It was past my bedtime, and I knew it. But my five-year-old body was restless and shaking at the idea of finally having a little brother. I had been spending my days helping my mom knit his new light blue blanket, and we were pretty proud. My heart, soul, and somehow a little bit of blood had shed in making this stereotypical boy’s blanket. Under my bed, I was casting off the last row of stitches all by myself with just a flashlight in my mouth to guide me. The kaleidoscope of my own baby blanket was thrown across the room with the unsteady light, so I would periodically turn it off when I heard my big cousin, Ashley's footsteps tiptoeing near. The cloudless sky was pitch black outside my window, but the lights under my door were enough to tell me that someone else was awake. I had to be extremely quiet so Ashley couldn’t notice that she was not the only one conscious. The only sounds were the pattering rain and the crickets’ sweet serenade. The bed rose and fell to the rhythm of their chirps and my breath, getting heavier as I finished the knit blanket and began to realize that my parents weren’t home yet.
Frantic, yelled whispers echoed around my home. My tiny feet landed on the wooden floor, too dainty to make it creak. But a shudder flew up my body. Ashley always kept the house colder than it should be during winter outside, certainly colder than the pleasant July nights we should be having. I allowed my blanket to trail behind me, her pastel pink yarn like the petunias planted on our windowsill. My parents knitted her for me when I was born, and she’d been there for me in the best and worst moments of my young childhood. She and I slid to the hallway, her train knocking over my mom’s Sotho dolls. The opposite wall brightened as I opened the door, sun spots floating through the light like fairies playing a game of hide-and-seek. Plush white carpets came into view along with the pictures lining the hallway. It’s like a shrine to me, filled with pictures of my parents’ marriage, my childhood, and school pictures. But the other side of the hall is empty, waiting for my little brother to fill the space. I hear Ashley's whispers again, accompanied by pacing footsteps that sounded more like a downpour than the rain did. Those words are too close together, spoken in another room in a lower volume in another world, rather than to whomever must be on the phone, so disguised that it sounded like a foreign language. But I had to know what Ashley was saying, what she was hiding from me. My hair swung from side to side as my feet sunk in the shag, the beads clinking like the bells on Christmas day. The carpet tickled my toes, the fur soft like a dog after a trip to the spa. It swished like walking through long grass, like the wind through the drooping willow trees. I heard myself, but I kept walking, too determined to be kept in the loop than to care about getting caught.
“Amma?” Ashley's voice was trembling, and I snuck closer to the living room to see her, finally worried about the trouble I’d be in. Her short, straightened hair was sticking straight up, like a stray cat when my mom comes around to scare them away. She was sitting on the coffee table, next to the koeksisters from last night, their syrupy, cinnamon sweet smell floating through the air. All 5 foot of her seemed even smaller, and her feet were kicking anxiously at the right leg of the table. Her blood red fingernails were tapping in time to the beat of her bouncing knees.
“Yeah, Uncle Thando, she’s fine. She’s asleep right now,” Ashley assured my father, her voice calming as a lullaby, as effective as a snake charm, and so I began to feel guilty.
“Well, be back soon. I’ll go wake her up for you.” Too late to go running back now. Ashley turns around to meet me, her perfume attacking my nose and her eyes looking down on me as my confidence began to shrink.
“Amandla Freda Matseliso Reina! You get to your bed right now!” She yelled my name with such force, it made me step back and clutch my blanket to my heart.
“Yes ma’am, I’m going, I promise!” I sprinted up to my room and jumped in bed, hiding under both blankets for the ultimate protection. Less than three seconds after, I heard the door creak and the chatter coming from the rest of the house.
“Amma!” The wooden floor whimpered under the weight of my mom’s heavy heart. My light flashed on, causing black dots to float around my room like the devil himself was present. My room came into view, fluorescents lighting up my mom’s face.
One look at her, and I knew. Her eyes had lightning strikes coming up from each corner, the red making her brown eyes look more like autumn. My usually strong mom was crumbling right in front of me, and what was I supposed to do?
“My baby,” She fell to her knees as I ran to fit in her lap, my head against her chest and arms around her shoulders. The disinfectant from the hospital took away the rush of sage and rosewater that I usually get from diving into her arms, but I still felt more at home with her there.
“My only baby,” I wondered who did this for her when it was Emmanuel who died. Who was there not to be strong for her, but to just be hers, to be loved by her. All my mom has ever wanted was to be a mom, to have someone’s future in her hands like a piece of clay. She’s an artist, and she just wanted a canvas to spread her soul across.
“Amandla Freda Matseliso Reina,” She whispered in my ear, her natural hair intertwining with my beaded braids and salty tears dripping from her chin to my cheek. The scarred, but soft leather of my mother’s skin swallowed me whole, enveloped in the safe haven that she makes for me naturally.
“My power, my legacy, my comfort, my queen.” My name has never been a phrase to yell in anger, nor to trip over in spite. My name is supposed to be my being, my purpose. It’s a goal I have never stopped trying to fulfill, an outline for my future. So sometimes, I wondered why I couldn’t just be named “Love”: the only thing I know how to do in times of conflict. I pulled my blanket and his to wrap around us, an invisibility cloak to disappear from life’s judging eyes. Our world may have been falling to pieces then. The next day we would be tasked with piecing it together again. But that day, the two of us would stay, holding each other through the dark.
His blanket was cremated with him, clutched in my baby brother’s arms as he goes back to his first home: heaven. Some may ask me how I can miss someone I have never met, but Will, you are a phoenix. You are reborn in me every day I wake; I am burning in your presence. I know you are somewhere. Will, I still miss you. And I wonder what our life would be like if your somewhere was here.