It was May in Nairobi, Kenya. At midnight in this great metropolis, the floral scent of Jacaranda trees wafted into the windows of our small cement second-story flat. I lay half asleep, thinking about my daughter. She had come into this world, almost one month previous. She was small and fragile, and unbeknownst to us, she had contracted malaria. Born in the hospital during the incessant downpours of yet another monsoon, two days later, the malarial parasites had taken over her beautiful soft body. And now as I lay in my bed on top of the sweat-drenched sheets, she lay in her bed in the hospital incubator of the intensive care unit. She, trying to get some sleep. Me, doing the same.
The knock came definitively and urgent on the cedar door. It was the Maasai warrior, the night watchman with his spear, bow and arrow. He spoke in broken Swahili, something about an “mtoto kidogo”, something about “kufaa”. He was telling me that my little baby might die. The hospital had called and this man was doing his job by passing the message on. “Asante sana”, I replied. “Thank you”.
The next moments will always remain a blur of frantic activity and impending reality. Four hours after the warrior knocked on our apartment door, my daughter died in my arms. The malarial parasites had been too much for her.
Many years later, so many years later, I lay on top of my sweat-drenched sheets during a particularly hot Oregon night. Half asleep, in the dark, the smell of millions of small cherry tree flowers float into the windows of our bedroom. I heard a small knocking on the white-painted bedroom door of our home. I listened and heard the smallest of voices ask a one word question, “Open?” I did not reply in Swahili this particular night. To the little knocker on my door, I said, “Yes”. Our 18- month old baby boy came in slowly and padded over to my side of the bed. I reached to him and said, “I love you.” He reached up to me, wanting to be picked up, and replied, “I wuv ou.” The cycle of love had brought me full circle. The Jacaranda flowers of East Africa and the Cherry tree of the Pacific Northwest will forever be part of what I smell coming in my window.
May the millions of parents on this tiny planet of ours, who suffer the loss of a child, come full circle…someday…somehow.
Jeffrey Post-Holmberg is a contributing writer for River Notes Blog. Sometimes, in the small hours of the night, he secretly dreams of returning to East Africa to smell the Jacaranda flowers. This time, his son will smell the flowers with him.