaches where my father takes Sarah, my older sister, and me, on Sundays. I see dunes—round, full, expectant—as if something waits beneath the sand. The beaches curl north, curl south, and both ends reach their respective horizons.
In May, my father leaves. My mother will pick Sarah and me up from school. The school is one room. Inside, we sit at a table; Sarah draws and I write. The afternoon passes without us seeing it go; as the sun steps behind the mangrove trees, our teacher takes us to my mother, waiting outside, in the car. Sarah points to my mother’s stomach as it grasps the steering wheel. She asks if our little sister kicks. My mother says sometimes. Feel. She holds Sarah’s hand against her stomach.
When will she be born, I ask.
My mother says soon.
We go to the market in Monrovia. Women walk with pots balanced on their heads. Naked children sit on their mother’s laps. Men stand behind tables, holding up baskets of fruit.
Sarah and I walk behind my mother. We watch people yell at her, telling her to buy things. She buys cassava and shoves it into a cloth bag. We walk back to the car, and inside my mother breathes in, as if shivering. She puts her hands on her stomach and her breathing softens. Sarah and I don’t say anything. My mother puts on her seatbelt. Let’s go home, she says, frowning. Hopefully, the electricity will stay on tonight.
I think then of walking next to my father, of holding the flashlight, of seeing the house lit like fire. I look at my mother. Mom, if the lights go out, can I go outside and turn on the generator. My mother smiles.
All week, after school, Sarah and I play in the yard. Fruit has bloomed in the trees, and we throw rocks, trying to hit coconuts between the palms so that one will fall to the ground. Musu, who works in the house, watches Sarah and me while my mother runs errands. Musu tells us to be careful throwing rocks.