“You have to stay here, Baby,” I say. Baby can’t come with me—babies aren’t allowed in the adult world. It’s not a good place for them. They don’t feel comfortable there: they get bored, start whining, even get angry—there’s no entertainment. Babies love to have frequent food and drink, and the adult world just doesn’t provide that—we have to rein in our hunger and thirst, and babies can’t do it. Babies love colorful settings—they get upset in beige and gray interiors. And babies love to talk, while adults aren’t allowed to talk too much, or too honestly—babies always say what’s on their minds. That’s why Baby has to stay here, in its place. It can’t come with me.
I don’t feel good leaving Baby behind, but it’s for its own good, as well as mine. I can’t carry Baby everywhere. It disturbs me, even though I love it. It butts in, pulls at my official skirt, and climbs onto my knees, demanding attention. But I can’t give it my attention in the adult world—it’s a wild place, and I have to stay alert. One misstep, and I’ll be pushed out of it—helpless, jobless, miserable. That’s just the way it is.
“I want to come with you!” Baby says, trying to convince me, as always, that it won’t do any harm to take it along. “I’ll be good!” it promises. Once or twice in the past I believed it, and we always ended up in a bathroom somewhere, arguing over its behavior. It would turn somersaults in the middle of the office and make an imaginary home under the desk—a loud performance, involving an imaginary dog.
“No, Baby, I can’t take you!” I say, and my heart breaks as I look into its eyes. I turn away. What has to be done has to be done—it’s what makes the world go around. Baby stays here.
I help it undress and put its clothes in the locker. I brush its hair with my fingers and check if it’s washed its face. Sometimes it forgets—and sometimes I do too—but not today, Baby did well today. I help it put on some slippers. Baby is whining a bit, but I ignore it. It stops when it smells milk and bread, as the cook brings breakfast into the dining room.
“Go, Baby!” I say encouragingly. “What a great breakfast you have today!” I clasp my hands, and Baby looks at me as if I were out of my mind.
“It’s the same every day,” it says with contempt, and Baby’s contempt stings much more deeply than that of an adult.
“Oh, I see. Well, I’d eat it anyway!” I reply joyously. And it’s true—I’m hungry. I had no time to eat this morning, and just grabbed an old roll and wolfed it down, barely even chewing—rush, rush, rush.
I take Baby in my arms and kiss it goodbye. Baby doesn’t want to let my jacket go. It’s small hands cling to my collar, then move to my hair—it yanks, which hurts. It keeps talking and begging.
“Baby, I’ve got to go.” I say this calmly, but I feel something hot under my eyelids as I blink—time to go, here come the tears. I’ve got to put Baby down—now! Now, before it’s too late and I change my mind! I can’t change my mind, I’ve got to grow up, stop it… stop what? I’m not sure.
I pull away from Baby, almost shoving it, and leave. I run out, but I turn around in the yard to glance at the window. As usual, Baby’s there, waving. It’s not smiling. I bite my lower lip, wave back, and run, sliding on the slippery pavement—morning dew. Stumbling over the curb.
I eat my lunch outside—find a table in the sun and sit down. I turn my back toward the rays and grab my panino. I’ve got no time for a real lunch, but a sandwich will do. As I eat it, I turn, like a roast on the skewer. I feel a bit chilled, as if my hair or feet were wet. It’s an unpleasant feeling, dampness inside the shoes. On the back. Between the strands of my braid. Do I smell of mold?
I snort. What a ridiculous idea! I raise my arm and call the waiter to order a coffee with ginger, a local specialty. I feel a bit warmer once I drink it—I drink fast because I’ve got to get back to work on time—but the impression fades quickly. Like everything about our lives, to cite one of my wretched life mottos. We’re given things, experiences, just for a short time. A fraction of a second: anger, joy, pride, sadness, lust, love. Just a flash and then they’re gone. Which is good and bad at the same time. Well, so what? I’m not a gifted philosopher I suppose. I should stick to practical issues, not get all metaphysical—life is hard and then you die.
On my way back to work I drop by a Hindu shop. I shouldn’t, because I’m running late, but I have to or my teeth are going to start chattering. I buy a shawl. I saw it here during the winter and liked it, and Baby loved it, but at the time the price was high. Now it’s on sale, thick and red, with metal decorations around the edge and pink flowers in the middle. I wrap myself up in it and feel better. In the office, I can unfold it more and try to cover my legs. And at home we’ll both sit under it, Baby and me. But right now it’s time to get back. I run, the shawl fluttering behind me a bit like a cape, and it’s so funny that I almost laugh—but I remember that I shouldn’t. I’m a grown-up, so I slow down and walk like one.
Baby, why am I so cold? I wonder. I’ve got no idea.
In the afternoon I put on a thick jacket that I borrow from a friend—she left it here during the winter and hasn’t gotten around to taking it home yet. I try not to shake, but I can’t help it. I do my job, but I make mistakes because my hands are trembling. Baby, oh, Baby, I’m so cold! I think. I hope it can hear me and reply. Tell me what to do. Alone, I’m so indecisive and scared—it’s Baby who’s brave, not me. I’m so ordinary, so shallow—it’s Baby who’s creative. And I’m cold, so cold. I get myself some tea—again.
“Are you okay?” one of my colleagues asks.
“Sure, I just don’t like the cold.” I give a fake smile. I’m a master of artificial expressions—nobody ever guesses what’s really on my mind. Should I teach Baby how to hide? I don’t know. Baby says no.
“But it’s not cold, Patricia, it’s June.” My friend’s expression gets serious—Baby would be scared, and then outraged, at the look on her face. “What’s wrong with you?” She snaps. People don’t like it when the others cause trouble. You have to stay undetectable—then they love you.
“Nothing. I’m cold. Is there some rule against being cold in June?” I demand. Baby says that when they bite you, you need to bite back. But without Baby, I’m soft. It’s strange. In theory, I’m the one who protects us, but in reality it’s Baby who says when we need to hit back. It can’t always tell what’s fair and what’s not—I lost that ability a long time ago, made too many sacrifices and forgot what’s just and what’s right and what should be.
I wonder how Baby’s doing. Is it cold? Or maybe not? I shake. I hope Baby is just fine. Just a few more hours and I’ll get it back.
I should’ve never have left it there.
Baby is a part of me.
It’s already dark when I get back. The red lights that flash at the top of the powerhouse chimney show me the way—I check their position and make my way between the buildings and trees as if I were following the morning star. I’m cold. So cold I feel as if I’ve left my body and my higher self—my soul, or whatever you call that thing that supposedly makes us human—has evaporated, vanishing into the skies. I’ve got to hold on, though, and I cling to my fleshly self—otherwise, I won’t make it to Baby. And I’ve got to make it. People are looking at me strangely, even crossing the street to avoid me. I reel. I’ve got a coat and a thick hat on, and the shawl is over my head. I look suspicious, maybe dangerous. Baby’s not afraid of strange-looking people, though—she just gets curious. But adults get worried.
“Cowards!” Baby says.
I finally arrive and see Baby in the window. The light inside is almost orange, and Baby’s dark hair stands up, electrified, and it’s carrying something in its hands—a toy, I think. I can’t be sure—the red flashes that guided me here are reflecting in the window now, obscuring the object. I smile—it’s fine. Baby’s okay.
I enter, but before I can even call out, Baby peeks into the hall.
“I knew it was you!” it cries out and run towards me, jumps, puts its arms around me, climbs me, its long legs embracing my waist. “I missed you!” it says.
I feel the warmth. It starts inside my heart, as a small hot spot. Later it grows bigger and bigger—bigger than me, or the room that we’re in, or the city. Bigger than the country or the continent. Shining and warm.