Tingalay-o by Celilia Crowson
Silvery grey drizzle fell into the murky November dawn. The heavy, slow-moving cloud cover was unwilling to relinquish its obscurity to a new day. Light hoarfrost had settled quietly in the night but now the slight rise in temperature and the wet air was beginning to obliterate the beauty of the glittering chill. Wraithlike trees were returning to their dank wintry sleepiness as they dripped dark bitter tears on to the brittle floor beneath. The fairy dell setting was washed away to reveal pedestrian wet grass compacted with the past season’s discarded pine needles.
Apart from the systematic drip from the forestry and the occasional hiss of tyres on the wet road from sporadic early morning traffic, the air was still silent. The over-wintering birds had decided it was not yet time to kick start the small plantation into life and the small nocturnal mammals had shuffled off into safer depths well before the first signs of morning. The girl stood motionless behind the concealing trunk of a tall pine. She had positioned herself as far into the wood as she could whilst still keeping the timber toilet block on the edge of the car park in her line of sight. For a seventeen year old who had just given birth it had been a long vigil but she could not leave yet.
She was grateful that the night had been dry when she arrived, already in labour. The trek across three fields had been arduous. She still felt dangerously too close to home but it was the best her weary body could manage and she had to return before she was missed. She had gleaned her knowledge of the birth process from the internet, even watching a video on YouTube, and had planned her confinement with impressive precision. In theory she knew how to cut the cord and deal with the afterbirth. She was not after all a high flying scholar for nothing. When she considered the unthinkable alternative, she had, despite her terror, convinced herself she could manage the ordeal. She had even decided that death would be preferable to exposure and so to die in the course of delivering would be merciful.
However as the girl soon discovered, technology for all its extensive and encyclopaedic expertise was not so great at depicting pain, nor was childbirth however excruciating and unattended a predictable gateway to oblivion. For hours she alternated from tossing on a groundsheet to stumbling round the protective circle of trees, clinging to the coarse bark until her fingers bled, screaming away her lonely anguish to the night sky. As the temperature fell and the first frost formed she was warmed by the sweat of her physical exertions and in her agony she begged aloud for help. So well had she chosen her location that the only response to her painful cries was from an owl who howled away unseen, in disturbed unison.
When she felt the urge to push and the effort relieve her tearing torture she calmed and braced herself, knowing that she was approaching the dramatic finale. She felt for the head as it crowned and gently eased the daughter she would never know into the world. She rested, warming the yelling baby momentarily with her own body’s heat before wrapping her securely in layers of warm blankets. The child soon settled against her breasts and slept as the very young and innocent manage to do so easily. She wiped the child’s tawny skin and wrinkled old lady’s face and gazed upon the exquisite beauty only a new mother sees.
In her post-natal exhaustion the girl was reluctant to move but with her primordial hormones raging, her maternal instinct was to protect the new life she had produced. She padded her sore and bleeding body and pulled on her warm coat cocooning the infant inside to radiate extra warmth. She felt consoled by the closeness and her tired mind stored away the brief precious connection. As she walked out of the trees towards the toilet block she rocked the oblivious bundle in her arms singing softly as her mother had once sung to her ‘Tingalay-o Come me little donkey, come.’ She went through the entrance to the female toilets where she placed the child gently in the sink and settled her tenderly. She placed an envelope behind the cold tap.
Now she was watching and waiting. If someone didn’t come soon she would not be able to resist the urge to go back and check on the baby. If that happened she was not convinced she would have the strength of mind to leave her again. Suddenly headlights illuminated the area as a vehicle drove in to the car park. The girl shrank back to merge further into the tree shadows, but it was only a lone man who went into the gents and left quickly. Ten minutes later a pale coloured Honda turned in. The girl held her breath as a woman and a man got out. The man opened the boot and released two lively spaniels barking in anticipation of their early morning walk. After a few moments of coat shrugging and glove pulling they walked off briskly towards the woodland track. Then the woman changed her mind and jogged back to the toilets. She was out again in seconds with the blanketed bundle in her arms shouting urgently for the man who had wandered on with the dogs. Alerted to the emergency he reappeared quickly and the girl watched as he jabbed hurriedly at his mobile phone. The woman got into the car nursing the baby close, protecting the tiny head with the practised care of an experienced mother As the spectacle unfolded in front of her the girl’s tears began to fall. They streamed down her face noiselessly in an unstoppable torrent. She felt the warm blood heavy between her legs escape the sodden padding and start to trickle down her thighs as her whole body became consumed with the throbbing and sobbing of her loss.
A police vehicle and ambulance appeared in flashing convoy and within minutes they were screaming down the road followed by the Honda. ‘Bye bye my Tingalay-o’ whispered the inconsolable girl softly as she turned away.
Life resumed. The girl’s body recovered quickly. She held her avid breath as the news of an abandoned baby broke, spread and passed. The trauma left a gaping abyss in her body which filled with misgiving, guilt, self-loathing and longing. She looked in the mirror and was surprised to see herself outwardly unchanged when inside she knew nothing would ever be the same again. Over and over she replayed her actions. The logic of her plan, so understandable in the terror of her situation now seemed incomprehensible. How could she have believed that she would put it behind her without such enormous emotional consequences? She had miscalculated the attachment she would feel for her child, the overwhelming passion she was unable to control. The pregnancy had been a finite event. Now the aftermath was infinite.
More than once the girl wondered if it would be better to come clean but the motivations for her original actions remained the reasons for never telling. She thought about her parents, the sacrifices they made every day and how proud they were of her academic success. In their difficult lives she was their shining example of achievement against the odds and a role model for her younger siblings. A place at a prestigious university for their daughter was beyond the wildest imaginings of immigrants who had arrived from Jamaica with nothing. Success for their children was their only aspiration, a return for their own relentless hard work and endurance. She could not let one fumbled, ill-judged and alcohol-fuelled episode wreck that reward. Of the father she thought not at all. Their mutual morning-after embarrassment and careful avoidance since said it all. He knew nothing about her too belatedly acknowledged pregnancy. The solitary secret was hers alone. Now the time for admission was passed. Her duplicity would only be a calamity heaped upon a disaster.
The pressure built as examinations approached. The girl submerged herself in study, determined that her wretched actions should not be for nothing. She worked herself into a frenzy of revision trying to frustrate the only thing her mind wanted to focus on, where it journeyed to instinctively at every unguarded minute of every day. Her final examination was an English paper. She wrote feverishly and, as the papers were collected she sat in silence, diminished by the intensity of her effort. Through the large hall windows she watched a single grey raincloud drift out of nowhere. As vestiges of light seeping from the obscured sun frilled its edges and an unseasonal silvery drizzle started to fall she laid her head on the desk and wept.
Cecilia says: 'I find writing incredibly time consuming so little wonder that I have only been able to indulge this long held secret ambition since I decided to retire from work about a year ago. For the first time in my life I found myself with an abundance of me time. I consider myself extremely fortunate to be of the baby boomer generation. Joining the Grace Dieu Writing Group in North West Leicestershire gave me the confidence to enter this competition.'