A Babe in Arms

It was the day I visited my solicitor, a few weeks after Andrew's death.  In my handbag was a cheque.  The payment from the Ministry of Defence.  A large amount of money, but litttle compensation for the loss of my soulmate.  

     I had moved away from the area, from our little house.  The house where we had lived, and loved, and talked about all the children we would have, and bring up together.  The children who would never be born now, thanks to a stray bullet fired, probably, by a brown-eyed, dark haired teenager, far away on a tiny island in the South Atlantic.

    I had to leave that house, because my happy memories of my life there, with Andrew, were tarnished now, by the newest memory, of the two men who had visited me, four short weeks ago.  They wore smart uniforms, and were very respectful as they told me they were very sorry to tell me that Andrew had been found dead, last night,  on that tiny island.

    Straight after the funeral, a solemn affair, attended by half of Andrew's regiment... the ones who had been sent home, injured, I started to look for somewhere else to live, as far away as I could get from this army town, and our lovely little home.  I didn't need to live in an army town any more, after all.  I was no longer an army wife.  I was an army widow.

    Today, I made the train journey from the small town where I was just starting to settle into a small estate on the outskirts.  A new housing estate, only two or three of the houses were occupied, and I hadn't yet met anyone.  At the moment, I had no desire to do so.  I was happy to keep myself to myself for now.

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I watched the girl, from the stationary train.  She looked far too young to have a baby.  Surely, she was holding it for her mother or an elder sister, or a friend of the family.  But, I looked at her scruffy, unkempt clothes.  She looked like a street-kid.  And something about the heaviness in her breasts on an otherwise slight form told me that she was indeed the child's mother.

      Poor kid, I thought.  Living on the streets with a baby.  Poor baby.  Where was the father?  I  looked up and down the platform, but the girl seemed to be alone.  She had no bag, no suitcase, either.  Perhaps she was waving someone off.  But no, she appeared to be scanning the carriages of the train, as if weighing up the passengers.  Her eyes met mine and our gazes locked.  She stared at me, with such a look of sadness and despair that, for a moment I wanted to get off the train and comfort her, and I returned her gaze with a smile.  In that moment, a different look transformed her face, just for a second.  The sadness turned to hope, anticipation, and she took a step forward. 

    She opened her mouth, and said something I was too far away to hear.

     ''What?'' I mouthed, and she spoke again, taking another step towards the train, holding up the bundle slightly.

     I stood, and moved to the end of the carriage, to the door.  I leaned out of the open window, to try and hear what the girl was saying, over the voice of the station announcer.  The train began to move slowly out of the station, and the girl sprinted towards me, then started to walk quickly alongside the moving train.

     ''Take her.'' she shouted, thrusting the baby into my arms, her wide, tear-filled eyes pleading.  ''Love her!'' 

     I stepped back from the window, with the child in my arms, gasping in shock.  By the time I moved back to the window, to look back along the shortening platform, the girl was too far away for me to see her expression.

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      I looked around the carriage.  Apart from me, the only passenger was a young lad, sitting with his feet up on the opposite seat, his eyes closed, and a tinny backbeat emanating from his earphones.  

     Should I tell the guard?  Should I get off at the next station and hand the child over to the station staff, the police, Social Services?  I stood by the window, looking out at the countryside rolling past.  Then I looked down at the child.  She was small.  I did not knoiw much about babies, but this one, although not a newborn, did not appear to be very old.  Perhaps a few weeks.  She gazed up at me with blue eyes very like those of the girl who had handed her to me.  Suddenly, I knew, without doubt, that I was meant to keep her.  This was serendipity.   The girl had entrusted her to me, not to the police; not to some unknown social worker, to be looked after by strangers, perhaps in a succession of foster and children's homes.

     ''Serendipity.'' I said out loud, knowing that the young man could not hear me.

The End

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