Chapter One: Tilly’s House
The most arduous journey ever undertaken by Humankind is the passage of birth. The unborn leaves one realm to enter another. And this one is like no other. It is earth. A mired place full of endless journeys...It is foretold after birth comes knowledge. But this is a grave oversight. For it is clear to see the innocent beheld knowledge long before the start…
Before we delve into Christine’s story, let me introduce myself. My name is Siba (which means rock in Arawak) I was named after the mountainous terrain that surrounds the lands of my Ancestral home.
I am one of Christine’s many Ancestors. I am a nine-year-old girl. Well I was, when I roamed the earth almost a thousand years ago. And yes, I may be young but please don’t think me too precocious, I just happen to know a lot more than you right now, with you being tied to the earth.
All the same, there are many extraordinary events that take place in the world, and Christine’s story is just one of them. So, without further ado, let me get on with telling it. Although, I might make a passing comment here, or a slight reference there, but nothing too taxing for you - I hope. As you will soon gather, much of what goes on in the world is none of my business. But with that said, I guess in a way, Christine is very much my business, because she is from my bloodline. But that’s by no means the reason why I comment. I do so, not to inform you, as such, but to remind you, rather, of certain things, as really everything that you read from here on in, you already have knowledge of. You just don’t remember that you do…But more on that later…And so I digress. Please understand; I may be a million miles ahead of my time, and often speak in poetry and rhyme (the language of the ethereal) but for the most part, you will seldom hear me. For us spirits we could talk about many things, but it’s far more intriguing to listen, instead. And right now, I’m being called to talk about Christine’s story, which is a bittersweet joy. Bitter, because it’s life - and she’s living it. And a joy, because she’s one of mine - and she fights for it! And we are eternally bound by the blood, which I am forever grateful for, and now I am equally honoured to share her journey with you all.
So I begin…
Chapter One: Tilly’s House
Christine had to make an effort to keep up with Lydia. They emerged from the underground at Regent’s Park station, and walked into a cul-de-sac harbouring a short row of houses on either side of the road. At the far end of the street was a pedestrian crossing leading to one of London’s oldest parks.
The two women did not engage in conversation - there was no need. All the introductions and pleasantries had been exchanged on the tube ride. Instead, they sped past the grand white Georgian houses, which beamed like blocks of salt against the purple night sky.
The street lamps on adjacent sides flickered on. That was when Lydia spoke to her, “Ok, we’re almost there now,” she said pointing ahead, “It’s four doors down, the one with the planters around the entrance.”
Christine gave a brief nod and pulled level with her glamorous guide. Her name was Lydia ‘something-something’ she had politely informed her earlier. And Lydia ‘something-something’ looked about her age too; late twenties or early thirties perhaps...
“Thanks for coming,” Lydia said nodding her way, “my cousin said you were a huge help to her and her partner - you saved them a ton of grief.” Her immaculately plucked eyebrows raised as she said this.
Christine responded with an awkward smile. Making polite conversation was strenuous enough, let alone having to do it with conviction. She was spared, however, as Lydia veered off the pavement and began to mount the soaring white steps. Christine was less than a pace behind her. The front door rapidly arose ahead of them; gleaming like onyx. On opposites sides stood two brass lamp-holders which shone directly into Christine’s eyes, obscuring her vision even after she had blinked a few times.
She had forgotten the address she had hastily scribbled down earlier. But of course there was nothing that could be done about that, she was here now.
Lydia rang the doorbell. The woman who answered was clearly distressed. Her blonde hair looked like it had been run through with a rake. Her eyes shifted between the two of them, then fell back onto her friend.
“Hello my darling - you came sooner than I expected.” The woman received Lydia in a shower of coos and air kisses, then switched her focus back on her
“Tilly, this is Christine…She’s -”
“Hello Christine - do come in,” Tilly interrupted, “I hope this is not too much of a bother. I suppose Lydia has filled you in.” Before Christine could answer the air was slashed by a scream, followed by a gurgling wail. A sound, which could only be skillfully executed from the delicate lungs of a newborn.
Tilly rolled her eyes, “He’s awake again,” she sighed as she looked to the ceiling.
While the baby continued screaming, Tilly led them in the opposite direction. She walked them through a labyrinth of subtlety-painted corridors and chequered marble flooring. “We won’t go to him just yet,” Tilly called back, “My nanny Maria is with him, and besides I would like a quick chat with you,” she stole a quick glance at her as she said this.
Tilly guided them down a short flight of steps into a bright and spacious living area. The baby’s squeals had long since been lost within the dense fabric of the walls.
“Please, sit down.” Tilly waved her hand, “Would you like some tea, or - ?”
“Tilly. You look terrible!” Lydia said, “Haven’t you slept since the last time we spoke?”
“I have but very little,” she groaned, “If you think I look terrible, I suppose everyone else must think so too…”
While the two friends were talking, Christine took a closer look at the woman who was pacing up and down and rubbing her gold chain, as though she was counting rosary beads. Tilly was not as young as she had initially thought.
A wife of a foreign diplomat, didn’t Lydia say something or the other?
Although, there was no doubting that Tilly was a new mother. The lack of sleep showed up in the crescent moons beneath her eyes, and judging by her heaving chest she was still actively breastfeeding. Christine suddenly looked to the ground, she didn’t want to get caught staring and come off like some kind of nut job. Besides, she was not in the business of reading minds, she was here for a different purpose.
“Christine?” The sound of her name abruptly ended her private analysis, “Ethan is two months old,” Tilly said weighing her up with her stare, “You might find this hard to believe, or maybe not considering your experience. But since the day Ethan was born, he has not slept for two hours straight. Something is interrupting his sleep.” She stopped talking and looked to her friend, Lydia, whose gentle nod urged her to continue, “I-I have no idea how this works, but please can you look at him? I understand this is what you do - help babies?”
Christine nodded, “Yes. It is what I do,” she said, her cheery smile hiding a bout of self-consciousness.
“And if you don’t mind me asking, do you have any children of your own?”
“No. I don’t.” Christine answered. Her hand found a loose ringlet which she quickly tucked behind her ear. It was the same one that always seemed to escape from her tightly-secured bun. She cleared her throat, “Before I see him I have some questions - nothing serious,” she added, noting the discomfort on Tilly’s face, “Are you the primary carer of Evan - Ethan?”
“Yes,” Tilly replied, “but like I said I do have a nanny, Maria, who helps out every so often. It’s so that I can attend to my other duties, as you do. You know, they don’t just get up and do themselves!” She laughed nervously. She stopped pacing, she sat down on the couch and faced her guests. “You see, Maria is new. She’s only been with us for two weeks. I’ve had three nannies in the space of two months. The last two were utterly useless. Within a week they handed in their resignations because they couldn’t deal with the constant crying. Though, to be honest, they were well on their way to receiving their marching orders. I mean, seriously! How can anyone claim to be a professional if they cannot figure out why a three-week-old baby is crying his lungs out? What are they teaching these so-called specialists these days? Are they just giving these qualifications away?” Her blue eyes smouldered with rage, “I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to raise my voice,” Tilly patted her cheeks and sighed, “I don’t know what on earth is the matter with him? Ethan is a beautiful baby - an absolute darling. He looks just like my father.” There was no disguising Tilly’s pride, “He was a colonel in the Coldstream Guards you know. He was a very fine man, he passed away six years ago. When I look at my son, I see him. Bizarre, but I guess these things happen.”
“Yes. Bizarre indeed,” Lydia cut in, “But why not tell Christine a bit more about the problem?” she said, rolling her eyes.
“Of course.” Tilly turned back to face her, “Since birth, Ethan wakes up every two hours or so, howling as if he’s in pain. His crying becomes more erratic in the early hours of the morning. We’ve been to the best doctors - there’s nothing physically wrong with him. But there’s definitely something the matter with our son.”
Christine nodded, encouraging her with a smile, “Go on. Tell me as much as you can, I’m listening.”
“I really thought I was prepared for parenthood,” Tilly rubbed her eyes and sniffed, “but I didn’t foresee any of this! Nothing has turned out the way I thought it would. I put on a brave face for everyone around me, even my husband, but nobody knows how stressful this whole ordeal has been for me. Before I gave birth, I gained a horrendous amount of weight: puffy face, swollen ankles, varicose veins - the whole sodding lot. I hardly had any energy - it was torture! Then a week before Ethan arrived, I developed haemorrhoids. Can you imagine? And please don’t get me started on the breast-feeding - it was an absolute nightmare! Ethan wasn’t one of those babies who latched on right away. It felt like a piranha was sucking on my nipple. Now, all he has to do is yawn in my direction and I break out in a cold sweat. I can’t believe mothers go through this!” Tilly said looking around in desperation, “And now my beautiful baby is finally here! But look at me? I haven’t slept for weeks! I’m still 15lbs overweight; I have engagements to attend, commitments to fulfil, a husband who needs me, and a baby that consumes every waking moment of my life! Where does it end?” Tilly cried, “I don’t think it does,” she said answering her own question, “but who am I to complain? I have help for god’s sake!”
“Tilly!” Lydia said rushing to her friend’s side, “You’re just having a bad day. Why not take Christine to see the baby?”
Tilly responded with a pathetic nod, “Yes, of course,” she paused. She took a big gulp of air then led the way.
As they ventured out into the foyer Christine was presented with an open stairwell; it looked like it hailed straight out of a movie set. Her eyes stroked the fancy paintings, furnishings and frippery afforded by those who were not short of money. On one of the landings stood a life-sized photograph of their host - Tilly, all smiles and big hair, posing with a famous hip-hop record producer. Christine swallowed her surprise. She couldn’t stop and stare, she had a job to do.
The two women swanning ahead of her engaged in conversation like ballerinas at a recital. She wondered if they really were ’best friends forever’ or just parading a kind of familiarity the bourgeoisie displayed with such disarming ease.
Once upon a time she would have felt decidedly out of place in this showy display of wealth. But I suppose, for her, grief changed many things. No longer did she spend countless hours analysing who she was - or who she was with. Everyone has struggles. Which was why she was turning corners in a mansion in Regents Park, and not sat on her council estate in Manor House playing solitaire on her home computer.
“Maria’s probably trying to lull him back to sleep again,” Tilly whispered as they approached the nursery. The door was slightly ajar. The soft murmurings of Spanish could be heard, but the baby it seemed was unimpressed as he carried on whining.
Tilly stepped into the room, “Maria, I’ve brought someone to look at Ethan.”
Whether it was the sound of his name, or the bright light which came flooding in from the landing, the baby howled at the sight of them.
“Oh no - there he goes again.” Tilly took her child from the nanny who did little to hide her irritation.
As soon as Christine stepped into the room, the sweet soft scent of baby cosmetics immediately embraced her like a warm hug. Powders. Balms. Oils. Lotions. She was no stranger to these lovable fragrances. Everything around her was adorned with pale blue and powdery white apparels; it felt like she had floated onto a patch of unchartered sky. This room was no doubt a demonstrable labour of love for the parents. It seemed no money was spared in the creation of this angelic place of Zen. Christine paused to take it all in, and in that brief moment recalled a remark a newborn once made; he said: ‘his mummy’s arms was the only room he wanted to be in, and all the playground he would ever need…’
Christine absorbed her smile - this was not the time for reminiscing. She hurried over to the middle of the nursery, for there in the midst of all the cloying loveliness was a red-faced, fair-headed baby refusing to be comforted, “If it’s alright with you, I’d like to be left alone with him,” Christine said, without taking her eyes off the wailing infant, “Is that okay?”
There was a moment’s hesitation. Her dark brown eyes met Tilly’s pale blue ones, “Okay,” Tilly eventually said with a nod, “We’ll wait for you downstairs.” She handed her son over to Christine, who gently caressed the baby’s back as she made her way over to the rocking chair. Christine could hear their muffled voices as the two women made their way back to the living area.
Fifteen minutes later, Christine emerged from the nursery. All was quiet. The baby was now in a deep sleep. She softly closed the door and pondered her next move. There was no point in stalling, it had to be said. She walked onto the landing and retraced her steps back to the main room.
As Christine drew nearer, the hushed voices grew louder. She could hear Lydia questioning her friend, “Have you taken Ethan to see a specialist, or what do you call them – a paediatrician? Something could be wrong with him - on the inside?” Tilly huffed with annoyance, “Don’t you think that’s the first thing Rupert and I did? Don’t laugh Lydia, but I get the feeling Ethan is trying to tell me something…Something I’ve overlooked or I’m not seeing…Something is disturbing his sleep…”
Christine could no longer continue to linger in the hallway. She let out a shaky breath then stepped into the room. Without looking around she quickly made her way towards the marble fireplace. She felt awkward as their eyes slid towards her. She hated this part; speaking the truth whilst looking like a complete lunatic. Only a masochist would take on a role like this. But there was no one to blame for this predicament - it was her own doing. She was never really any good at saying no to anyone who needed help.
Taking a deep breath she leaned against the mantelpiece for support. “Th-These are Ethan’s words not mine,” she cleared her throat, “The champagne...” she paused and started again, this time without stopping, “I don’t like the champagne. The bubbles in the breast milk give me indigestion. If you do insist on having a tipple in the evening, then might I suggest you have a glass of that Rioja you occasionally have. None of that ‘New World’ drivel as that gives me heartburn. But that Rioja is a very nice find. I had no idea my crying was causing you so much grief. So after tonight I won’t cry anymore, only when I’m hungry or feeling cold. However, if I do get indigestion I’ll indicate by lifting my legs and scratching my temples. Speaking of which, it’s high time I had my nails filed down again, wouldn’t you agree…?”
Christine watched the expression on the women’s faces as they gaped back at her.“Is this some kind of joke?” Lydia said in a blaze. She turned to her friend, whose creamy white complexion took on a greyish hue.
“Yes – yes. It is good,” Tilly said faintly, “It’s 1982”
“What’s 1982?” Lydia demanded. She looked about her as though everybody had suddenly gone raving mad.
“That Rioja,” Tilly answered. She slowly turned her head back to look at Christine; her eyes wide with disbelief, “Thank you.” Her comment seemed to hang in the air for eternity.
Nobody moved for a time, then Tilly exhaled. Christine could almost see the tension drifting away from her; like a spirit floating to the next world, “Ethan - my father!” Tilly called out, suppressing a knowing smile, “He’s here! He’s right here!” She stared at Christine in a strange kind of wonder, “Oh my God…They’re all here…”
Yes, Tilly! That is correct! The world may think you’re dim - but you’re a lot quicker than most! For your father - our Ancestors - haven’t completely left our lives, as many are led to believe. On the contrary, our Ancestors are very much alive; they have plenty to say, and the babies are in a prime position to say it! But who can hear their tiny voices? Well as it turns out, one specially selected soul, has this unique ability to do so…
“Did he say anything else?” Tilly beamed, her eyes eagerly searched her face.
“Nothing I wish to repeat,” Christine replied, apologetically, deadpan.
The smile froze on Tilly’s lips.
For indeed there is nothing cutesy about baby-whispering, as the world is about to witness. Nothing cutesy about it at all…