I thought they knew. I thought mothers instinctively knew. That they knew what to do.
What is it, baba? she is saying to the crying infant. She’s already sniffed the nappy, no, it’s clean. Are you hungry, she asks, trying to encourage the bottle’s teat into the screaming mouth. Ah, baba, is it your teeth? Come here, she’s says lifting her from the pram into her arms. There, there. She turns the rigid little body and leans it against her chest, rubbing it’s back.That’s it, she says as the baby lets out a loud burp. You’re all smiles now, aren’t you? That’s it, sweet pea. That’s it, she says, sighing.
I belong. I belong to this family for this weekend. I am part of their chaos, their noise, their mess. And I love it. I love holding her. That little weighty bundle of tears and chuckles. She stares open-eyed at the world. Trusting it, trusting me, with her heaviness. I love holding her.
They have planted the municipal beds with wild flowers. Scabious, Michaelmas Daises, Love-in-the-Mist. Such haphazard, raggedy beauty. A cost-cutting exercise. They need less attending. I’m glad. Though they have their own fragility. The wind takes the petals. A confetti of white strewn across the rubber AstroTurf of the playground. Kiss it better, shouts the mother to the little boy who has just fallen from the climbing frame, scuffing his hands. Naughty climbing frame. Naughty climbing frame.
We always see her in her cab when we come out of the Indian on a Monday night. How’ye doin’, he asks her, and how are the children? The other day we met her coming out of Morrison’s. She was out of context. Hi, we said. How are you? She looked flushed, happier somehow. Got to rush, she said, I’ve left them at home. Have a lovely day the two of you. Bye. I didn’t realise she was so tall. Her legs, though long have thick calves that are mottled with the cold. He left her three years ago now, for another taxi driver.
Two mornings running now there have been bodies on the Perygyl. In the dark I hear them before I see them. The first morning they were huddled in a group at the end, with one of them, a girl sitting on the wooden floor staring at the stars. This morning there were two on a bench. Each stopped talking as I approached.
A poet has moved to the Shetlands. I was in rapture for the first year, she said.
Don Taylor’s series of plays God Revolution, have finished. I miss hearing them. They were so powerful. I didn’t want to listen at first. That’s not for me I thought. I was wrong. It was the same yesterday morning. A forensic anthropologist on Desert Island Discs. Too much gore, I thought. And it was but there was compassion too and a calm acceptance that I wasn’t expecting. She talked of Kosovo and finding the scraps of a Mickey Mouse T-shirt that helped identify a young boy who’d been blown up by a mortar. One cannot even begin to imagine but we need to hear, don’t we? Don’t we?
We went to the zoo. It was a chill morning. It’s a surreal place. They’re mostly rescue animals. The leopard was a pet, the keeper tells me. A pet? he says, Christ. The lions, she continues, are a gift from Bristol. What are their names? he asks. The male is called Troy and she’s called Wilma.
She wouldn’t go in the reptile house. I can’t, she says shuddering, I’m scared of snakes. I had no idea.
You smell lovely, she says to me later, giving me a hug. It’s been good, hasn’t it. This belonging. All of us, belonging. I shall miss you. And it won’t last, you know, this struggle. It will get better. I promise. I promise you.