Betty beats a gong of riotous sounds. Listen.
Sheila and Dayo were an odd quiet couple. They lived in their quaint bungalow at No. 4, Adeniyi street. The house had been Dayo’s father’s and Dayo being the only child, had inherited it upon his father’s death. Sheila and Dayo could be seen huddled together as they took long walks or just looking straight-ahead as Dayo drove them to church or the supermarket.
They were the couple that other parents warned their children to stay away from and a topic they shared with visitors when the couple passed the front of their gates. They had eyes only for each other and had no friends save colleagues and other parishioners.
But this little family lost their silence when Sheila had a baby. Her pregnancy had mostly gone unnoticed as she had quit her job at the Primary School teaching Art in her third month, long before a bulge was evident. It was left to Dayo to provide for their family from the funds from his furniture shop.
They named their daughter Annabelle Ayomide after both their mothers who were both too dead to witness the little naming ceremony that a few friends from the Furniture shop, the Primary school and the church attended. Anna cried through it all. She cried when her the pastor lifted her up for blessings; she cried when the well-wishers gathered around to coo at her strong lungs and she cried when her mother tried to stuff her nipple in her mouth in an attempt to quiet her.
This became the announcing symbol that Sheila or Dayo was near- the lusty crying of their daughter. She cried at the supermarket, inviting evil glares from other customers. She cried at church, until Sheila began to spend her services outside, under a lone speaker the church had set on the street to attract lost souls. She cried at night, while her parents would wrap themselves in each other’s arms in the next room and pretend not to hear her for one hour.
Sheila, or Dayo, would then march to the baby’s nursery, hit the light switch and glare at the baby. Sheila would pick Anna up, try to feed her then return her to her cradle and proceed to sleep through the noise. Dayo would gather Anna into his arms, rock her a bit, throw her into the air, make funny faces and then give up to join his wife in sleeping through the noise.
Sheila or Dayo, when seen without the baby, could be seen sporting dark eyes, laden with eyebags. Pitying looks were cast their way where wary glances had been thrown, before Anna.
The breakthrough came a night when it was Sheila who got out of bed. The electricity was out so she lit a candle and placed it on a high chest of drawers on the other side of the baby’s cradle while she settled in the armchair. But Sheila missed it because it wasn’t until the next morning, when she woke up with her neck hurting from sleeping off in the armchair, that it occured to her that her baby had stopped crying.
Dayo and Sheila rejoiced but the next day and the day after saw them back in the feeding-tossing-sleeping-through-the-noise phase once again.
Sheila figured it out eight days after. She lit a candle and set it on the chest of drawers then went off to the kitchen to make herself a cup of tea. She returned to see an amazing sight. Anna wasn’t silent, but she wasn’t crying either. She was cooing and making baby noises while smiling and stretching her little arms towards the candle’s dancing flame. Sheila ran to wake Dayo and they did a little jig in Anna’s nursery before going to sleep soundly for the first time since she was born.
Candles were placed at distances from each other and heavier curtains replaced the flimsy ones there to keep out the light. Anna became a happy baby. Her little eyes shifted from one flame to another; her hands flailing about while her legs kicked happily. Everyone was happy again.
Sheila and Dayo could once again be seen taking walks, huddled into each other, without their daughter. They went to church without their daughter. And went to the supermarket without their daughter. Anna was happy in her sanctuary of candles, giggling and waving.
It shouldn’t have come as a surprise when Dayo and Sheila were interrupted in church with cries of “Your house is on fire!” But it did. Dayo and Sheila rode home in a frenzy, their thoughts hopping about the place, never dwelling on the horrible visions their minds conjured.
No one else knew how it happened except the boisterous rat and Anna, who had watched it run into a candle that fell to her diaper bag which was leaning against the curtain. She had watched with amazement and her widest smile yet as a fire bigger than any she’d ever seen enveloped her. But neither Anna nor the rat could relay this story as they were both burnt to crisp by the time Sheila and Dayo arrived.
The neighbours, those who weren’t at church, had tried to put out the fire- but it hadn’t occured to them that a baby had been indoors, alone- perhaps they would have put more effort.
Dayo and Sheila rebuilt the house. Neighbours say they became a little crazy, if they weren’t before. They still went on about on their huddled walks and supermarket visits and church services but whenever asked about their crying daughter from a clueless curious or about their general wellbeing from a kind curious, they would look behind them- as if haunted- and whisper: “But the fire made her quiet.. The fire made her quiet..”