Being an only child had its ups and downs. I didn’t have to share my toys or my candy, which was something my friends often complained about. On the other hand, I was often lonely and begged my mum to get me a little brother or sister for my birthday or Christmas.
“What would you want one of them for? All you’re going to do is argue with them all the time.”
“At least it will give me something to do and I won’t be so bored.” I admit, it was a subject that my mum and I never managed to see eye to eye with.
Every now and again, during one of my moments of loud complaining and grumbling about being bored and how it was all my mum’s fault, claiming “If only you would give me a brother or sister to fight with….” Mum would hand me a shiny gold coin and give me permission to walk the few blocks to our local deli to buy myself an ice cream and some lollies.
Thinking about it now, this was actually quite clever. Here I was thinking I was being spoilt and feeling grown up and my mother was given some peace and quiet for a while, which was rare for her even though she only had the one child to deal with.
I was usually very well behaved when it came to these privileged trips to the shops. I knew that if I buggered up, I wouldn’t be allowed to go again. I would race there as fast as I could, then spend hours counting every cent to make sure I got the most for my money. Since the one and two cent coins were still in circulation, I was sometimes able to get a whole grocery bag full of candy if I shopped properly.
I remember one particular time; my mother gave me a five-dollar note. I was gobsmacked. I had never been entrusted with such a large amount of money before. I was asked to buy a loaf of bread, some cheese and two tomatoes and I was allowed to keep the change for myself to buy an ice-cream. I was sent off on my mission with a huge grin across my face.
When I got to the deli, I instantly noticed the bulky pram, parked outside the front entrance. I peered over the side of the pram and looked at the chubby faced baby. I wondered if this baby had any big brothers or sisters – and if not, whether it would like to have one.
I bounced into the deli and raced around to grab the essentials, before making a quick dash to the ice cream freezer and grabbing a few lollies to make up the remaining change. It was the most careless I had ever been with my money. It was also the quickest trip I had ever made to the deli.
Re-emerging from the small shop, I waited a while for the owner of the baby to come out, so that I could ask for a hold. Being such an impatient child, I walked back into the deli and had look around. There was no one else in the shop.
Then where was the owner of the baby that had been parked at the front door?
After another quick browse, I decided that the poor thing had been abandoned. I released the breaks on the pram (which worked surprisingly similar to the breaks on a wheelchair, which I had learnt a few years earlier) and headed off for home.
The walk home was a little slower than usual since I had the pram, but I was so excited, I had finally got myself a little sibling. Thinking about it now, I don’t think I ever did find out whether the baby was a boy or a girl.
I pushed the pram up the long hill to our front door and through to the backyard, where mum was sitting with my step dad and a couple of friends. Without sparing a single thought to the idea that anyone would disapprove of me bringing home an abandoned baby, I pushed the pram over to the table. Mum had her back to me and so I waited patiently for her to finish her conversation, doing my best to be polite, hoping that would heighten my chances of being able to keep my new find.
Slowly the conversation died down and everyone started gaping at me. I smiled back, feeling rather clever for being able to find myself a sibling when mum couldn’t. Mum stopped talking and looked around the table, before slowly turning to face me. I had stood between her and the pram, with a face splitting grin. I handed her the loaf of bread and the block of cheese.
“Where’s the tomatoes?” I felt the blood drain from my face. In all the excitement of finding the baby, I had forgotten to get the tomatoes and since it was common knowledge that I absolutely hated tomatoes, it was quite likely that mum would believe the error had been intentional.
“They didn’t have any.” Mum nodded and I let out a sigh of relief, proud of myself for thinking so quickly on my feet. Mum turned back to the table to continue her conversation, but she noticed that everyone’s mouth had dropped open and they were all looking behind her.
She turned around and spotted the pram. I don’t think I can remember my mum ever moving as fast as she did that day. She sprang to her feet in an instant and gaped at the newborn baby in the pram. It would have been all of a few days old, a couple of weeks at the most.
“Where the hell did you get that?” Her voice bellowed and echoed beneath the tin roof, but despite the scary tone she used, she was unable to hide the fear on her face, or the shaking of her lower lip.
“I found it.” My voice was soft, especially in comparison. It had only just occurred to me that mum might not let me keep the infant.
“Where the hell did you find it?” Her voice had lowered, as she peered into the pram and noticed that the baby was still fast asleep.
“It was out the front of the deli. No one wanted it, they just left it there. I checked the shop before I took it and there was no one in there.”
“Did you check the toilets?” I turned to dad, my eyes grew wide and I opened my mouth, trying to think of something to say to my defence.
“Take it back right now Kylie.” Mum was speaking through clenched teeth and I knew that I was in a bucket load of trouble.
“But can’t I?”
“NO! Take it back right now, before someone calls the police and you go to jail for kidnapping.”
I’d never thought of that. Obviously.
I put my head down in defeat and made my way back to the deli. I walked slower than ever before. Relishing every last minute with my temporary sibling. I still hadn’t even seen the colour of his or her eyes, as the baby had been sleeping the whole time.
When I got back to the deli a very distraught mother was pacing back and forth, speaking rushed words into her mobile phone. I could see her from across the road. I had hoped that there would be nobody looking for the baby and I would be able to take it back home and keep it, but when I saw the woman let out a cry of relief and come running toward me, I knew there was no chance in that happening.
I explained to the mother that I had thought the baby was not wanted and so I had taken it home. I’m not sure she was even listening to me. She was too relieved to have her baby back in her arms. Shortly after, the baby woke and I saw that it had bright blue eyes, just like mine.
‘What a shame’, I thought. ‘We would have made such great siblings’.
As I was working up the courage to ask the lady if she would let me have a hold of the baby, my mum pulled up in the car park and ordered me to get in the car. She raced into the deli and came out with a packet of smokes… And two tomatoes!
We drove home in silence and when we got back, I silently snuck off to my room. I don’t know why I didn’t get into more trouble that day, but my guess is that my mum was simply too angry to deal with the situation.
We make jokes about it now and mum often tells people to be careful around me, as I have a habit of ‘picking up strays’. She smiles and says “I’m not just talking about dogs and cats and snakes and turtles, but she will bring home ANYTHING that is left unattended, from spiders and kangaroos, to old men and new born babies. Just watch her.”
Some people laugh that knowing laugh and look at me shaking their heads. Others laugh as though they understand what mum is saying, not knowing the truth behind her words.
To those people my mum simply tells them “I have no sympathy for you. You were warned.”
I still have a habit of collecting strays. In fact, that is sort of how I met my ex-husband, but that is a story for another day.
In my mind this baby had been abandoned and since I had wanted a sibling for such a long time, I figured we would be able to give the baby a loving home, especially as we already had a spare room (an argument which did not convince my mother in keeping the infant).