Every time Magda moved, she groaned and called to God for help. Nicholas was tightly wrapped in a hospital blanket but managed to buck around in his cot like a maggot on the end of a hook. Paul would not stop giving advice. Advice that, as a first time father, was based loosely on things he had picked up in books and things his mother might have said.
Nicholas was the only boy on the ward and if there was a ever a male who proved that it was NOT good to have a man about the house, Nicholas was it. Next to my own sweet and easy going Amy and Hyacinths' adorable Hope, he was a horror. After just a day on the ward he brought to mind the children's nursery rhyme, "What are little girls made of?"
Amy and Hope were indeed sugar and spice and all things nice. They fed efficiently, made no fuss when bathed and changed, and gazed into the eyes of anyone who held them, pulling cute little faces and waving with their tiny fists.
Nicholas, on the other hand, was frogs and snails and puppy dogs tales in the form of projectile vomiting, exploding nappies and snot. He cried if held, cried when put down. He screamed when he was changed, and howled when he was bathed. We all tried to calm him, if only to give his mother something of a break.
The first time I held him Nicholas I was shocked. The boy was huge. He had entered the world already weighing 13lbs (5.8kg). I was used to holding Amy who had been born at a reasonable 7.12oz. Nicholas felt simply enormous.
We all remarked upon it.
"I shood 'av known," Magda told us in her thick, southern mediteranean accent, "my 'usbands' farder, 'e weigh 20lbs."
"Wow" The rest of us murmured, appalled at the thought of having to give birth to such a child. "That must have been awful for his mother."
" She dye-ed". Magda told us, swiping a hand through the air for emphasis. "She never see baby. She dead on bed. She reeeeep apart - and blood, blood, blood." Magda mimed a river, a flood, pouring from between her legs. We all nodded our heads to show we understood. None of us were surprised. And we were all glad we hadn't heard the story a couple of days before.
On the day of the bomb scare, Nicholas wailed the whole time. Whilst we sat parked in the lobby, he opened his gummy mouth and bawled. New borns generally attract oos and ahhs, but Nicholas was grating on people's already fragile nerves. A few of the more able bodied elderly women who were sharing our small corner suggested things to do. "Fold him in half." "Rock him harder." "Lay him on his tummy." Magda put her head into her hands and sobbed. "I have c-section. I can not leeeft him. He so beeeg."
Nicholas had colic. Magda had mastitis. Both of them sobbed when it was time to try another feed. He needed changing at least once an hour making us wonder how it was possible for a baby to expel so much fluid when he took in so little. The greenish- black meconium soon giving way to yellow streams of diarrhea and he was almost permanently leaking a dribble of sour, milky spit-up from the corner of his cavernous mouth.
A midwife reluctantly suggested a bottle and things began to improve. Not least because Nicholas' father could now help out. As soon as Paul arrived on the ward, Magda would hand the squirming bundle over, close her eyes and go to sleep.
I saw Nicholas and Paul a couple of years later. I was visiting my doctor to confirm that I was pregnant again.
Paul and I knew each other immediately and the children, though physically unrecognizable, had not changed at all. Amy sat quietly, swinging her legs as she concentrated on a book. Nicholas shouted for attention and flung bricks across the room.
"He's a bit under the weather," Paul told me when I asked if everything was O.K. As I watched Nicholas scale a sofa and jump onto a coffee table, I wondered what he looked like in full health.
"And Amy?" Paul asked. "She's O.K"
"We're here for me", I told him. "I'm pregnant again."
Paul was very sweet. He congratulated me and wished me well. But then he sighed. "No more for us," he said, "Magda say 'theeees fac-torree close!' " He sighed again. "He broke the mold did that one." We watched Nicholas empty a box of farm animals into a box of cars. "But he's lovely sometimes." Paul laughed ruefully. "Like when he is asleep."
I think Nicholas is probably doing well. He was at least lively and enquiring (for want of a better word) and he certainly knows how to assert himself. As long as Magda and Paul have been able to channel his energy, he is probably O.K. I picture him running marathons or whacking a ball around a squash court. He would, I'm sure, be excellent at free running and parkour. I try not to picture him vandalizing his surroundings and generally causing chaos wherever he goes. But I'll never know for certain. Nicholas is the question mark.