I arrived at Ricky and Maryam’s place in Lauderdale for the baby shower, stepping out of the car with gift in hand. Shrubs shaded over tiled stairs leading up to the front door. I knocked, then Hawa let me in. I walked through into the loungeroom and took a breath of fresh air. The windows overlooked the Derwent River. Maryam sat on a varnished wooden chair. Noticing my arrival, she stood, one hand on her belly.
“Thank you for coming, Jumilah.”
I approached her, so that the pregnant lady wouldn’t have to walk so far, and we hugged, then I handed over Maryam’s gift.
“I can take that if you like,” Hawa offered, and she accepted it from Maryam.
She wore hijab with a baby blue floral pattern. The hues matched her blazer, and almost might have been the same pattern as her long skirt. The room quickly filled up with the beloved women in Maryam’s life. As the food and conversation flowed, I knew for sure that baby David is one lucky kid. I didn’t know Maryam’s school friends so well, although some of the faces looked vaguely familiar from the wedding. Hawa and Maryam’s mother served food they’d lovingly made for all of us. Willow pulled up a chair next to me, while we tucked into vegetable biryani.
“How are you, Jumilah?”
“Good, thanks.” I finished my mouthful. “How are you?”
Willow glanced towards Maryam.
“How are you getting on with the animals?”
“Really good, thank you,” I responded, “but we don’t have any animals on-site yet. Hopefully within the next month.”
“Right, that’s great. I’ll have to come and visit once you’re open.”
“Please do, that would be lovely.”
We finished off our lunch, the biryani accompanied by a salad of finely-chopped cucumber, mixed in with chickpeas. Hawa started handing gifts over to Maryam, which she thanked her for. She started off with one of the cards.
“Aw, Mbeli, thank you.”
Maryam carefully unwrapped the present.
“You can’t go past Bonds.”
Maryam held up the romper suits, to show them off to the guests – one white, one blue. I took a sip from my glass of water while the next gift was passed across. Maryam’s expression faltered while she unwrapped her next present, from her sister herself.
“It was wonderful for me when I had my babies,” Hawa mentioned. “I’m not sure whether or not you’ll need them.”
I nodded and smiled politely, but Maryam pulled a face. She muttered under her breath, not in English. The gift was some sort of tube of cream, which I couldn’t decipher.
“I was a virgin when I got married,” Maryam reminded.
Sipping my drink, I tried not to look anyone in the eye. While I wasn’t sure, I felt like that was confirmation for something I hadn’t entirely known for sure before. Thankfully, the awkwardness quickly dried up, Maryam unwrapping another gift.
“Aw, they’re lovely, thank you.”
Maryam displayed the picture books. I sat back in my chair while I started to ruminate. I’d missed Maryam while I was away. I was very glad to be back in time for the birth of her first baby, expected early in the new year.
“So, is your nursery all ready?”
Maryam rubbed her belly, as if trying to reconvince herself of the reality of her pregnancy.
“That is a really good question.”
We heard the front door of the house open, followed by footsteps into the room.
“Hello there.” Ricky approached Maryam and bent over to kiss her on the lips. “How was your afternoon?”
“Wonderful,” he confirmed.
Ricky glanced over to the gifts.
“You got a haul.”
Maryam smiled towards the guests.
“Thank you so much for coming, we really appreciate it.”
“We love you, and we want the three of you to feel very loved.”
The baby shower came to an end, many of the guests heading off. Those of us who remained pulled our chairs in closer. Ricky slung his arm around Maryam’s shoulders, while she rubbed circles on her pregnant stomach.
“Do you mind if I turn the TV on?” Ricky requested. “The cricket’s on.”
“Yeah, of course, that’s fine.”
Ricky approached the monitor in the corner of the room, pressing a button on its underside to turn it on and change the station. The TV gleamed with the greenness of the outfield. Ricky returned and sat back down. The Australian men’s team were playing at the Adelaide Oval, Jye the fielder at mid-off. I wondered whether Vanessa had flown over, or if Tallulah had kept in much contact with her following everything which went down earlier in the year, and I wouldn’t have liked to ask. A news update appeared on the screen in the ad break. Ricky, at that point, had wandered through into the kitchen to fetch drinks. Just as he returned, the update played a clip of a shock jock, spewing hatred, albeit bleeped out. I noticed Elton grimace. Ricky changed the channel onto whatever station came next, just so that we didn’t have to listen to it.
“I’m not sure who he’d hate more,” Maryam quipped.
“Oh, I think I take the cake, unfortunately,” Elton lamented.
He sipped his lemonade, thanking Ricky as he handed out the glasses.
“You forgot to bring out the chocolate mousse cups,” he mentioned.
“Oh, I forgot to bring out the chocolate mousse cups.” Maryam bore something of a sad expression, then beamed at her husband. “Could you bring get the chocolate mousse cups?”
Ricky nodded, moving off. The slurs, albeit not directed at my identity, remained within my consciousness. We ate chocolate mousse but remained glum.
“Have you had a lovely baby shower?” Mbeli enquired.
“Yes, I have,” Maryam assured.
“I’ll have to take some pointers.”
“Are you pregnant?”
“No, not yet,” Mbeli answered with a smile, “but we’re keen to start a family within the next couple of years, for sure.”
She rubbed small circles on the side of Elton’s knee.
“I wanted to finish uni first and I’ve almost done that.”
“So now it’s time for baby-making.”
“Yeah, pretty much,” Mbeli agreed with a warm laugh.
With a grin, I thought of how nice it would be to have baby Joey, Maryam and Ricky’s son, and Mbeli’s child all able to grow up together. Hopefully we would stay friends that long, even if we no longer worked together as time went on. I finished my chocolate mousse and noticed that Patrick had some smooshed at the corners of his mouth, so I discretely gestured how he could wipe it off.
“So, how did you meet?”
“Well, we met at uni, actually, but I suppose that we also met through my dad,” Mbeli explained.
“Mbeli’s dad was one of my lecturers in first-year,” Elton elaborated, “so that’s specifically how we met. She came in after a lecture ready to go home with her dad--.”
“And the rest was history.”
They kissed on the lips.
“That’s really cute.”
“Yeah, I guess it is,” Mbeli agreed, smitten with her husband.
Ricky collected up the ramekins from the mousse. To a chorus of thanks, he carried them through into the kitchen, him and Patrick starting to clean up.
“Have you thought of any names for the baby?” Mbeli wanted to know.
“Yeah, we’ve talked about it.”
“I got my name from Mbeli Bai, which is an area of rainforest near where my mother grew up.”
It sounded idyllic, and I smiled, able to relate to her sense of faraway home.
“I was born in Australia and my mother came to Australia when she was seven years old. My father was born in Australia as well.”
“I’m not sure how my parents named me,” Maryam admitted.
Mbeli ran her thumb over her lips.
“You’ll have to ask them.”
“Yes, at some stage.”
“You’ve had a big day, we should make tracks.”
We farewelled the mama and papa. I returned home from the baby shower, walking through into the loungeroom where Mum and Dad were lounging in front of the TV.
“Have you eaten?” Mum started to sit up. “There are leftovers from our dinner.”
“That would be lovely, thank you.”
She produced leftovers. Despite having eaten a bunch at the baby shower, I scoffed down my dinner. By that point, Dad had already headed off to bed. I was ready for sleep, too.
I farewelled Mum for the evening with a kiss on the cheek, then retreated to my bedroom. Changing into my pyjamas, I slipped underneath the sheet. I listened out for birdsong and prayed while I was trying to go to sleep, peering at the slither of glittered black sky poking out from beside the curtain.
Abbey Sim is the founder of Huldah Media. She is a creative writing, law and theology student who lives on the lands of the Dharug people in Sydney, Australia. Abbey has long had a passion for the weird and the wonderful of stories, sport and zoo animals. 'From the Wild' is her first anthology.