By Scott Gray
“I don’t know, Sam. All I’m saying is that it didn’t sound like normal baby babble.”
Taj trains his light green eyes suspiciously on the infant uncomfortably squirming on a makeshift diaper changing station – an old Haiwain vacation towel hurriedly spread across the coffee table in the living room of their ‘cozy’ apartment.
“Normal? So now our baby’s not normal, Taj?” Sam sips from a steaming coffee mug, robe loosely shrugged over her shoulders, eyes raccoon-ringed by sleep deprivation and the strain of becoming a human feed bag.
“Look: you know that’s not what I mean. I’m not looking for a fight.” Taj wrinkles his nose as he scoops the oil-slicked diaper off his daughter like it’s toxic.
“I’m sorry; we’re both exhausted and everything about this is already so freaky and new.” Sam sighs, putting her cup down and walking over to lethargically stomp open the garbage can lid.
“The idea of having anything else to worry about is more than I really want to think about, you know?”
Taj holds up a tiny parcel of cloth-wrapped human waste, the smell outclassing its weight.
“Oh, I feel you, love. But…”
The diaper lands in the garbage with a wet thud.
“…I don’t want to be those horrible movie parents that let some sinister-ass shit happen because they won’t listen to their children.”
Taj picks up the now happily cooing, freshly changed child, staring into its should-be innocent face. He should want to do anything to protect her. Fight bears. Swim through lava. Punch God square in the crotch if need be. But honestly? She unnerves him. He starts to sweat. Like a sauna under his skin has been cranked to eleven.
Trying to bluff wellness, Taj passes the baby to Sam.
“I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with her we should be worried about. But come on: you must have heard some of it last night at least. That was not random goo-goo ga-ga shit.”
Cuddling the baby to her chest, Sam sighs, “Okay, sure. It did sound oddly….I don’t know – phonetic? Familiar? Fuck, Taj, we’re always at least half alseep. I don’t know what I heard.”
Taj locks his gaze on what he’s certain is a smirk curling his two-week old daughter’s face.
“Let’s record her tonight. Then we’ll know.”
Sam raises her eyebrows in exasperation, but it’s at least partly to hide the fear behind her eyes. “Seriously? Fine. Knock yourself out If it’ll get you to stop being so frigging weird about this”.
Taj peeks down into the crib his daughter is swaddled into. Moonlight glints off the metal of his phone as he selects a recording app.
“Okay, beanbag, don’t be creepy tonight, please? Daddy and mommy are just getting delirious and hearing things, right?”
The tiny girl abruptly stops smiling and stars directly into her father’s eyes for what seems like an entire minute to Taj.
“Goo” she intones.
Taj loosens his grip on his phone, seeing its outline deeply indented into his flesh as he switches hands to thumb the big red RECORD button.
“Right. Goodnight. I’m sure you’ll be screeching for tit as soon as I hit that sweet REM sleep spot.”
Taj swings the door half way shut and pads down the hall to his room. Sam is already snoring. Taj is out like a light the second his head hits the pillow, exhaustion triumphing over the anxiety taking root in his stomach.
“Kahiji kalina kuring ningali anjeunna, kuring terang kuring bakal ngagem rarayna”
“The first time I saw her, I knew I would wear her face.”
Taj squints at the Sudanese to English translation mocking him from his laptop screen.
Inhaling deeply, Taj searches forward for the marker he made on the audio file when the cadence changes in his infant daughter’s far too specific cooing.
“Bob tro dwi’n marw, dwi’n mynd â darn ohonyn nhw gyda mi”
“Every time I die, I take a piece of them with me.”
What the fuck? Taj silently mouths to himself, adjusting his earbuds to listen again, more out of obligation than the dubiousness he should be feeling about this Welsh translation.
“Em pregunto com provaran els seus crits aquesta vegada?”
“I wonder how their screams will taste this time?”
Catalan? What is this Exorcist shit? Taj’s mouth feels dry, his palms hot. He looks over at his wife and their still unnamed child sleeping peacefully on the bed. Taj flips forward to the next audio marker, gulping.
“Teraz je nás príliš veľa”
That’s Slovak for “There are too many of us now.”
Taj’s knuckles feel cold. Who does he could that could or would pull off a prank like this. But it’s clearly his daughter’s voice, and these are not sounds an infant this age should be making, even if he’s getting some of the words wrong.
Listening intently to his child’s voice that should not be as it contorts, Taj types:
“Kono karada de chissoku shite iru.”
The computer spits out Kanji characters and tells him:
“I’m suffocating in this body.”
Taj tries not to laugh as his eyes begin to sting. He mustn’t wake Sam or the baby while they’re getting much needed rest.
It’s the Latin translation that cracks Taj:
“Nihil est nihil hie apud vos manducare”
“There’s nothing left to eat in here.”
He lets out a strangled yelp cry laugh chimera of incomprehensible emotional discharge and slams his laptop shut.
Over on the bed, Sam yawns tiredly and stretches as the nameless baby gurgles awake.
“So, is our baby spitting out doomsday prophecies in her sleep, or telling us what she finally wants to be named, or what?”
Taj rubs his eyes and forces a yawn, pretending to be tired as he struggles to compartmentalize and regain his composure.
“No, honey, nothing to worry about – it’s just baby talk”.