They came in a caravan, tumbling one on top the other like a line of dominoes; a convoy of characters mimicking something in a biblical parable. But they rode in cars instead of on camels, and replaced sandals and robes with designer boots, sweatshirts that read Brooklyn, jackets branded with pricy insignias, hats with wool sewn at the sides, and jewelry. There were no rods or staffs, no shawls or blankets, no water receptacles or metal pots. It was quite the reverse. They sipped caramel drinks out of cardboard cups, plugged neon-lit phones into the dashboard and rotated CDs every hour…tapping their fingers, nodding their heads, and throwing grim glances out of the passenger windows. A jingle erupted in the back, signaling yet another text message from someone’s boyfriend or girlfriend perhaps. How far had the vehicle advanced from the city? The dearly loved would have wanted to know. When would the exact return date be? And so on. There was a phone call soon afterwards and a hushed backseat conversation. There was an irritated sigh up front, and then, a hand found the plus sign on the radio and pumped the vintage Whitney Houston up a notch. One or two of those present, secretly wished to feel a cell phone suddenly vibrate; they wanted to hear some familiar voice on the other end tracking their own movements, sending peals of sentiment over the distance; waiting eagerly for a grand reunion. However, they hastily shook themselves from the feeling. This was not the time to think of such things.
The house appeared festive on the surface. The new arrivals walked through the door and there was a noisy greeting; hugs for the cousins, kisses for the aunts, and a clasp of hands between sisters. The baby walked a little unsteadily, still being unused to the art of the activity, but drawing the crowd in his direction nonetheless. The driver made the final entrance, climbing up the last leg of the long trip. He held a traveling bag in one hand, and in the other, a plastic bag containing goods from the homeowner’s favorite Caribbean restaurant. The entire company seemed to have been awaiting his arrival. He felt it. He greeted the elders with some affection, but not too much. He greeted his siblings. They had all gathered like flies around honey coated glue, and he greeted them. A longtime family friend sat in the corner with worry hanging on his face. It was a disturbing sight. The driver smiled and presented the man with a cheerful salute. Always the strong one, that one, the eldest boy, you know…was what the driver heard him say. He acted as if the words did not reach him, and kept moving.
The group was energetic, pretending not to notice that the phone was ringing incessantly. They passed the baby from hand to hand and made a gigantic fuss. They chattered on about the inane, anything but the event that was to take place in the coming days. No, they would wait to speak of hospital waiting rooms and the specific instructions that were given directly by the surgeon. They would wait even to think of it. Someone put the music on. Yes, that was what was needed. There was brandy and ginger ale on the table, and ice making its way into the glasses. Something heavy had been seeping into the air, but the assemblage quickly turned their backs to it. The driver felt it. That dear family friend downed his drink in one go. He started to talk loosely about courage with a crack in his voice. The driver focused on his game with the baby, thinking…he better not dare cry! The older women were in the kitchen cooking something big. “So, you’re only on liquids now?” Someone was heard asking, making light out of the heavyhearted. Laughter jumped up and out of the kitchen, high and loud as if to cover up the thing or drive it away.