Daniel remained sleeping as the plane came to land and I decided to let everyone pass rather than be in the thick of them. As overhead lockers opened and closed and bags and bodies began swarming in the aisles, I took the beads gently from Daniel’s half curled, delicate fingers, and half stood to pass them over the seat to the lady before me.
“Thank you so much,” I said. “I’ve never taken him flying before. I didn’t expect he would cry because he’s normally so placid.”
The woman half turned her head as her hand reached up and retrieved the beads.
“Next time bring a bottle,” she said.
“Oh”, I said. I wanted to say ‘but I breast-feed Daniel’, but she didn’t seem to want a conversation.
“For his ears. To suck on.”
“Of course,” I said.
And she disengaged.
His ears! I only then realized it had been his ears. I felt so daft, so un-mother. And wretched, I felt, and tired. I had put in so much energy with packing, playing with Daniel, ensuring utilities were paid, my ticket was safe, and all morning keeping Daniel awake, thinking that when he got on the plane he would be lulled by the hum into a sound sleep.
I ached for sleep myself. I had been delirious without sleep so many days since Daniel’s birth, it would be an overwhelming relief to place Daniel into Aunty Wendy’s arms, to let my arms swing by my sides, unburdened. Just that factor was enough reason to make the near 4,000 kilometre sojourn across Australia. I was largely estranged from my father and had not a deep relationship with any of my sisters, but here I had landed at Tullamarine airport, the youngest of the four girls, and with a babe in my arms. What a novelty!
The people were about halfway exited from the plane, but I remained reluctant to yet wake Daniel. I stared out the window and watched the baggage carriers unload. What comfort it must be to have a mother to ask advice from, I imagined. I knew single mothers were “everywhere”, as Chris put it, when I raised the issue of maintenance and he didn’t understand why I “wanted money from” him when the government would “take care of it” – but still I felt so horribly isolated, unsupported. I wanted in a way to join mothers’ clubs, but my view of them as so together, likely married, likely their babes with siblings – I just did not feel I could fit in. And their judging eyes looking upon me should Daniel cry, or perchance not get along with any of their precious children…. I could not dare it.
No matter how many single mothers were out there, I had told Chris, it still was not right. A half smile turned my lips. I recalled the saying “Two wrongs don’t make a right”, and the alternative version, given that ‘White’ is about as common as ‘Smith’ – “Two Wongs don’t make a White.” Funny, yes, and true.
A manically fast walker for decades, even the thought of strolling when I took on motherhood unnerved me. I couldn’t imagine being slow. It was not in my nature to amble, stroll – that’s why it suited me fine to propel Daniel through the streets of Cottesloe in his pram. But what would I do when he could walk? I would have to be slow… I remembered ‘patience’ was what my martial arts teacher told me I needed to learn. In the three years post-marriage, pre-Daniel, when I took up kung fu, the son of Grandmaster SiGung Malcolm Sue, Sifu, said, “You need to learn patience, Noeleen.”
I remember looking at Sifu and wondering what evoked his observation. He possessed an attractive stature, and looked at me squarely – not unkindly, but offering. His eyes were a beautiful stroke of nature’s artistry; deep, brown, a window to centuries of soul. I had wanted to lay down with Sifu. I had always thought the cultural differences between my white body and Asian soul were too vast a chasm to jump across. However, in time I realized the strength and endurance of my Polish ancestry, let alone the fight of the Irish in my blood, were connected to the Eastern soul. The entire human race is inherently connected by its very humanity, I could see, no matter whether eyes be azure like a cloudless sky or brown like rich soil. It was Chris who reached his hand across that divide in my mind, and held it as I leapt across the chasm. In fantasy, I had desired to do so with Sifu, but in reality it was Chris whose hand invited.
Yes, I needed to learn patience, I reflected. Could Daniel have been sent to teach me? I looked down at my Angel sleeping. Where do we humans, hide our wings?
I leaned down and woke Daniel gently. As he blinked and looked around, taking in his surrounds, I told him Aunty Wendy was outside and waiting for us.
“Gar bum da hub a ba,” he said, sitting up.
“Just let mum pass, sweetheart,” I said, making my way into the aisle. I brought my backpack down from the overhead locker and put it over my shoulders. I then picked Daniel up and, with him on my hip, began my walk up the aisle.
The smiling airline staff were near the exit. I still hurt badly from their disregard and didn’t want to look at them. I kept my eyes down but, as I left, could not resist but to eye them each. The young attractive one hoped my flight had been pleasant, and smiled at me. I looked at her curiously. What was wrong with her?! Had she forgotten? Had our experience had no impact on her? I had nothing to say, and walked away.