Wednesday, February 23, 2011

But what about the others? - Part 2. Hope

Hope was the eldest of the babies on the ward. By the time Amy and I arrived she was curled up in a cot and her mother, Hyacinth, was propped against her pillows, half dozing and half flicking through a copy of  "Hello.".

As we were wheeled in, Hyacinth raised a hand and smiled. I smiled back, but neither of us spoke. A nurse settled me into the room. I was shown the baby changing station, how to operate the emergency button and where to put my things. Hyacinth concentrated on her magazine and pretended she couldn't overhear every single word being said.

My husband went off to the canteen. I was starving after such an active day, and I needed chocolate. NOW.

Once we were alone, it seemed impolite not to speak, so Hyacinth and I introduced ourselves.
"Boy or girl?" She asked after we had exchanged names.
"Girl. Amy. You?"
"Girl. Hope. She's My fourth."
"Fourth baby?"
"Fourth girl."
"Any boys?"
She shook her head. "Just girls." She touched the bundle lying in cot at her side and we both returned to our thoughts.

There is an etiquette to sharing a room with a stranger. It's like sitting next to someone on a 'plane. Just because you are going to be in close proximity for an extended period of time doesn't mean you have to become best friends. Polite but distant is a good way to start. Get the measure of a person before you strike up conversation or you could be in for a very long ride. I could see that this woman shared my approach and I liked her just for that.

The door to the ward opened and a man came tiptoeing in. His coat was damp across the shoulders and his face was dark and shiny from the rain. He was carrying a plastic bag in one hand and in the other, a great bouquet of flowers.
"For my girls." He whispered, bending to kiss his wife. He let his coat fall from his shoulders and rubbed and blew on his hands. When he was satisfied that they were warm, he reached to scoop his daughter from her cot.
"I've only just put her down," Hyacinth whispered, reaching out and touching him on the arm. "Let her settle. Just a few more minutes and she'll be good and asleep. You can hold her then."
"O.K" The man sat down. He noticed me for the first time.
"Hello". He was still whispering, but he made sure I could hear. "Congratulations."
"Thank you."
"Boy or girl?"
He turned to the bouquet, pulled a pink carnation free and came across the room. With a little bow he placed the flower across the end of Amy's cot. "She's beautiful" He whispered. "Just like her mother."
Hyacinth laughed and shook her head.
"What?" he asked, looking innocent.
"You're in maternity ward. Stop flirting, you old dog." She looked at me and smiled. "I apologize." She said.

"Can I get her out now?" Hyacinth's husband hovered over Hope's cot. Hyacinth nodded. He gently lifted the baby into his lap and stroked her bouncy, black hair. He curled her fingers round his own.  I  wondered if, after three other girls, he wished Hope had been a boy. But judging from they way he held and rocked her, kissed her cheeks and whispered in her ear,  he truly did not care.

The next day when he visited, three girls followed him into the room. They were dressed identically in green and red plaid skirts and navy tights. Their hair was immaculately twisted into neat and even cornrows, the ends of which were adorned with tiny bows.

The girls crowded round the cot, taking turns to kiss their sister. Then they removed their shoes and climbed onto the bed. Hyacinth took them into her arms. They whispered and giggled together, telling stories or news from outside. And all the time, Hope's dad held her, gazing into her velvety eyes and kissing her fingers and toes.

Each time he visited, he sat in the chair holding Hope, his youngest daughter, as if he couldn't bear to put her down. Her sisters brought her cards they had made, and pictures they had drawn.

The older girls, Grace, Faith and Joy, were always quiet and well behaved. They read books with their mother, played cats cradle and noughts and crosses. They said "Hello" when they came in and waved goodbye to us all when it was time for them to leave.

When we were moved to the new room to make way for wounded soldiers, they were full of questions and concern. They asked questions about the war, asked when it would be over and would their daddy have to fight.

Before evening visiting time on the day of the afternoon bomb scare, Hyacinth made a request. Could we please not talk about the incident while her daughters were in the room. She didn't want them to worry or to be afraid. Nothing had happened. We were all safe. There was no need for them to ever know.

  I didn't see Hyacinth or Hope once we had gone our separate ways. But in those brief few days, I felt I'd had a glimpse of how they lived their lives. It was easy to see how much they all loved and cared about each other. They were a strong family.

When I think about Hope, I am certain she is doing fine.

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