It’s a crowded train and he sits on her lap, her arms around him. Not tight but rather soft, rounded, her hands relaxed on his lap. So he doesn’t feel trapped. So he doesn’t feel as though there’s any danger. So he can keep his attention on the fleeting East Anglian countryside. “Mummy, what are the cows doing?”
“They’re having their lunch.”
“What are they having for lunch?”
“I don’t like grass.”
“It’s so green, so refreshing. Like a salad. Cows love it.”
His hair is fair and unruly, hers is dark and glossy over her shoulders, but they have the same eyebrows, rising sharply above the bridge of the same, small, delicate nose. The same face that wonders at the world. Hers looks barely old enough for the awareness in her eyes, the awareness that she holds a supreme gift in her arms, one she would defend with her life, though she doesn’t want him to know it. Her slender body could not have been much older than a girl’s when it yielded this new life. He can’t be more than four. She must be approaching the end of her teenage years.
The train brakes and she raises and spreads her fingers over his tummy, ready to link them into a safety belt. He doesn’t notice.
“Mummy, why has the train stopped?”
“There’s probably a red signal, you know, like the traffic lights when we cross the road. It means we have to wait for it to turn green.”
The train restarts, and acquires speed smoothly. Her fingers relax and her hands go back to rest on his lap. He climbs down, he wants to look at the other passengers. She lets him, but her eyes light up with new alertness, although her voice remains calm, a calm that gives him the confidence to stand, take a couple of steps, look around, and grin at the other passengers. He doesn’t see her body tense up, her arms behind him, ready to catch him. His face is beaming with the satisfaction of achievement, as he climbs back on her knees. His eyelids grow heavy, and he drifts into a slumber, rocked by the train. The change in his breath against her chest lulls her, and she places a light kiss on the top of his head. A kiss full of gratitude. She observes the sunlight from the window, throwing flecks of gold in his flaxen hair. Did her body really produce this miracle?
The conductor’s voice announces our impending arrival at King’s Cross. He wakes up, rubs his eyes with his fists, then turns and kisses her cheek. “I love you, Mummy.”
She looks at him, marvelling. She tries to keep her voice level, almost neutral. “I love you, too.”
He stretches his arms, and yawns, then a cheeky twinkle flashes in his eyes. “How much do you love me?”
She blinks and looks away. Her voice is gentle but steady. “I love you to the moon and back,” she says, but he is watching the other passengers take their suitcases down from the racks, and is now thinking of something else.