by Louisa Adjoa Parker
It was the way her father looked at her when she told them the news that made her decide to give the baby up. She had known their reactions would be bad, but seeing the disappointment that filled her father’s eyes shocked her. Disappointment and shame. He looked old, his hair had started to go grey. He didn’t have to say anything – her mother took over the talking side of things, as usual.
‘You’ll go away, Tina,’ she said, thin-lipped and without expression, ‘to a home in Sheffield and give the baby up. No arguments.’
And there weren’t. Just a lot of cold silences and meals eaten round the dining table in an atmosphere you could have cut with a knife. No-one mentioned the baby again, although Tina could feel it kicking and rolling inside her. She would press her hand to her belly when she was alone, and smile.
A few weeks later she packed her leather suitcase with her best night dresses and a few clothes and went, just before her belly was too big to be disguised in the long smocks she’d recently taken to wearing. She’d missed her father, these past weeks, even though they still lived in the same house. He couldn’t bring himself to look at her, not even when it was just the two of them in the car making that long journey. Tina had always been a Daddy’s girl. She wanted him to come back to her.
‘Goodbye Tina. Let us know when it’s time to collect you,’ he said when he dropped her off, as if she was going to a friend’s birthday party.
The home looked far from homely – a tall, grey building divided into two parts. The first part was where you stayed while you waited to give birth; the second was where you spent time with the baby before arrangements were made and it was taken from you.
Tina felt as though she was trapped in a high tower whenever she looked out of her window, across the road to the recreation ground. Even though she knew it was too late, she hoped someone would rescue her. She even hoped he would come, although he was long gone. Even though she hadn’t actually told him about the baby. Tina could hardly remember what his face looked like.
Outside the home was a huge cherry blossom tree which had just burst into bloom, scattering white petals everywhere like snow. The other girls didn’t speak to each other much, each trapped in a private hell of their own making.
When the baby arrived, after a long and painful labour in the middle of the night, Tina took one look at its mewling little face and promptly changed her mind. She called for a nurse.
‘I want to keep her, now,’ she said. ‘She’s my baby. Will you tell my parents?’
‘Only selfish mothers keep their babies. You have to do what’s best for baby.’ This was what the nurses said, day after day, like a prayer, repeating it until the words sunk in to Tina’s brain. She didn’t want to be a selfish mother. She wanted to be agood mother.
When the day came, she dressed the baby in her prettiest dress – white cotton, with pairs of red cherries dancing over it – and changed her daughter’s nappy for the last time, careful as always not to prick her skin. The baby looked up at Tina with her brown eyes as if to say, I know what you’re doing. I trusted you. Her hair had grown and she had a little black tuft sticking up on the top of her head.
Tina was going to be strong, and do what’s best for baby. A scream kept threatening to burst out of her throat but she pushed it down and kept her lips firmly pressed together. What if her new family doesn’t love her? said a voice inside her head, what if they drop her down the stairs? She ignored the voice and handed the baby to the plump nurse who was waiting in the room.
‘Don’t look back now, dear,’ the nurse said firmly, after taking the baby from Tina’s shaking hands, ‘don’t look back.’ So Tina, not knowing she would spend the rest of her life wishing she had looked back and given the baby a final wave, or a final kiss, just kept on walking.
Louisa Adjoa Parker is a poet and history writer of Ghanaian and white British heritage, and has lived in the West Country for most of her life.