A Love Song to the RMI

I hum softly as you drift off in my arms. I watch as Mary breaks off from her twittering friends and wanders through the party in our direction. She doesn’t bother to make eye contact when she speaks; we gaze off at the same middle-distance, unmindful of the festivities.

That is your baby?


Whose baby?

He is Likto’s baby.

There is a pause in the conversation while Mary mulls over this apparently new information and I wonder how anything is ever news on this little island. You gurgle softly.

Your mother is Wijlang?


Likto mother is Wijlang.


Likto is your sister. That is your baby.

The tone of finality in Mary’s explanation of kinship is so absolute that, even if she had lingered long enough for a rebuttal, I knew there was no defense I could have mounted. I look down at you, now slumbering without reserve. Six months ago, I had no idea of your existence. But, that was six months ago.


You toddle to me with fierce determination and thump your hand on my shoulder. I might be 22 years your senior, but we both know you are the boss. I set aside my book.

‘Bo. Let’s walk.

It is clear that you will brook no discussion.

Jaja. ‘Bo. Hold me. Let’s walk.

You are impatient already at my split-second of hesitation. I chuckle. I comply.

We walk our customary path: two houses down to the right, turn, back past our house and one more, turn, repeat. At each turn, you protest, worried I might stop before you are finished. You needn’t worry. I know better.

I point to a chicken.

Ta ne? What’s that?

Bao! Chicken!

Ba ‘bye bao.’ Say ‘bye chicken.’

You know this game. We play it every time. You look at me like I am crazy. I persist.

Ba ‘bye bao.’ Say ‘bye chicken.’

I swear you shrug. You lift your hand off my arm and wave.

Bye bao. Bye chicken.


You giggle at my exuberant praise. It is unclear whether it is out of pride at your accomplishment or wonder at how easy I am to please.

Bye ni. Bye coconut tree.

My jaw drops. This has always been my game to lead. You answer to placate me. You fail to understand why you would acknowledge things that cannot acknowledge you. I blame your sister for that obstinacy. But, that was before.

Bye-bye ni. Bye-bye coconut tree.

You say it again because you understand that I am shocked into not lavishing praise. I realize I have stopped walking. I start again.

It’s my turn.

Bye ni! Bye coconut tree!

I swing you around and give you a giant kiss. You lean away from it, but that infectious smile of yours creeps across your face, ear to ear. I laugh, helpless to resist.


We sit on the porch enjoying the afternoon shade. Your Tootsie Pop is purple; mine is orange. Orange is the superior flavor, but at 18 months, I doubt you have learned this crucial life lesson. I offer you a taste.

You consider. Out comes your lollipop. Your tongue pokes out and your head falls towards the proffered candy.

You accept. You idly push the purple lollipop in my direction. Orange is yours now.

Fair enough. I offered.

But then, the orange is back out.

You shove it toward my mouth. The message is clear. Time to switch. You punctuate it anyway.

Kijo. My food.

We switch. We lick our reclaimed lollipops.

Kijo. My food.

The purple is back out and waving so close to my face that I worry about getting a sticky cheek. We switch.

Kijo. My food. Kijo. My food. Kijo. My food.

After the seventh switch, I wonder if you actually like sharing with me. Probably, you just want two lollipops.

Kijo. My food. Kijo. My food.

After the tenth switch, I bite the orange Tootsie in half. You try to do the same.

Kijo. My food.

I bite the purple Tootsie in half. You chortle in approval.

Kijo. My food.

You take both lollipops now, and you brandish them with a flourish. Purple lick, orange lick, purple lick. I stick out my tongue and you mimic. Yours a slightly revolting brownish. Mine probably is too.

You finish the orange lollipop and proffer the stick. I grab it with my teeth and pretend to eat it. You panic.

Kijo. My food.

You yank at my empty stick. You pull yours out and examine it. Yours is gone now too. You consider the conundrum. We switch.

Kijo. My food.

The sticks are getting soggy.

Kijo. My food.

There is no need to rush this moment.


You are crying and I hate it. We were sleeping and it was beautiful. With only four hours of sleep last night, I need this nap. It’s only Wednesday. You are still crying.

I drag myself out of bed; your dad is fishing and your mom is cooking. You are sitting up, testing the limits of your vocal chords.

Shhh. Shhpshhpshhpshh.

You are not amused. I pick you up. You settle your head onto my shoulder, babbling about all the ills of your world. I miss your more philosophical points, but I catch your displeasure at the absence of your cousin and the lack of balls or knives with which to play.

Limo, limo. My drink, my drink.

You start to fuss again. I bounce you on my hip as we walk to the icebox.

Limo! My drink!

You refuse to be put down so I balance the gallon carefully as I pour.

Limom. Your drink.

While you sip, I grab a pancake leftover from breakfast. I reconsider and snag two more and a plate. You still sit on my hip but I commentate.

Itok. Itok mok. Come. Come please.

We sit outside and trade bites of our snack. You guard our cup, refusing to share. I try to trick you, but your diligence is astounding. I glare and you smile, clinging all the tighter.

I abandon my pursuit. You note my momentary lapse and dump the rest of the cup on your lap. I cringe.

Kwotutu! Kwobot. You are wet! You’re naughty.

You purposely misread my scolding and happily splash your hands in your puddle.

Ukuk! Oh no!

I pick you up and pull you away from the water. You lean to keep splashing your hands. So, up! We spin around. Once, twice, thrice. I set you on your feet, and you wobble. You turn to me. clutch at my skirt. You are still beyond words, but your eyes are screaming for another round. So, up!


That is your baby?



Ij yokwe eok nan indeo.