KEEP HER SAFE

It is the middle of a hot humid day and I’m sitting at the bus stop. It is half an hour before the next bus. I watch a girl cross the road with a young baby. She sits, close to me. I always want to hold babies. I treasure the feeling of them against my body. I want to take them home. The young girl looks anxious, I ask her the age of the baby. ‘She’s a tweek today,’ she whispers. She asks if I will hold her. I should say no. While I’m dithering she gently places the baby in my arms. Then she jumps up and tells me the baby’s name is Rose. ‘Chemist,’ she says. I’m now holding this tiny baby girl in my arms and before I can say anything the mother runs.
I watch her disappear across the road and mingle. I want to know her name, I want to tell her my name is Ruth. The baby opens her eyes, stares at me, yawns and closes them again. The bus arrives. Of course I can’t catch it. Of course I can’t. I know I cannot keep her. The bus leaves without me. It is another hour before the next bus. I’m sure the mother of this baby will be back. Of course she will. A man comes and sits on the other end of the seat.

The baby starts to make a sound. He looks over and asks if it is a boy or a girl. I tell him a young girl has left this baby in my arms and could he help? He thinks I’m mad, I know he does. Then he wants to know what he could do. I have to think quickly. I decide I will leave my shopping on the seat, asking the man, who tells me his name is John, if he will mind it. Another bus, not mine, arrives. John tells me he is sorry, but he must get home. Yes, he thinks I’m mad. I’ll risk it and leave my shopping at the end of the bus seat, if someone takes it I can always shop later. 
The chemist shop is cool. At the back, where the counter is there are chairs, I head that way and sit . The movement has woken the baby. She is howling. One of the girls, behind the counter, leans over and asks if I need help, I’m not sure where to start. I know I should tell the story, ring the police, hand the baby over. I am feeling so comfortable, so normal with this baby snuggled next to my heart.
I was a mother once. He was my baby boy and at three weeks a non sleeper. I needed sleep. Peter my husband would sometimes take Jackson for a drive strapped into his special baby basket. He had pulled over to the side of the road when he realised Jackson had gone to sleep. A drunk driver had ploughed into the back of the car. It killed them both instantly. It took me years and years to get over it. Since then I had travelled the world working and volunteering, looking after children in need and giving them books. I had come home for a small break. 

I’m ready to leave again soon. I cannot stay still. A baby in my arms, this is all I want, it feels so right. I ask the girl behind the counter what newborn formula she has. I pick the most expensive. They have prams for sale at the back of the shop and again I buy the best one, I can always sell it on eBay or give it to the young mother as a present. I buy nappies and ask the girl to show me how to strap the baby in the pram. I buy bottles and an outfit. I will walk up the hill and when I am in the comfort of my own house I will ring the police. That’s the plan.
First I cross the road to the bus shelter and retrieve my shopping, thankfully it is all there. It is now about two in the afternoon, the baby is crying and restless. I know She will need a feed, I decide to catch a taxi up the hill.
My neighbour, who is out watering her garden, watches as I climb out of the taxi, she crosses the road. I put Rose, in the pram. I wheel her into the kitchen. I will leave her there until I understand how to clean the bottle and make the formula.

My neighbour Helen, is curious, and for just a second, I think of telling her the truth. Instead, what comes out of my mouth is. ‘I’m looking after this little baby, called Rose, because her mother is very ill’. I can’t ring the police while Helen is rocking the pram. I cannot keep this baby, I know that. Did the young girl, the mother of this one week old baby mean for me to keep her, did she? I fill a babies bottle with milk, put the teat on and hand the bottle to Helen, she probably knows more about how to hold and feed a baby than I do. I make us a cup of tea.

MY STORY

My name is Kathy, I’m sixteen and living with my mum. One hot, breathless,summer night, when mum thought I was sleeping, I snuck out by climbing through my bedroom window. I was meeting my best friend Wendy, we were going to a party. It was within walking distance of my house, I had to be back before dawn. It was not the first time i had climbed out the window. Yes, i met a boy, well I knew the boy, he was in my class at school. I had been on a date with him before with my mother’s approval. To a party in which my mother drove me to
and picked me up from. There were parents controlling where we went, what we drank. This party was completely adult free. I wanted to tell everyone i had a boy friend.
His name was Mark. He met me at the door. I was not going to let anything happen, I was sensible, I knew the consequences. He poured me a wine. It relaxed me immediately. The music was playing, he took me in his arms, it was the first time. He said, ‘let’s go up to my room.’ I trusted him, I loved the idea of him. I could see herself saying Mark is my boyfriend. We lay on his bed. He said everything would be okay, he promised it would be good. It felt so right, so safe, so nice, so wonderful. He said he loved me.’ I knew I should say no.. The time, the world, the place, felt like music. After, we lay together, side by side.
When the sun shone through the curtains I dressed. He held my hand and walked me home. He said it, ‘I love you kathy.’ He helped me climb back into my bedroom window. I was in love.
After that night we had a few more dates, always controlled by my mother or his parents, who warned us to be careful, we secretly smiled at each other. Everything was going well until one morning I woke up feeling sick. I had to run to the bathroom. I thought i had a stomach bug. Only it happened every morning for a week and then I remembered i had missed my period. ‘No,’ i kept saying in my mind, ‘no, no, no.’ I had seen Mark, who had been avoiding me, talking to another girl.
When I tried to catch up with him at lunch time, I found him talking to the girl. I could not break in with my news, my fears. I wrote a note. I put it in his bag. It said, walk me home please, just you, not any of your friends. He waited by the gate for me. He was not alone. The girl, her name was Gail, said, ‘do you mind if I walk with you, Mark and I are going out tonight.’ I turned to him and said, ‘what.’
He said Gail’s father had given him a job. I said I just wanted him for one moment on his own, I only needed to say one thing.’ Gail turned her back on us and I nearly spat it in his face. ‘I ‘m pregnant.’ My mother is beginning to notice things, I have no money.’ Mark looked shocked.
Each morning I avoided school. I had found on my wanderings, around my suburb, a house where the occupants did not pay rent. They called it a squat. I asked if I cleaned could I live with them. They said yes.. I found a job, only part time, as a shelf packer, at night, in the local supermarket. No, I had decided to not take my mother’s advise and have an abortion. I wanted a perfect ending to my problem. I thought I could be a mother. I cleaned and scrubbed and avoided my mother. I followed Mark who was now working in a garage and completely ignoring me. Although one day when I came by the garage and he was the only one there, he took my hand and drew me right into a dark space at the back of the garage, he said he had watched my body change from a distance. He stroked the spot where his child was growing, he kissed my lips and promised he would get back with me. He held me so close and the baby kicked. And just as he slipped his hand onto my bare skin there was a toot of a horn. We both found
it hard to let go. He whispered he wanted to be the father of our unborn child. I was in love.
I tried to see him again, everything prevented it happening. A month later Honey, one of the women in the squat, who had promised to be at the birth, drove me to hospital. I was going to keep the baby. It had all been arranged. The birth was long, hard and very painful. I did not tell my mother because my mother wanted me to give the baby up for adoption. I named her Rose.
I took her back to the squat. I shared a closed in veranda space with Honey. Honey said she was looking forward to welcoming the baby. That first night home Rose cried all night, except when I was feeding her. She cried at night a lot. The housemates had a meeting and decided they would call my mum.
I panicked, ‘no please, anything, do not call my mum.’ I took my baby out for a walk. I saw a woman, sitting at the bus stop. I had noticed this woman before.
She had a very friendly face and always seemed to be kind to children. I sat next to her on the bus seat. The woman smelt of lavender or cinnamon. She peered kindly at Rose and asked me how old she was. I said her name was Rose and she is one week today. I wanted to ask her to hold her, just for a minute, just for such a short time, just for now. I knew she was up for the job. I dreamt this woman would love my baby, or ask me if I would like to live at her house. We would live together and she would find Mark and it would work out. I gently placed Rose in this woman’s arms, I jumped up and ran across the road telling myself it would work. Yes, yes, it is the right thing to do.
As I crossed the road a bus pulled up. Had I told her my name? I had wrapped my name and the address of the place I lived in and placed it under Rose’s singlet. The woman was still sitting there with my baby wrapped comfortably in her arms when the bus left. I wanted cross the road back to the bus shelter. A man sat next to the woman. I watched the woman talk to him. Then another bus drew up to the shelter again, I thought the woman would step onto the bus and walk to a seat, and see me watching her, I ran into the post office. After the bus left, I watched the woman cross the road and head towards the chemist. She could not see me. She came out of the chemist shop with a brilliant new pram,
my baby would be looked after well. I observed her getting into a taxi and all of a sudden I realised what I had done. My arms felt empty, I wanted to rock Rose to sleep one more time, hear her cry, change her nappy, how could I just give her to a woman I don’ really know?
Helen asks if I have any nappies. I retrieve the clothes out of the shopping bag and we both begin to change Rose. As I pull the little singlet over her head a piece of folded writing paper flutters out. Helen unfolds it.

The note says: “I love this baby so much, I do not want to give
her to anyone but you, because you have such a kind face. I
live in the student house number six note street. I hope you
will come and find me or I will see you at the bus stop.
Love from Kathy Baker. Keep my baby girl safe please and i
will see you again.”

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