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Ummi Ikrimma sees the uncovered iron kettle boiling as she bends to adjust the burning woods, her eyes teary from the smoke. She can hear Talha’s uncontrollable cry in her two-year-old voice and Ikrimma, her sister, in vain, invents several antics to pacify him, at some point tickling him, singing some of the Arabic songs she had learned by heart in her evening madrasah to him.
Adjusting her hijab, Ummi Ikrimma bends to pick the blue, round rubber cup. In it is raw pap. She adds boiled water, careful enough not to add too much. She wants it to be somewhat thick. She always makes thick pap when she can afford milk. Now, she adds a sachet of milk and begins to stir. When she is done, she calls on Ikrimma to bring her little crying brother.
Ummi Ikrimma moves a little away from the fire, and takes the crying child, after tickling him a little, saying, “Asukwayi kama ku ve, ohu yor-nor, I am here now, okay? Okay.” She drags her long wrapper up to her thighs and removes his white galabiya, stripping him naked. Talha is silent now for a while, lying supine on his mother’s lap. Ummi Ikrimma tests the hotness of the pap. Talha begins to cry again.
The pap is a bit hot. Ummi Ikrimma takes a spoon to his mouth, breathes on it to cool it, and places the spoon in his mouth. Talha moves his mouth away, refusing it. Ummi Ikrimma is used to this: his protest, his ability to be hungry and still refusing food. She takes the first and takes another spoonful to his mouth, but he refuses again. She knows what to do. She picks the cup, cups her hand and starts to force-feed him. This is usually her last resort when the baby refuses to eat. In response, Talha becomes aggressive and seeks escape. He gurgles, chokes, struggles with every limb flaying and every muscle constricting, the gag reflex striving with purring, coughing sounds.
And that is what Talha is doing now, but not only that; Talha is also fighting for his life and Ummi Ikrimma thinks he is feigning it. The more he seeks to escape, the more intense she presses him down. Ikrimma holds his legs, waiting for the remnants of pap that Ummi Ikrimma usually gives her. It happens quickly without warning — not that things like this give warnings anyway. It happens in two steps: first, he is protesting less and less and his mother knows this is unusual but she thinks the toddler is beginning to accept the fact that he can’t escape from the food he needs to take. And then his eyes resign, closing momentarily as his breathing slows to the void embracing a growing, faint blackness. Ikrimma holds on and Ummi Ikrimma feeds on, but it won’t take long before they realize the horror. The coldness will hit the mother first.