“Mum, ask me a question.” Martin doodles on his notebook. We are seated side by side, so close that our hips touch.
“Let me think of one.”
“You always ask me challenging questions that make me think.” He smiles at me, pausing in his drawing.
“I’m sorry, son, I can’t think of one today. My brain is too sad to think of a question.”
“My brain is sad, too, Mum.”
“I’m going to miss you.”
“Me, too, but African men don’t cry. When we’re sad we just feel out of place.”
“That makes sense to me. I feel out of place, but I’ll probably cry a little tomorrow.”
“Don’t cry, Mum.”
“I might. But I did think of a question.”
“What is it?”
“My question is ‘What have you been thinking about today?’.”
“What have you been thinking about today?” Martin bats the question back to me with a familiar twinkle in his eye.
“I asked you first. So you have to answer first.” I nudge him with my elbow.
“Give me another question.”
“Okay, how about this. My boda driver asked me if any of the students had given me an Acholi name yet. I told him no. He said I should be named Aber Alicia because ‘aber’ means good and he says I’m good to everyone. Do you think that’s a good name for me?”
“No, it’s no good. Your name is Lanyero. Lanyero Alicia is what you should be called.”
“What does it mean?”
“Lanyero means peaceful, joyous, happy. It also means comforter.” He meets my eyes and mine well up with tears. He looks down at his sketches.
“I love it. Did you know that Alicia means ‘truthful one’?”
“No, I didn’t know it.”
“So Lanyero Alicia means ‘one who takes joy in telling the truth’.”
“Mum, I’m really going to miss you.”
“Me, too. I feel like my heart is in my throat.”
Martin shoots me a puzzled look.
“That means I’m really sad. I’m having a hard time swallowing my sadness back down.”
“You’ve taught me something new, Mum. My heart is on my throat, too.”
I feel a smile slip through my lips as I picture his heart on his throat.
“You can cry if you want to, Mum. African women cry very loudly.”
“I’m not African, Martin.”
“Yes, you are. I just named you so. Lanyero Alicia. But I won’t call you that.”
“You won’t? Why not?”
“I’ll call you Lanyero Mama.”
“That’s my favorite name.” I put my arm around him and squeeze this boy who named me, this son who has claimed me as his unlikely mother.