Those who have heard the story of baby Leon have had constant tears running down their cheeks. It is the story of loss, grief, and love beyond what many think they can handle.
Leon’s birth was difficult. The mother was a young university graduate waiting to report to her first job after three months. Leon’s dad was abroad at the time his beautiful wife went into labour.
The waters broke at midnight. Mary was expecting the baby in ten days, so it was a surprise. She was rushed to the hospital by a kind neighbour.
That was the end of good news. Mary labored for the next ten hours and by the time the resident doctor took her in for a cesarean section, Mary had lost consciousness and there was no baby movement at all. Mary only woke up long enough to name the baby. She passed on without ever seeing her son or ever holding him.
Baby Leon was a silent baby. He made no sound after a thirty minute struggle to have his breath. His father found the body of his wife and the baby with tubes along his nose and IV drip in the nursery. Joseph was inconsolable. But like all things life and death, he had to attend to the final rites of his beloved wife and bury her. Then he came for his baby.
The doctor could not look him in the eye as he explained what he could expect from his son. That it was quite possible that Leon’s brain was damaged by the difficult birth process.
How much could a man take, Joseph thought as he fought a fresh bout of tears?
“I see,” Joseph mumbled. As a matter of fact, he did not see anything but a long stretch of misery and darkness.
He did take his son home. He had taken leave to take care of the matters surrounding him. He installed little Leon in his bedroom and took to caring for his son henceforth.
It was hard and he had to engage a nurse. The boy grew but slowly. Unlike most kids his age, he could not support his frame at eight months and only managed to sit at one-and-a-half-years of age.
Joseph had by then changed careers and was now a stay at home daddy working online to support himself and his son.
His family was supportive but in a very intrusive manner. His mother was of the opinion that he should marry another woman to help him take care of the boy. Joseph knew not to argue though that consideration was a dead thought.
His sister had tried a hundred times to hitch him to a girlfriend of hers as a potential candidate for a wife. Joseph, having installed a CCTV camera in all the rooms in the house was shocked at the prospective girlfriend’s reaction to Leon. Horror was evident even as she sweetly smiled at him.
As years rolled on, Leon learnt some basics. He smiled more to his dad. He could identify some animals on the chart that Joseph used to teach him. He could call the family dog, which was his best friend, as well as the sly cat that kept escaping his grasp every time Leon tried to catch it. Those were moments that brought joy and tears to Joseph’s eyes.
Then, one day when Leon was seven, as the family watched cartoon in their living room, Leon turned and said, “Aba one you.”
Joseph almost fell over. In tears, he kept saying over and over again, “O my God! O my God! I love you too. I love you too, Son.”
He even called his doctor to share the good news seeing that he did’t have many friends.
He hugged his son on and on and kept tempting him to repeat the magical words. Lean didn’t.
Most afternoons, Joseph took Leon swimming. That was a recommendation from the doctor. So, after the wonderful affirmation that his son might eventually speak normally, it was time for their swimming class.
As Joseph bent over Leon to prepare him for swimming, something seemed strange. Leon seemed to be smiling, but this time there was no drool on the sides of his mouth. Leon’s brown eyes were fixed on his face.
Joseph sat up straight.
“Leon,” he cried. Panic washed over him in waves.
The empty stare and the fixed smile.
Joseph let out such a scream, the neighbors came running.
At little Leon’s funeral, Joseph allowed no one to speak of his son but himself. Even then, he chose to recite a poem:
To Leon, My Broken Sparrow
You came whole baby sparrow,
En route, brokenness grazed your hand,
You landed on loves lap taking the tit away,
Leon, my broken sparrow,
You said you loved me and I believed,
You held my hand when insanity threatened to take me away,
You taught me about humanity beyond what psychologists could ever know,
Leon, my broken sparrow, how I loved you so,
And knowing about love and how it never ends,
Your body like your mama’s here I let you live,
But in my heart of hearts where soul lives eternal,
I treasure what we had and what we didn’t have, all in the safety of memories,
So goodbye my little sparrow for now you are made whole
Those who have heard the story of baby Leon have had constant tears running down their cheeks. It is the story of loss, grief, and love beyond what many things they can handle. Many thought Joseph had gone made. A few knew that Joseph had accepted his fate with his creator. Tears express both sorrow and joy.
Originally published in Autism: An Advocate Initiative
© 2019, Nancy Ndeke
NANCY NDEKE is the Associate Editor of Liberated Voices, a Poet of international acclaim, and a reputable literary arts consultant. Her writings and her poetry are featured in several collections, anthologies and publications around the globe including the American magazine Wild Fire, Save Africa Anthology. World Federation of Poets in Mexico. Ndeke is a Resident Contributor of the Brave Voices Poetry Journal since mid-2018. African Contributor to the DIFFERENT TRUTHS, a publication that sensitizes the world on the plight of Autism edited by Aridham Roy. SAVE AFRCA ANTHOLOGY, edited by Prof. Dave Gretch of Canada and reviewed by Joseph Spence Jr., has featured her poetry and a paper on issues afflicting Africa and Africans.