Veronika’s first child was always laughing. She would push the pram around the streets, through the park, awkwardly manoeuvre it onto the tram (she always hoped that there wouldn’t be some well-meaning, clumsy type waiting at the stop, who would grab hold of the pram, almost tipping the child out, and insist on “helping her to get on”, continuing to do so until the tram left with an irritated ring of the bell) — and a loud baritone laugh could be heard from the pram. Veronika’s first child was like one of those toys that roar with laughter when you press a button. Strangers — passers-by in the street, old grannies in the park, passengers on the tram — would turn towards the sound, and after a moment’s hesitation the penny would drop and they would smile at both of them, and some of them would even burst into hearty laughter like Veronika’s child. That was all it took for somebody to give the two of them a dirty look. (That is, assuming they hadn’t seen Veronika’s child.)
Veronika’s child laughed when she brought him to her breast and almost choked with laughter in a torrent of milky bubbles when she burped him on her shoulder and then put him down in his cradle, that is the wicker dog basket with the pawprint design on the upholstery, because it was cheaper than a cradle and since she was young Veronika had always been accustomed to buying what was cheaper.
Veronika’s child laughed when he lifted his head in the cradle, and laughed when he was learning to take his first steps and all of a sudden sat down on his bottom. Veronika couldn’t help herself: she laughed along with him. She laughed when he threw up on her shoulder after he’d been fed, she laughed when she turned him over in the cradle with the pawprint pattern, and later she laughed when she picked him up out of the dust and blew on his knees. Veronika laughed her way through Ikenna’s early childhood. It was wonderful, just wonderful.
But other things weren’t so wonderful.
(Translated by Graeme Dibble)