Ayomide and Ireti
"I never felt that ‘tick, tick, tick’ of the biological clock that women talk about. Never.”"
Earth - New Athens
The Whole Truth
The process had been long. Multiple interviews, a thorough background check, and intrusive questions. Ayomide had endured them all without complaint. After all, sitting in the refugee camps gave her too much time on her hands. Too much time to think of her family, lost to her, thanks to the ESH virus.
The questioning, however, had taken a turn for the worse. The girl, and she was but a slip of a girl, frowned at the tablet in her hand. Ayomide wondered what tiny detail of her life was a problem now. A less than stellar grade in primary school, perhaps? An argument with a neighbor? Had she annoyed someone at the refugee camp or said something wrong?
Her English was flawless, or so she had been told, but occasionally she found herself floundering over the multiple meanings of words. Learning English in a classroom is not the same as speaking it, listening to it, and living it each day. It was a challenge each day, in this alien place. She missed Nigeria at times, the smells and sounds were different here, the pace and culture altered, even among other Nigerians. Few were Yoruban, in any case, and she longed to hear her native language spoken by another voice.
Ayomide sighed, and smoothed her dress, flicking away an errant remnant of leaf. It was fall, and outside the trees were shedding their leaves in a bright and grandiose display of oranges, reds and yellows. It contrasted sharply with the white spires of the new buildings that rose organically from the ashes of the world that was.
“Ms. Batan, I see that you were married with two children?”
A flash of memory, the knife in her hand, arcing into Bankole. Too late, too late.
Another frown and the girl glanced up then, meeting Ayomide’s gaze. “It says here the children were both AB negative, though.”
Ayomide tried to swallow past the lump in her throat. “Yes, they were. My husband was not.” She felt her stomach flip. She knew what the girl would ask next, and she dreaded it. She briefly considered refusing to answer. To do so, though, would mean returning to the refugee center without a job, without something, anything, to occupy her days. She would have to tell the whole truth, and hope that they wouldn’t boot her out of this shiny new office. Worse, out of the refugee center as well. Beneath her brightly colored dress, she felt the sweat begin to build under her armpits. Why had she said “yes” when they asked for Yoruban refugees who had nannying experience? Better to work in a kitchen, far away from children, far away from the reminders of what she had lost. The knife in her hand, the memory so sharp, so painful. The blood. The loss.
She realized the girl was looking at her. Waiting for her to speak. To explain. Ayomide’s chest was tight, her breathing constricted. They would throw her out, maybe even send her back to Nigeria, back to her memories and loss and empty, empty life. But the truth needed to be spoken, so Ayomide sucked a deep breath in, and opened her mouth.
With Her Life
Jack looked up at the brisk knock on his open door. Mireille Marcelin stood there, tablet in hand.
“We need to talk about the nanny candidates.” She strode into his office, balancing precariously on heels, her stomach round and full. He wasn’t sure how she managed walking in the spiky heels with her center of gravity having changed so drastically. But nothing about Mireille could be taken for granted. From her pushes to enact draconian pro-birth legislation to her own fierce dedication to the cause, she was a force of nature.
“Now?” He was in the middle of a disaster. One of the Unaffected Persons cities in South Africa was reporting a potential ESH outbreak. Between that and supply issues on the East coast, along with several reports out of the decaying swamp New York had become, Jack could do with one less issue.
Mireille sat in the seat across from him and said nothing, her fingers flying across her tablet screen. A second later, Jack’s tablet beeped with a notification. He looked down at the short list of candidates. The Chairwoman wasn’t due to give birth for another month, but it seemed Mireille was determined to tackle the nanny issue now. And who was he to argue with a hormonal pregnant woman? Especially when she was carrying his child.
He suppressed a sigh, and focused on the data.
“Ayomide Batan is my first choice.” Mireille added, shifting in her seat and grimacing as she placed a hand on her lower back.
Jack opened the file and scanned the record. A pleasant, round-faced woman in traditional African garb smiled up at him. He could see she was currently in one of the refugee camps on the outskirts of New Athens and had been there for nearly four months. Husband deceased. Children, two of them, both deceased. Jack looked back up from the tablet, his shoulders lifting in a shrug.
Mireille raised her eyebrows, pointed at the tablet. “Read the last interview.”
Jack suppressed a flash of annoyance. What could be so pressing about a nanny, anyway? He clicked on the links, scanned down the list to the most recent date, and began to read. His skin began to crawl.
“Jesus Christ, Mireille.”
“Why in the hell is she at the top of your list?” Jack said, staring at the words in horror, then back at the beautiful young woman sitting in front of him. “She killed her husband!”
Mireille leaned forward, her brown eyes flashing. “Yes, but look at why she did it, Jack. She did it to save her child. It was too late for the boy, but she stopped her husband, a man twice her size. Stronger. Maddened from the ESH virus. But she stopped him. And the little girl died two days later at the hospital after a hell of a fight to save her life. Look at the account. She ran with her child for two miles, while wounded, and nearly died herself. She did everything she could to save her child’s life. And I believe she will do that for the Chairwoman’s baby as well. This woman would protect that baby with her life. And after Aiden, isn’t that what we need? Someone who will lay down their life in service? She killed her husband, someone she refers to as the love of her life, in order to save her child. That’s who we need in the inner circle of the Chairwoman’s world.”
She leaned back and ticked off the points on her hand.
“Widowed, childless, from Yoruba, just as the sperm donor was, and willing to do whatever is necessary to save the life of a child. She’s perfect.”
Mireille shifted, her left hand rubbing her lower back, a smug, satisfied smile on her face.
Jack shook his head, read the interview again, and tried not to be sick. Ayomide Batan had gone to the grocery store, alone, leaving her healthy, ESH-immune children behind with her husband. Only to return and find him having killed their son, partially consumed the boy, and also mortally wounded their daughter.
It was the stuff of nightmares.
“Are you sure she’s emotionally stable enough? She killed him, for Chrissake. She saw her son partially eaten and she watched her daughter die. That leaves terrible psychological wounds.”
Mireille nodded, her smug smile slipping. “It was the first thing I checked after she told me her story. You will find a full psychological assessment at the bottom. Two actually. She had to pass an initial one just to qualify as a refugee. There’s trauma, sure. But if you read the second one you will see that she not only participated in therapy extensively, both before and after she arrived in New Athens, but she has also been working as a grief counselor adjunct under the director of the camp. She had the training prior to marriage and family, and the director credited her with saving five from potential suicides. He wrote that if a full-time counseling position were available, he would place her at the top of the list of candidates. But we already had that well in hand, and Ms. Batan is hoping to find a more positive environment. She worked as a nanny while attending graduate school.”
Jack sat back, stroking his chin. The three days growth was still itchy and stubbly. He had always kept it clean-shaven, but after a particularly harrowing three days of one emergency after another, Mireille had told him in no uncertain terms how sexy she found his unkempt face. He had disagreed, and she had insisted on at least a goatee, which he was trying for the sake of peace. Once she latched onto an idea, no amount of arguing would dissuade her. Which was likely the case now, with the nanny position.
“We need at least two more nannies. They need to be available in shifts and allow for days off.”
Mireille nodded. “Which is why I’ve listed eight choices, but the top four are the finalists, and Ayomide is my number one.” Her smile disappeared. “There’s something about her, Jack. She’s important.” Her hand stroked her rounded belly. “And she deserves happiness.”
“Happiness or love?”
“She will be the child’s nanny, not her mother.” Jack temporized.
“A child can sense if it isn’t loved,” Mireille fired back. “The nannies I chose all have the capacity to love that baby more than Madeline ever will.”
Jack’s eyebrows shot up in response. Mireille snorted.
“Come off it, Jack. Madeline isn’t the maternal type and you know it as much as I do. You know I’m right. About the Chairwoman, about Ms. Batan. This baby will need someone who loves it, who would die for it.”
“And you think that is Ayomide Batan?”
“Fine.” Jack reached out and scribbled his signature into the tablet and pressed Send. “Hire her.”
Mireille smiled. “I’ll deliver the news myself. I need to swing by that corner of town this afternoon for a few errands.” She stood up awkwardly, and Jack’s gaze once again fell to her spiky high heels. Mireille winked at him. “I’m not giving them up. It’s how you noticed me in the first place.”
Despite her rounded belly, she managed to make her hips do that sexy sashay and she walked away.
Two Weeks Early
Ayomide was less surprised by the news that they needed her services two weeks early than she was by the fact that they wanted her at all. When the notification had flashed across her tablet, she had waited to open up the message until after dinner.
One night a week, she volunteered in the kitchen of the refugee camp. The head chef had asked if there were any special dishes she wanted to share and this had coincided with the rare and heartwarming birth of twins the night before to a fellow Nigerian refugee. Ayomide had carefully reproduced her mother’s recipe for Ewa Agoyin, a dish of beans with pepper sauce, edged with plantain. It had been received well, especially by her countrymen, and the twins mother had cried with joy, hugging Ayomide close.
Still, she stared at the notification of the email with trepidation. The little slip of a girl, heavy with child, had come to her at the camp personally two weeks ago, with the offer of the position. She had been clear, however, that it would not be for another month.
Ayomide had been surprised, so sure that she had no chance after having told her story to this young woman clad in expensive clothing who had looked pale and unsettled as she ended the last interview. The older woman had been certain her chance to watch any child, much less that of the Chairwoman of the Terran United Planetary Government’s child, was as dead as her family. Instead, Mireille had offered her the position.
Surely now she had changed her mind. She’d thought about it and found that a woman capable of killing her own husband could never be trusted with a tiny, innocent child. It had been a beautiful fantasy, the thought of holding a child again. But now it was over. Here, alone in her tiny room, the plasteel walls that muted much of the noise outside and held her narrow bunk and a tiny dresser of clothes, here she would be able to grieve this lost chance. Her finger hovered over the open button, interrupted by the device’s buzz. An incoming call. She pressed Accept.
“Ms. Batan?” Mireille’s familiar voice sounded over the speaker. “Ms. Batan, did you receive my message earlier?”
“No, I was serving dinner.” Ayomide answered, cautiously. Mireille’s tone didn’t sound grim. It sounded buoyant, excited.
“Ah, yes, I remember you saying something about that. Well, I’m calling because Madame Chairwoman Chen delivered early, just a few hours ago, actually, and I was hoping you could come in tomorrow instead of in two weeks.”
“I…” Ayomide blinked in shock. “Yes, I can be there tomorrow.”
“Excellent. I’ll send over the information and pass you will need for full access. And since we have all of your other paperwork already completed, there will just be a few signatures and disclosures to do before you can meet little Ireti!”
Hope. The child’s name meant hope. In that moment, hope was the overriding emotion that surged through Ayomide. A child to hold and care for and love. Hope. For the world’s future. Tears formed in her eyes.
“Thank you, Miss Marcelin.” She hoped the girl couldn’t hear the warble of emotion in her voice.
“Call me, Mireille, Ms. Batan. I’ll see you tomorrow.” A soft click and the line disconnected. Ayomide stared at the tablet, and sat down slowly on her narrow bed. She started tomorrow.
She is Easy to Love
Ireti was tiny, far smaller than either of Ayomide’s children had been. Akande, her eldest, had been a hefty four kilograms, while Ade had slid quietly into the world at just over three kilograms. Ireti couldn’t weigh more than two and a half. The nurse, a petite, dark-haired and olive-skinned woman had watched over the tiny baby for what felt like a long time, as Ayomide shifted the tiny newborn in her arms and fed her a bottle of breastmilk. The refrigerator was stocked with bottles and bottles of it. More than could possibly have come from Chairwoman Chen. Ayomide had overheard the nurses discussing it. Her milk hadn’t come in, and even if it did, no one was sure she would be enough production to keep up. Hence the banked breast milk. Women were losing babies in record numbers, even late term, and in some cases were encouraged to pump in order to give a precious gift to those few babies who survived. The stores of breast milk were growing faster than the demand.
Ireti’s skin was paler than Ayomide’s. She examined the newborn’s tiny fist, closed tight around her pointer finger. Her skin was the color of coffee with a generous addition of cream, whereas Ayomide’s was that of dark toffee. Not surprising considering the Chairwoman looked more like bone china, and just as translucent. Ireti had a voracious appetite, however, and Ayomide could not help but smile as the tiny infant made short work of the bottle and then, with gentle encouragement, burped. The smell of sweet milk wafted through the air.
Ayomide’s mouth hurt from smiling. Holding this tiny baby, this vessel of unimaginable potential set at the beginning of a hopefully long and happy life, was exactly what she had needed. It was overwhelming at times. She had spent almost a week with Ireti, holding her, singing to her, feeding and caring for her. And the smile stayed. Even as tears ran down her face. Memories of her two beautiful children, of their laughter and love and giggles, washing over her. Ireti is not your child, she reminded herself at intervals. But it was easy to forget when the hours stretched between visits from Chairwoman Chen.
Madeline Chen had given birth, spent a mere two days recovering, and then returned to work, visiting once in the morning and once in the evening, every day. Always a handful of advisers by her side at any given time, vying for her attention.
Ayomide found that her initial nerves at meeting the leader of Earth faded in the face of Madeline’s smile. The fiery-haired woman had a backbone of steel, but she was also kind. She didn’t speak down to Ayomide, and moved with grace whenever she entered the nursery. Ireti, already bonding to Ayomide, shifted restlessly in her mother’s arms whenever Madeline Chen held her, fussing. It was as if she sensed that Madeline was unmoored by her child and the mysterious status of motherhood. The visits grew shorter and shorter.
Ayomide, on the other hand, began to revel in the position she held. Yes, she shared it with others, and yes, they were kind and wonderful women, all of them, but there was something about her time with Ireti that nothing else compared to. When she left her and went back to her small apartment in the south wing, a spacious place provided as part of her position, she struggled with what to do with herself in her off-hours. She wanted to hold Ireti close. To smell her sweet, cloying baby smell.
There was a spot, right near the soft fontanel, the opening in the skull that all babies have, that she would press her nose gently against. If she could sit there, unmoving, and just breathe that beautiful scent in for hours, the day would be perfection.
In time, hours would go by without any interruption. Outside of the nursery doors, here in the inner seat of power, laws were being created, rebellions squashed, and the future of the human race hung in the balance. But inside of the nursery, all of that faded away. It was simply the two of them inside of a suite of rooms dedicated to harmony, peace, and love. Soft blankets, lighting that was never harsh or blinding, and the sound of Ayomide’s voice singing her charge to sleep, kept the outside world at bay.
Even the news of the monstrous asteroid, Azrael, hurtling toward Earth, threatening to destroy the ragtag remnants of the human race could not break her free from the simple joy of caring for Ireti.
Ayomide knew that the Chairwoman’s child would be spirited to safety long before disaster struck. And as she rocked the little baby to sleep, nothing past Ireti’s own survival mattered to her. The other nannies fretted, worried, but they still had ties to the world. Friends. Even family. Ayomide had nothing and no one past Ireti. She wasn’t standoffish, nor even really against making connections with others, not at all. It was simply that she existed for one person, and one person alone. Ireti.
She is so easy to love. What more could I ask for in this world?
Weeks. Months. More than a year had gone by. Her feelings remained the same. And Ireti clung to her, smiled like the sun when she arrived in the morning, and babbled happily at her all day.
Ayomide was singing Ireti’s favorite song, the song Ayomide’s own children had loved, when Madeline Chen entered the room one afternoon.
Nitori l’otito ni wura
Iyebiye ti ko ṣee ṣe pataki
Eyi ti o ntan ati didan
Ni awọn ọjọ ti o ṣokunkun julọ ti igbesi aye
Tutu awọn irora wa ti o jinlẹ julọ
Idaduro wa lailewu nipasẹ awọn iji lile ti igbesi aye
Ki a le tàn ninu goolu gara
Ireti was smiling broadly at Ayomide. She loved the song. She didn’t care that her mother had come into the nursery, in fact, she barely noticed she was there. All of her being was focused on the song. Her body swayed in time to Ayomide’s singing, her tiny fingers kept a beat of sorts.
Ayomide was surprised to see Madeline. It was the middle of the day, and it was unusual for the Chairwoman to visit at this time of day. This was good, since Ireti had just woken from a short nap. She would have been fussy just an hour before. Ayomide felt torn between continuing to hold the little girl and sing as the toddler wanted, or breaking routine and acknowledging that the child’s mother had entered the room. Better to recognize her, she decided. She pointed to the Chairwoman, “Ireti, your iya, your mama, is here to see you!” She smiled at Madeline and bowed her head in a sign of respect. “Ma’am.”
“The song you were singing, Ayomide, it was lovely.” Madeline reached out and tried to caress Ireti’s hair. Ayomide flushed in embarrassment as Ireti turned away and buried her tiny head in Ayomide’s chest.
“She just woke up and is still tired. I am sorry, ma’am.” Ayomide’s anxiety flared, and she watched the Chairwoman’s hand drop away.
“No, no, it is nothing. Don’t worry, Ayomide, she feels safe with you, and that is good. It is as it should be.”
“It is a Yoruba lullaby,” Ayomide said, returning to Madeline’s question, one hand stroking Ireti’s back. “Mother is gold, a treasure untold,” she said and then hummed the song again under her breath.
Madeline sat down on the couch. “It’s lovely. I can see that Ireti likes it.”
“She is a wonderful baby, ma’am. I so enjoy my time with her. Would you like to hold her?”
“When she is ready, yes. But for now, she looks content in your arms, Ayomide. Tell me,” the Chairwoman asked, “what does your name mean?”
“My name?” Ayomide smiled. “It means ‘when joy returns.’ I was the only girl after five boys and my mother was so very happy. She finally had the girl she was hoping for.”
“Ireti means hope, as I imagine you know already.”
“Yes,” Ayomide said, nodding, “very appropriate.”
“Did you have children before, Ayomide?”
She paused from rubbing Ireti’s back, and nodded slowly. “Yes, ma’am, I had two children. One boy, Akande, and a girl, Ade. They died with their father early in the outbreak. The children were both immune, as I was, but their father was not. My Bankole was a good man, kind and patient, but the virus turned him into something I could not recognize.” She paused, gently gathered Ireti, and handed her to Madeline before continuing.
“I think about that day often. What I could have done different. Had I known what would happen, how the hunger would overtake him, I would have sent him out to the store instead. Or taken our sweet children with me.” She stared at her empty hands. “But I didn’t take them with me, or send him out for food. I didn’t do that.”
Ireti sat calmly in Madeline’s arms. She reached up and touched Madeline’s face.
“She is perfect. Exactly what my aching heart has needed,” Ayomide said. “It is so easy to love her.”
“Yes,” Madeline echoed, “Babies are so easy to love.”
The Chairwoman didn’t react as Ireti slid from her arms and crawled away from both women to play with a ball on the floor. And later, as Madeline Chen left the nursery, her daughter barely noticed her departure.
Ayomide sighed, partly in relief, but also in sadness. For Madeline Chen, who despite leading the entire world, seemed hopeless at making a connection with her own flesh and blood. And for herself. She is not your child.
Ayomide could not help thinking of how Ireti’s face lit up in the morning when Ayomide came in and took over for the evening shift, a cheerful round-faced young woman who had suffered two miscarriages, one late term, in the past year. It was Ayomide that Ireti gravitated to, was bonded closest with. It was Ayomide who felt her heart leap in return with every smile, every slobbery toddler kiss. She loved this child. More than she should. No matter that every morning and every evening she told herself the same five words she had said from the beginning. She is not your child. It didn’t matter. Heart and soul, she loved Ireti, and she knew the little girl felt the same way. Madeline was a mother in name only.
Slowly, that reminder was changing to the question, always the question. What will Ireti do when I am gone?
Reading of the Names
Ayomide kissed Ireti good night, waited until the little girl’s eyes had grown heavy with sleep, and slowly stole away, closing the nursery door behind her as she left. Her room was just next door, a sharp departure from the large and rather empty apartment she had occupied in the south wing. She had left it a year ago, shortly after a spate of unrest, which had included the loss of two of the nanny team members. One to childbirth, one to suicide. It had been Chairwoman Chen who suggested it, and Ayomide had not questioned, she’d been far too happy at the turn of events to argue. A chance to be with Ireti more? Absolutely. Now, the only time they were apart was on her days off. The other nanny, Deirdre, content to work part-time now that she was remarried and she and her husband were busy trying for a child. They already had won coveted space in the Cheyenne Mountain Complex shortly after the reading of the names. Both were young, with years of potential fertility in front of them should the nanite research currently rumored to be in final testing become effective and reverse the damage done by the ESH virus.
A spot of tea and then off to bed. Ireti had been waking earlier in the morning as she edged closer to her third birthday. Her hand had closed on the hot water kettle in the small kitchenette when a soft knock came at the door, followed by it gliding open.
Ayomide blinked in surprise. “Madame Chairwoman, good evening.”
Madeline smiled briefly and looked about the room. “Is she…?”
“Already asleep, ma’am. I could wake her if you would like, or…”
Madeline waved a hand. “No, no, actually, I was hoping to speak with you alone, Ayomide. If you don’t mind.”
Ayomide’s heart skipped a beat and she felt sick. Now would be when the Chairwoman came to tell her she was no longer needed. That Ireti would be leaving on a starship to Mars, safely tucked in Cryo, to sleep while Earth died. She is not your child. No matter how many times she told herself that, it didn’t matter. She felt how she felt.
“Is it time for Ireti to go into Cryo,” she asked, her fingers still clutching the teapot. Madeline’s eyes focused on the teapot.
“Would you mind if we had some tea and discussed what happens next?” Madeline said, her tone kind, as if she were speaking to a friend.
“Of course. I was about to make a Nigerian tea. It is, how do you say, like, hm, hot chocolate? It is Ireti’s favorite drink.”
Madeline smiled warmly. “I would like that, yes.”
Ayomide set the water pot to boil and retrieved the evaporated milk from the refrigerator and the Milo from the cabinet. She poured the concoction together in two mugs and handed one to Madeline, who was examining a drawing Ireti had made of Ayomide that morning.
“Thank you.” Madeline accepted the steaming mug from Ayomide and they both sat down at the round kitchen table. She gestured toward the drawing. “She is improving. Such detail!”
Ireti had spent nearly thirty minutes focusing on Ayomide’s dress - a predominantly purple satin with red piping and gold sleeves. She smiled, thinking of Ireti’s determination to capture her likeness just so. “She is very talented, Madame Chairwoman.”
“Call me Madeline, Ms. Batan.”
“Only if you will call me Ayomide, ma’am.”
They shared a smile, as if it were a secret, and sipped their tea for a moment in silence.
“You withdrew your name from consideration, Ayomide. I wanted to know why.”
Ayomide hid her surprise by staring at her teacup. It was a moment before she could summon the words. When she did, they came out as a whisper.
“When Ireti boards the ship for Mars, there will be nothing left for me here on Earth. There are others far more deserving of a future than myself.”
“Have you considered how Ireti would feel, Ayomide?”
Ayomide could not meet the Chairwoman’s eyes. As it was, they were quickly filling with tears. The thought of saying goodbye to her…she is NOT your child…to Madeline’s child, was breaking her heart.
“She will have her mother to watch over her, ma’am.”
Madeline stood abruptly, her tea sloshing over the side of the cup. She strode to the door and opened it. One of her aides, a tall, grim-faced man stood on the other side. He handed her a thin tablet. “Thank you, Jack, that will be all for tonight.”
“Yes, ma’am.” He glanced towards Ayomide with an inscrutable expression before the door shut, Madeline returned to the table, the tablet glowing in her hand. She set it down next to Ayomide’s tea cup and pushed it closer to her.
“I’ll need you to read this, Ayomide.” She settled down in the seat, reached for a napkin and wiped absently at the spilled tea before taking a sip. “This is quite lovely tea. I wish I had gotten to try it sooner. I think I’d prefer it over coffee any day.”
Ayomide barely heard the Chairwoman’s words. Her eyes, having blinked away the tears, were drawn to the tablet in confusion and shock. She reached out, paged through it, and gasped. The words before her, they made no sense.
Articles of adoption.
Official birth certificate for Ireti Batan
Assignment to the Masa Depan Bumi lifeship for Ayomide and Ireti Batan
Moments passed. Ayomide paged through the documents, then returned and paged through them again.
“I… I don’t, I don’t understand.”
Madeline sipped the tea. “Ayomide,” she said softly, “you are a mother.” She reached for her wedding ring, a large marquise cut antique behemoth that hung loose on her right hand. “Gary never wanted children. Truth be told, neither did I. My sister had three, you know.” She laughed. It was short, aborted. “My sister was one of those super moms. House, children, business - everything perfect. She could do it all. But me, I was a politician’s wife. I was good at it, too. I never felt that ‘tick, tick, tick’ of the biological clock that women talk about. Never.”
She stood up, her long, slender legs carrying her about the room in an random, nervous pattern. Ayomide realized that even now, no part of the Chairwoman could be still or quiet. It wasn’t in her DNA.
“I followed the advice of my advisers. And it was good advice. It was! Millions of women looked to me as a beacon for change. The opportunity to rebuild our civilization, to show them motherhood was what we needed in these dark, terrible days. And Ireti is beautiful and sweet and so smart.” She stopped then, staring once again at the carefully rendered colors of Ayomide’s dress in Ireti’s drawing. She turned and Ayomide saw a flash of regret, sadness in her eyes.
“But it is you that she loves, Ayomide. I gave birth to her, yes. But I’m not her mother. You are.” She sighed then. “Sign the document. Please. Sign it and you and your daughter will board the lifeship in two days.”
Ayomide shook her head, tears welling in her eyes. “You don’t know what I did, ma’am. To my… to my husband. If you did, you would never have…”
Madeline interrupted her with a sharp bark of laughter. “Of course I know, Ayomide. You tried to save your child from a terrible death. You ran with her in your arms, fended off attacks by others maddened with the ESH virus, and got her to the hospital. You did everything you could to protect your child. Just as you will do everything in your power to protect Ireti. A child I know that you love. Did you really think I wouldn’t know exactly who was caring for her? When Jack showed me the report and told me Mireille had picked you, he didn’t understand, but I did. I knew that Ireti deserved someone who would do anything to keep her safe. And you will do it, and you will love her, more than anyone else. What more could I ask for? Biology aside, Ayomide, she is your child.”
Masa Depan Bumi
The next two days had passed in a blur. The documents were signed, witnessed by the off-duty nanny, Deirdre and were legally binding. Madeline Chen had come the last night of Ayomide’s and Ireti’s stay on Earth and said goodbye to her child.
“You are going on a grand adventure, child. But Ayomide will be by your side.” She didn’t explain beyond that, and Ireti didn’t ask. Shy and reticent, it was only after Madeline turned away that Ireti had run to her and given her a hug goodbye, surprising them both.
The day was sunny and beautiful. There was nothing in the sky that so much as hinted toward the destruction to come. The day was cloudless and blue.
Ayomide held Ireti’s hand in hers. The anonymity of it all felt surreal. At the age of three, Ireti had rarely seen beyond the walls of the Chairwoman’s residence. Her face, always blurred on the feeds to protect her privacy, was mostly unknown. And here they stood, Ireti’s body nestled close against her, anxious at the change in routine and the growling in her small belly. No meals after midnight, after all, so that Cryo didn’t have an unexpected deleterious effect on her tiny body.
“Will I dream?”
Ayomide considered this for a moment. Ireti’s hair was pulled back in a simple set of neat braids, her little brown eyes stared up at her with a mixture of apprehension and excitement.
“I do not know.”
Ireti looked pensive. “If we dream, I want us to have the same dream. I think that would be very nice.”
Ayomide felt a smile stretch her lips wide. “Yes, that would.”
The line moved forward and Ayomide looked around at the city spires in the distance, and the massive lifeship that stood before them now. This world had seen so much death. It would see more. It would see destruction. The seas would boil, and hellfire would rain down from above. Despite this, she felt hope. Hope for the years that would follow. Ireti’s hand held firmly in hers. Her future, their future, stood waiting millions of miles away and years in the future. And she would do everything in her power to give her child the best future possible.