Chapter Ten: Mission Impossible
“My mummy makes me laugh,” gurgled Megan as she bounced up and down on her mother’s knee.
“Megan. Stay still!” her mother commanded but Megan wasn’t listening. She pushed herself towards the pew and leaned over her mother’s shoulder. She wanted to keep on talking to the girl, who was sitting in the row behind her.
“As I was saying, my mummy makes me laugh. She went away and when she came back her hair looked completely different. Its bright yellow and very fluffy now! Ha, ha, ha! It’s so fuuuuny. It makes her look like a Neecon.”
“What’s a Neecon?” Christine whispered. Father Michael had just led the church into The Lord’s Prayer. With her eyes downcast she could well be reciting the prayer, like the rest of the congregation, but of course at that moment she wasn’t, she was chatting with a baby.
“What’s a Neecon?” she repeated.
“A Neecon looks like a horse but it’s not quite a horse, as Neecons have extremely long necks and flowing yellow hair, which looks just like mummy.” Recounting her observation set off more squeals of laughter.
“Where did you see this Neecon?” Christine enquired. She smiled at Megan and tapped her little nose. She thought Megan looked exceptionally cute in her pink and white dress. Megan didn’t answer right away. She made an attempt to frown as she pondered the question. “I don’t quite remember,” she said pulling a face, “I don’t know…It seems like such a long time ago in a faraway place…But I’ve definitely seen a Neecon before!” she said with determination.
Christine did not doubt her. Ever since she was able to hear them, many babies had told her a number of strange things. She was 14 years old now, but the stories never ceased to amaze her. To Christine it almost seemed as if these babies had come from another world, just like baby Mason had tried to explain to her. She imagined it to be a place where all the babies’ wants and needs were instantly gratified. As such, going some way in explaining why newborns cried their lungs out when things didn’t immediately go their way. It seemed they were forever protesting against the constant adjustments and delays they suddenly had to contend with in their new environment.
And this special world, Christine further pondered, was probably amply protected as well. Since, it appeared babies were quite bold in nature. It was as if they believed they could do or achieve anything before suffering injuries which told them otherwise.
Megan then made a remark which Christine somehow understood, and knew she would never forget. “I like your melody,” she said in a sing-song manner. “It’s full of…colours…It sounds so beautiful...All babies born in…in…” she frowned, “…in 1972 - the Year of the Flute - they have this same distinct sound…It really is the sweetest melody you’ll ever hear…”
Then Megan continued speaking, more to herself “…but every day it seems I forget what gift goes with each year...”
And then typical of most babies, Megan became distracted with something else. She soon caught sight of her mother’s hair and started laughing again.
When it came to babies, Christine thought she had heard everything but apparently not. She sat there with her mouth wide open. She couldn’t believe this baby girl who couldn’t be any older than 17 months actually knew the year of her birth.
‘She liked my melody...’ Christine mused. ‘It’s full of colour...What did she mean by that?’
From the countless revelations she would receive through her gift, Christine learned babies were a lot like cars. Or was it that cars were a lot like babies? For instead of serial numbers, babies, who were born in the same year, had signature qualities which set them apart from those who were born at a different time.
Christine sighed out loud. ‘This…was biological engineering of a celestial kind,’ she thought sitting in complete awe of creation. ‘Designs…carried out by no ordinary manufacturer...’
How does one examine something bigger than their imagination?
‘So, if I was born in the Year of the Flute, would this mean I have a heart of an artist?’ She dared to imagine with a dash of pride. ‘And If I have a sound, wouldn’t that mean someone out there could hear it? Hello out there. Who is listening? Can anyone hear me?’
Lydia put down the newspaper. She had just finished reading yet another story about Christine. It appeared another person had come forward to talk about The Baby Whisperer.
She felt dreadful.
She had only just found out that Tilly had gone through her phone to get Christine’s number. Why she had gone ahead and blabbed to the media about it was beyond her. Lydia bristled. But then again, Tilly wasn’t known for her subtlety, neither did it help that Tilly’s cousin was the managing editor for a major tabloid newspaper. And for that, Lydia did feel bad.
She picked up her mobile and found Christine’s number. She wouldn’t blame Christine if she refused to take her call.
After the third ring Christine answered:
“Hello Lydia – actually…I was about to call you.”
“Yes. I errr…just wanted to thank you for the other night, for listening to my woeful tale. I think I sort of poured everything out to you. Or more like vomited to be more precise.”
“Errr…Seriously…no problem at all!” Lydia replied with relief. “Actually…I called to see how you were doing.”
“Oh…Do you mean how I’m handling my newly acquired celebrity status?” Christine said dryly. She gave a short laugh. “It’s okay Lydia,” she assured. “It’s my fault, anyhow, it’s not like its untrue or anything. I’m actually surprised these parents are only coming forward now. I guess when one starts to talk…”
Lydia winced. ‘Tilly!’
“Christine. I know its short notice, but as it’s the weekend do you want to come out for a spot of lunch?” Lydia anticipated Christine’s refusal so she kept on talking. “Please - it’s on me! It’s the least I can do. And believe it when I do manage to shut up I’m actually quite a good listener.”
Christine smiled. She didn’t need much persuading. “Okay Lydia,” she shrugged to herself. “But I haven’t been out in a while, I don’t know what’s trendy in London right now. So if you don’t mind, I’ll leave the suggestions to you.”
Lydia seemed pleased. “No worries!” she beamed “London is my town!” She laughed, “says moi from a teeny village in Oxfordshire.”
Lydia couldn’t see Christine’s smile, in spite of herself Christine found herself doing more of that of late. This is how it begins: a friendship which ends in betrayal. Don’t they all? Christine thought ruefully to herself. But she continued to smile anyway, it wasn’t the end yet.
Christine was stood on Borough High Street on the cusp of the City. The area looked very different on a Saturday afternoon. Up and down the street bouts of raucous laughter could be heard pouring out from the surrounding pubs, while it seemed the motorists on the high road cruised towards London Bridge as if they had all the time in the world. It was a stark contrast from the usual hustle and bustle of the working week.
“Thanks for getting me out today,” Christine quickly peered at the fashionably-dressed woman who was responsible for disrupting her steady routine. “I-I must confess I didn’t really have any plans so to speak…Actually…I had planned to do nothing.” She babbled truthfully.
“Oh, don’t worry about it,” Lydia said quickly, she re-adjusted her shoulder strap, “I’m glad you agreed to come out, for a minute there I thought you were going to say no.”
Lydia took a moment to study Christine. She tried to gauge what Christine was thinking but she couldn’t read her eyes. They were hidden behind the dark sunglasses she was wearing.
Lydia gently delved. “To be honest…I feel…somewhat responsible for the media’s sudden interest in your life. If I hadn’t called you, you wouldn’t have met Tilly. And naturally, if Tilly had never met you, she wouldn’t have had anything to blab to the press about.” Lydia breathed in sharply. “I can’t believe she brazenly went through my phone to get your number. What on earth possessed her? Just you wait ’til I get my hands on her!”
Christine held up her hands laughing. “Please! Please! No bloodshed on my account. As I said earlier I’m okay - really I am. I guess it was just a bit of a shock at first. The TV producer, reporters...My name in The Metro…” She smiled again, “It’s been quite a surreal week but I guess it could be worse.”
“What did your work colleagues make of it all? Or did they already know?”
Christine’s eyes widened. “Oh no!” she half laughed. “None of them had any idea about my ability. I thought no one had seen anything but then someone in the office made a passing comment. Then I realized everyone knew…To be honest, most of my workmates have been acting a little oddly around me, ever since I returned back to work. I think it’s because they don’t know what to say and I guess they don’t want to say the wrong thing.”
They both stopped walking.
A white, rusty, Morris Minor pulled into the street they were about to cross over. Christine looked ahead. “Is Borough Market at the next crossing, or do we take a turning on the next right?” She asked. “I’ve been here a few times but I always seem to forget.”
“It’s the next turning - over there,” Lydia pointed. “I hope you don’t mind my suggesting the market. I absolutely love what they sell in there. The market has some of the best local cheeses around, and I thought it would be quite easy for both of us to get to, and of course it’s very close to the river.”
Christine noted the simmering excitement in Lydia’s voice. It was the sort of thing she was used to hearing when conversing with people who were not born and raised in the capital, like she was. Christine had to admit she loved London because she hadn’t been anywhere else. But she could see that Lydia - and people like her - loved the city, because they had.
“Don’t you just love it when the weather’s like this?” Lydia suddenly announced. She briefly stretched out her long, toned arms. She was wearing a white crop top, designer jeans and leather sandals and the bangles on her arm tinkled as they slid up and down her wrists. “Now, if the weather can remain like this for Wimbledon, it would be marvelous...and…” She added nodding at Christine “I tend to go quite brown when it gets really hot. I know, I know,” she said joining in with Christine’s laughter, “I know what you’re thinking; white people and their absurd preoccupation with tanning. You’re lucky you were born with that amazing skin tone, you don’t have to worry about it disappearing on you when the sun goes away.”
Disappearing? Did she just say that? Christine laughed louder than she had intended. “Oh dear. You really are barmy Lydia.” Now here was a girl who didn’t take herself too seriously. Christine smiled but knew she liked her all the more for it.
“So?” Lydia approached the matter dead on. “What are you going to do? Now that the whole country knows what it is that you do?”
“Good question,” Christine pulled a face. “Right now I don’t think I’m ready to let the whole world in. I have no idea what to tell them.” She said with a sigh. “In all honesty I have absolutely no business communicating with anyone’s baby - no business at all! Obviously I’ve got some kind of impairment otherwise everyone would be able to do it - wouldn’t they?” Her scowl deepened “Seriously, I don’t know how or why this has happened. All I know is sometimes…it’s just hard for me to stand by and do nothing. Especially when I can hear what these little ones are saying…I mean, what would you do?”
Lydia briskly shook her head. She couldn’t begin to fathom what she would do if she were in Christine’s shoes.
Christine continued. “And I can’t pretend I don’t understand all the anxieties that go along with being a parent. I know how it is – was,” she quickly amended. “I was once a mother myself.” She fell silent and looked to the road. “You know, even my mum says I’m too soft-hearted. Maybe I have been….Maybe I still am...” She gave a dismissive shrug as the face of her ex-husband briefly swam into focus. “But this time I mean it! My hearing days are over with. It’s not the kind of life any sane person would want for themselves.” She turned to Lydia, her velvety brown eyes darkened with untold pain. “And even when it mattered I was unable to hear my own baby - imagine that! Possessing this strange gift which allowed me to hear everyone else’s - but my own! What kind of a gift is that?” She kissed her teeth. “What’s the point? Every parent has their own problems to deal with and if they can’t handle them… then…they really have no business being parents!”
She couldn’t stop the words from flying out, but when they did they targeted her own heart. She lowered her head. She didn’t mean to say what she’d just said, she was just venting. But in that fleeting moment she understood all too well why some say: ‘When one is angry, then one is still wrong’ as she was feeling now…
Although her son was gone she was haunted by questions. Questions which would torment her for the rest of her life.
Maybe I should have let him sleep on his front, not on his back?
His milk. Did I give him too much? Too quickly?
Maybe I should have checked in on him one last time before going to sleep?
Did I do this to my baby?
Did someone do this to me!
The two women stepped out of the sun and into the hustle and bustle of Borough Market. The exchange was located directly under the overpass and every so often, the air would stir as a train rumbled down the tracks causing everything to vibrate. It made such a tremendous racket but no one seemed to mind.
They looked around the marquee. There were chains of vendors spread out before them, and on every stall some kind of fresh produce was being chopped, blended or seared. The air was peppered with the scent of grilled meats, exotic fruits and the random murmur of soured milk, which occasionally drifted over from the counters that sold the cheeses.
Christine glanced up at the wafts of white smoke, which swerved around the billowing canvas like a phantom dragon. She continued to follow its movements as it petered out into the mid-day sky.
Sometimes she wished she could just do that. Float up high above everything else. Above her anger, her disappointments, her pain. Away from her body, far away from her mind…
‘If I could do that,’ she grimly acknowledged, ‘I would no longer be human but a spirit. And is that so dreadful a thing?’ She wondered especially considering her life so far.
She briefly thought of heaven and her total lack of belief in it.
‘Was there really much else to look forward to?’
After all, she had had her hearty fill of love and hate and was left drained by the pair of them. ‘What was the point of it all? Why was she still here?’
“Do you know, they’ve filmed a great number of movies around the corner from here?” Lydia’s random observation scampered her wandering thoughts. “And this strip of the market,” Lydia indicated with her free hand, “where we are standing now, was featured in Bridget Jones’ Diary, and also in Harry Potter. Not sure which one though,” she mused. She straightened up and bent her head to the side. “Mmmm can you smell that?”
Christine whirled around. “Yes I can. It smells delicious. Where’s that coming from?”
The two women instantly closed in on the stall that was producing the wonderful aroma. A small group had already gathered around it, all of them ogling the golden array of baked goods on display. “If I eat one of these now there won’t be any room for lunch later. I must resist! I must resist!” Lydia remarked in mock resignation.
“MUMMY LOOK AT ME! Look at me! I’m down here, please look at me!” The command came from a little boy who was squirming around in his pushchair. The baby’s cries went unnoticed by his mother, her attentions were firmly placed elsewhere. “MUMMY LOOK AT MEEEE! I’m down here please look at meeeeeee...”
The mother still didn’t look at her baby but Christine did. “What’s the matter little fella?” she asked softly. The boy didn’t look older than eight months to her. He was of oriental descent and was wearing a red and white striped shirt. He poked his little head up to take a better look at Christine. He seemed totally taken aback by the question she had just asked him. His big brown eyes narrowed in on her. It was as if he was looking for something…maybe…sensing something perhaps. He took his time before answering. “Nothing,” he eventually said. The frown was still on his face. “I just wanted mummy to look at me, she hasn’t bent down to look at me in long while. I just want to see her face, that’s all!”
“Oh. Okay,” Christine smiled knowingly. “You know your mummy is looking at some of those delicious treats over there. She might be selecting one for you.”
She smiled down at the little boy then looked up to see his mother giving her a queer look.
“H-he’s very cute,” Christine stammered.
“Thank you,” the mother said curtly.
“Are you going to look at me NOW?” The baby demanded as his mother began to steer the pushchair away. Then, as if by instinct, the woman suddenly bent down to smooth over his collars and gently stroked her son’s cheeks. After a few seconds, she straightened herself up and plunged, pram first, into the sea of shoppers. All Christine could hear was the baby’s whoops of delight before his voice gradually blended in with all the others sounds in the busy market place.
“Here” Lydia handed Christine a brown paper bag. “I guess I couldn’t resist after all. I hope you like your fancy looking tart. I’m going to have mine after we’ve had our lunch.”
“Ahhhh Thanks Lydia, you shouldn’t have.” Christine took a peek inside the bag “And I see what you mean,” she smiled “this is no ordinary looking tart I...” She didn’t finish her sentence her ringing phone interrupted her in mid-flow. It was a withheld number.
She looked at Lydia. Lydia noted the hesitation. “Do you want to answer that?”
Christine shook her head. She was certain she did not want to speak to another member of the press, least of all today.
After successfully ignoring the first few rings, Christine thought she was ready to let her phone go to voicemail. But on the sixth and final ring she relented. She wondered if it was just herself, or if everybody got zapped with a little guilt for ignoring the phone when it rang.
Christine could barely hear the voice down the other end. There was too much going on around her. “Sorry…Can you speak up? I can’t hear you,”
The voice was definitely male. But that was the only thing Christine was able to make out. She wasn’t going to get anywhere with this conversation unless she moved away from where she was. “Please. One moment...”
Christine followed Lydia’s lead. They exited the market and crossed over to a narrow cobbled pathway. All the shops along this street were closed. It was quieter and noticeably cooler, too.
“Hello. I’m Robert Daley. I’m sorry to intrude like this.” He paused. “Someone kindly gave me your number - I need your help!” He blurted. “I’m not sure if you’ve been following the news but I’m the father of baby Tobey...”
As soon as he mentioned the name, images of a deeply distressed couple flashed across Christine’s mind. She saw them facing a panel of reporters at a press conference. Christine didn’t follow the story then. But later she had read up on it in one of the nationals. Their story was truly heart-breaking.
“Yes. I have heard about you and your family,” she said softly. “I’m so sorry for your ordeal”
She looked over to Lydia whose light eyes held many questions.
Mr. Daley continued. “As I said I’m very sorry to invade your privacy like this. The doctors - they don’t have a clue! They don’t know where to start! I know it seems hard to believe but my wife - actually, we both believe – feel, our son wants to communicate with us somehow. Don’t ask how we know this – we just know!” He paused briefly. “And money’s not a problem, we can pay you…”
Christine cringed. “Mr. Daley. Please. That won’t be necessary. If can help I will, I just don’t see how I can.”
Christine was more than baffled. Communicate with a comatose baby? Whatever next?
Christine was certain she’d never spoken to one before or ever recalled hearing from one, for that matter. Although, in all fairness, she’d never actually been in a situation that called for that either.
“Yes. You can help me!” Mr. Daley cried. He paused for a second before adopting a gentler tone. “Believe me, if somebody had said a few weeks ago that I would be consulting some kind of medium - a baby whisperer - about the progress of my son’s health I would have laughed in their face. I’m not the type of person who believes in this kind of thing,” he sighed.
Christine quickly understood that his contacting her was maybe more on his wife’s prompting than his own, which made her feel even sorrier for him.
She breathed in sharply. From where she stood she had a clear view of the marketplace. There were all sorts of people; many of them chatting excitedly with their companions whilst chomping down on their steaming hot foiled treats. Christine felt a twinge in her heart: that age-old stab of envy. It seemed everyone around her was just getting on with their ordinary, drama-free, lives. Their minds far removed from thoughts of dead children and terminally ill babies.
But not her
“I know this is none of your business.” Mr. Daley said tentatively as if reading her thoughts. “I understand if you can’t do it. But if you do change your mind you can meet us – me, and my wife, Kelly. We’re at St Margaret’s Hospital Trust in Whitechapel. We’re there most of the time. I won’t tell anyone about this conversation, you have my word.” He sighed. “Thank you for listening.”
“That’s okay.” Christine murmured. Then the line went dead.
“What was that about?” Lydia stared at Christine. “What are you going to do?”
Christine took a deep breath. “Well Lydia,” she said smiling and shaking her head. “I’m going to head down to St Margaret’s Hospital Trust to try and communicate with a comatose baby who has never opened his mouth before let alone made any use of his lungs, and who is - might I add - also hooked up to a life support machine.”
Lydia slowly whistled. “You’ve had one crazy week Miss Shore, and I fear it’s going to get crazier still!”
“I know. Do you want to come with me?”
“Do you have to ask?” Lydia grinned. “Now,” she thought aloud, “what’s the quickest route to East London from here?”