The broken droplets of glass seemed to shatter and shimmer within her ears; not only was the sound a discordant jangle but also the sharp tiny pin pricks of the cruel edges of this rolling underpass she was travelling down were mercilessly rubbing and crushing within her ear drum. Leena rolled her head from side to side on the edge of sleep and awakening, attempted to shake herself out of the cold, suffocating tunnel with the barbarous spikes; pointy fingers were slowly closing in on her. She tossed and wriggled around, trying to open her sticky eyes wedged together; she turned her head this way and that on the pillow, bumping her husband who sat up, peering into her face. Should I wake her? Heaven knows she needs to sleep, after all the students and tutoring. And the whole, long, drawn out process of everything else. Panel. Good quality sleep though. Beads of sweat now poured down her forehead, and Leena’s eyes crumpled as her face contorted into that of an expression of….pain. Yes. Now was the time.
He gently nudged her shoulder.
She sat up with a fierce energy Sam found odd at this time of the morning.
‘Oh no, such a strange dream - the same dream, I keep having the same dream.’
‘Just sleep hon’. Sam lay back and closed his eyes.
‘But what does it mean - why do I keep having the same dream?’
Sam continued closing his eyes, wishing she would just do the same for goodness sake.
Leena, a firm believer of dreams and omens still sat, resting her elbows on her knees. When had these dreams started, she wondered? Roughly a month ago? When they had passed panel. Panel. It was to do with panel. Having suffered in her earlier life from obeying rules, social etiquette, instructions, cultural adherence and pandering to procedure, she had metamorphosed into a creature who was now instinctual and would react viscerally from a deep inner feeling to events and people around her - more by people’s actions than words. She had told the manager at the bank the week before who had glared and told her she was ‘sorry’ for Leena’s money being deposited into the wrong account: ‘but you don’t look sorry - your tone and voice don’t sound like someone who’s sorry at all.’ The manager looked as taken aback as though she had been slapped, retreated to the offices behind the bank, walking backwards on her heel as she turned and then fled. Leena still hadn’t understood why the manager had reacted like that to her honest observation. She liked to speak the truth, especially where someone hid behind open rudeness, using appropriate polite words as a veneer.
She got out of bed and softly walked over to the window to open the curtain a sliver and peer at the balcony to the left. Sam had been prettifying it for them, for the child. Herbs ran along the wall beneath the balcony: coriander, parsley, thyme, basil. Herbs which Leena and Sam kept forgetting to use when they prepared meals. Delicate, lilac crocuses also ran along the top in boxes, not a popular balcony box flower, Sam had told her, but they were pretty nonetheless, Leena told him. They had stood proud and unwavering during the storm a few days ago. Who would have thought them to be quite so hardy? Not even a stray petal had dropped onto the balcony floor, now overlain with the geometrical fretwork floor Sam unfolded onto it at the start of spring. The full moon shone down boldly - clear, unobscured. It was a perfect Spring night, neither hot or cold, and the open window allowed a cool gentle breeze into the room, wafting Leena’s face soothingly.
Leena, now fully awake and shaken by her recurring dream, tiptoed next door into the baby room. It had been repainted a buttercup yellow and had some trees and clouds’ stickers positioned around the walls. The baby cot/bed would nestle a child up to 5 years old. They told the agency they were hoping for a Tunisian British baby, just as they were. The child would not miss out on her family cultural experience as they would provide it for her. Perhaps as they themselves had had, not quite the same of course, but as a British Tunisian couple; the best they could do anyway. Leena had read of babies placed with good families growing up happy and content, but seeking their own information later on about their heritage. And some equally didn’t care at all. Leena had grown up speaking Arabic in the family, Sam hadn’t and now was rapidly picking up words and phrases and using them more freely with their respective families, to Leena’s delight. He had just needed more exposure to it. Total saturation was it called? Hadn’t had that growing up. She loved the guttural sounds and clipped consonants of the language. And she loved his thirst for their home culture. The breads and meats she would grill and the mint teas she insisted on making, caffeine free, sweet, replenishing. Smatterings of Arabesque art she had dotted around the flat brought a soft reverence to the décor.
Sam had always wanted to adopt; it had never been a question – just part of his identity. They had discussed it soon after they met.
How the topic came up, her sister had asked her, Leena couldn’t answer, just that he had always wanted to. And so had she. On the other hand, she had always supposed she would have one of her own too. Presumptuous over-planning. Submit. God knows best. Such dialogues she had had with her maker. Was this her judgment, was she not deserving of her own? Why were others having their own so easily, yet not so for Leena? Don’t compare yourself to others. Each has their own path. Wise words and phrases she had to live through, appreciate, letter by letter to truly understand. How can your heart be so full of fire if you haven’t accepted and understood? More years of discernment to wade through. Wade through? The learning process should be calm and measured- otherwise how are you learning? Until you have gone to an inner place of calm and peace, how can you understand anything? Look into yourself, everything you need to know is already answered.
She lay down in the bed in the nursery and glanced at the cot as though her baby were already there. I’m practising being quiet, she convinced herself as she closed her eyes and tried to sleep. This is an important skill now, being quiet for the baby. She reached her arm out and stroked a white bar of the cot and then folded herself up tight like a budding petal. She would be prepared and ready, responsive and open to their baby when she came. Their baby needed their presence, she had to know they were there - at least for the first year or two; and this was why there was a double bed next to the cot in the nursery. She had told Sam a few days ago the baby was coming. And he had laughed. ‘How do you know?’ I just do. She’s coming.
Leena had met Sam in the obscurest of ways, and he liked to laugh and tell people she had fallen into his arms. Walking to the tube station one autumnal evening, after having had a study session with a university undergrad, she had walked into a café and had a soft cheese and crab sandwich, gulped down with a cup of tea. Hurrying to the station to beat the afternoon rush, she had suddenly felt nauseous as her head swum on Holborn High Street. She recalled others swerving out of the way to allow her to fall, whereas Sam had surged forward to stop her falling onto the pavement - face first. And what had amazed her was that he had come with her to the hospital that day, even though as he had been sprawling forward to catch her, some of her vomit had actually splayed across his arm. As she had sank into an unconscious state, he heard her murmur words of desperation to her maker in Arabic, and she then she went out cold, beads of sweat drenching her forehead.
‘You’re here’ she simply stated when she opened her eyes in the A&E bed number three, awful headache and dry in the mouth. She was recovering from a violent, allergic reaction to soft crab.
‘I wanted a translation of what you had said in Arabic’ he smiled at her as he leaned forward in the plastic chair he had been sat in. She reached out her hand to him.
She swallowed and felt a dryness in her throat now. A sip of water and she’d lay down again in their own bedroom.
She ran the tap in the kitchen just enough for a gulp into the tumbler, and then padded her way back in her slippers. She would just look into the baby room again and then sleep in their own bed. As she groped down the dark corridor, feeling for the dresser, an aroma of sandalwood, strong and heady drifted toward her. Leena stopped, puzzled and thought it must be from one of the flats outside. And then she heard paper rustling. She tentatively opened the door to the nursery, too mystified to be frightened.
It was flooded in daylight. Leena squinted her eyes to the over bright transition. A girl sat near the double bed with her back to her, on a chair. A gleaming violin was placed on the bed. And to the left of her stood a lectern. The girl turned one page and then turned the other page back and forth hurriedly with impatience. The chest of drawers was still there, and a beautiful, miniature mirrored dresser on lay on top. A slim, wooden incense holder lay on the chest of drawers with the distinctive sandalwood incense stick smouldering gently. The room was white, sparse and clean - and the window was open. Leena stood and stared.
And the beautiful girl turned around, with large brown eyes and searched Leena’s face with tenderness. She had olive skin, a beautiful aquiline nose, and was dressed in a light brown sweater. Leena drank her in.
‘Mum, I’m still writing - go!’ She was good humoured and polite in her gentle rebuke to her Mother. Leena stared again, but somehow the words found themselves. ‘I’m going’ she replied, motherly, kindly, patiently. The girl, perhaps, in her later teens smiled, her whole face flushed with love, as Leena closed the door tight. No sunlight framed the inner door. Leena in a daze, wandered back to their own bed.
The car sputtered its way up the A20 and Sam glanced at Leena whose eyes rounded as she gripped her seat. They had the MOT left to complete next week. But we have almost everything we need don’t we? She questioned Sam. Nappies, sheets for the cot, bedding, sleeping suits, baby seat, baby pouches, body and hair wash, formula, milk bottles, soothers…
‘Yes we’ve done well, all things considering’ Sam answered, keeping his eyes on the road, gripping the steering wheel tight.
Leena’s mind raced as the car lurched forward, Sam trying not to stop the car for fear it would stall.
‘I am going to trade this in next week, for the Merc people carrier I saw. I have enough in my ISA.’
‘Something reliable and solid’.
‘Yes.’ As an afterthought she added: ‘as soon as possible.’ Then she glanced at him and laughed. ‘We’ll be fine hon, don’t worry! It will all go well. Just as it should.’
She closed her eyes to try to fill the gaps in the list of items they could possibly still need:
Baby rattle, aloe vera lotion, soft, soft towels…
On the morning a week after the nursery incident, at 8am, they had received the call. She lay in the nursery again, between the creamy, soft cotton, double quilt cover, breathing with a hushed, quietened breathing, practice for when the baby came, (and Leena knew now, it was soon) when the call came. Their social worker was sorry to call so early, but it was for an immediate placement, it was a foster to adopt. The first Tunisian and English baby they had come into contact with. Baby L. If there is a baby, that is enough, Leena replied. The baby was theirs. They would love the baby. She wouldn’t even have to ask Sam; he had told her before and they had decided. We take the first baby we get.
‘Yes. Yes, we will pick her up’.
The social worker hurried through some points hastily. Father: British English, had left the mother with child. She, a Tunisian, had been working at a large home and had been sneaking the baby in, keeping her in the green house in the large garden while she cleaned at the house. Baby L had almost frozen to death, though a dog from the house had been getting into a frenzy, barking outside the green house everyday for a few weeks now. The owners had ignored the dog’s pleas for weeks, knowing he was just impatiently waiting for his owner their daughter to come back and claim him. The daughter of the owners had come by to see her old pet near the budding crocuses after her gap year abroad, and followed the dog around the garden until she had been led to the greenhouse. She heard the plaintive baby’s cries and it had frightened and then broken her when she saw where baby lay. She, shaking, had picked her up, and sat outside near the crocuses holding her in the sun to soothe her.
Biological mother not compus mentos. Has an intense dislike of the child, spawn of the lover who left her as she had been stupid enough to get with child in the first place. She hadn’t picked her up for hours when she had fallen into the cacti before, even after finishing work at the house. Breast fed her when she could express, which wasn’t always. Baby’s skin had been bleeding and was still bruised now. Tender skin.