“Well, Nigel?” Tracy asked, as they stood looking out the sliding glass doors onto their back yard. “What do you think?”
Tracy had picked him up at the airport in the GTR, wanting to chauffeur him personally to their new home. He had seen it empty, of course, but he had left for Sweden again the night before the big move.
Naturally, not everything was perfect yet. Pictures still had to be hung, some windows still needed drapes, but for the most part, she had done it all. Well, really, the movers had done most of it.
For less than the cost of a suite at a five star hotel, a gang of Indian men in coveralls that said Delightful Movers had descended on their old apartment, and within a matter of hours had packed up everything – from the clothes in her wardrobe to the glasses in her cupboards – while she looked on nervously. They had loaded it all onto a moving van and done the same, in reverse, here in the new villa. If she had had to do it all herself, it would have taken her weeks.
Nigel was uncharacteristically silent while she gave him the tour. Of course that could have been partially down to jet lag and exhaustion, and partially down to the fact that she hadn’t really stopped talking herself, she was so excited. But now she wanted to hear what he thought.
“Tracy, my love.” He did his best to wrap his arms around her middle, looking into her eyes. “I told you before. If you’re happy, I’m happy. I’m just a bloke.”
“Yeah,” Tracy said, smiling, “A bloke who reads Wallpaper magazine.”
“Touché.” He smiled back at her. He nodded his head in the direction of the sliding glass doors through which they could see the newly laid blanket of grass struggling valiantly to grow in the oppressive hundred-degree heat of summer. “It’s brilliant. Can’t you just see junior out there on the grass kicking his little football.”
She nodded. “Or her little football.”
“Right, right,” Nigel corrected, “I meant his or her little football.” He yawned again. “Oh, love, I’m sorry I not more enthusiastic, but I’m completely cream-crackered. Can I persuade you to come up to the master suite with me for a nap? I might have just enough energy left to make you a happy lady before I drift off.” He winked at her. “It has been a while.”
She pulled away. “You go on up and lie down. I have a few things to take care of. Maybe I’ll come up and join you later.” She was thrilled to have Nigel home, but with her varicose veins throbbing and her belly pushing her organs up her esophagus, the last thing she felt like doing was having sex.
“Alright, love. But if you’re not up there in an hour, I’ll come down meself and get you,” he yawned. Tracy was pretty sure that in an hour he’d be out cold, but she nodded her assent, smiling.
Nigel started up the stairs, then stopped and turned. “Do you know what day it is?”
“Um,”Tracy said, squinting, “Tuesday the 21st of August. Oh gosh, it’s Max’s birthday on the 28th. I’d better call Caroline and see what we’re doing. Too bad it’s during Ramadan. We won’t be able to do our usual brunch. Yolanda doesn’t open until after sundown.”
“No, love,” Nigel said, “I meant it’s exactly a week until the due date.”
“Oh, right,” Tracy laughed. “I knew that. But don’t get your hopes up. Most first babies are late.”
“I know, I know. Just saying.” Nigel continued up the stairs.
“Nigel!” Tracy called after him as he disappeared around the bend. He poked his head back down.
“Yes, me lady?” he asked.
“You’ll be around, won’t you? No more trips to Sweden? I can’t do this alone, you know.” She looked at him beseechingly.
Tired as he was, he came back down stairs and held both her hands in his. “Tracy,” he looked into her eyes, “I wouldn’t miss it for the world. I’ve told Malek that I’m having a baby in a week, two at the latest, and that if he needs someone to go to Sweden again, he can bloody well go himself. Alright?”
“Alright.” She nodded, heart brimming with love for her tousle-haired husband.
As he headed wearily up the stairs again, the reality of what he had just said hit home. A week. In a week, or two, at the most, they would have a baby. The thought filled her with low-level panic.
At least she and Nigel had worked some things out. They had come to a compromise over the nanny issue. They would hire someone to replace Yani, who had all but stopped showing up for her bi-weekly cleaning sessions anyway. The new girl would clean and do laundry and food prep and basically make Tracy’s life as easy as possible. Tracy could write while the baby napped. And Nigel promised he would be home by 6 every night and swore up and down that he would insist on restricting future business trips to one or two days. It sounded ideal, but Tracy still felt unsure.
She had finally found someone to talk to about her uncertainty about her soon-to-be role as mother, at least. Over the summer, Tracy had pretty much given up on the Boobs, preferring to meet Teresa and her little boy, Jake, at the mall for coffee instead. Before Ramadan had started, they had gotten into a routine; They’d order their coffee in take-away cups and sit on the plush sofas of Stirbucks until Jake grew bored and fussy, then they’d stroll slowly down the mall corridors, chatting and stopping at a bench whenever Tracy needed to rest her legs or Jake needed a bottle.
Tracy had at first been shocked that Teresa fed him from a bottle. The Boobs had all gushed about the merits of breast milk over formula, as had her obstetrician. Dr. Nawallah had basically told Tracy she’d be resigning her child to a fate of asthma, allergies and emotional insecurity if she didn’t breastfeed it until it was two.
“Ah, that’s rubbish,” Teresa scoffed. “Look at me, I was bottle-fed from day one, and I’m alright. I do nurse him when we’re home, but there’s no way I’d whip out my boob in public. Nor am I going to sit in the loo for half an hour while Master Jake has a drink, am I? The odd bottle of formula’s not going to hurt him. Besides, he’s got to get used to it when I go back to work.”
“Your husband’s okay with that? With you working?” Tracy asked.
“Okay with it?” Teresa laughed. “Tracy, we’re both teachers. We don’t really have a choice, not if we want to save up enough money to put a down payment on a house. Besides, I think I’d go absolutely mad if I had to spend another year at home.”
“Really?” Tracy asked, “Why?”
“Well, it’s not exactly mentally stimulating, looking after a baby, now is it?” she said.
“It isn’t?” Tracy asked. “But you’re a teacher. You like kids, don’t you?”
“Tracy, teaching secondary maths and changing nappies have nothing in common. Now, of course I love Jake, and we have some lovely times together. But if I’m honest with myself, I’d have to tell you that most of the time it’s quite boring. Why do you think those Boobs organize endless coffee mornings and ridiculous baby lessons? They’re bored silly!”
Little by little, Tracy had confessed her fears to Teresa: that she’d be a bad mother, that she wouldn’t love her child, or wouldn’t love it enough, that she and Nigel would grow apart, that she’d lose her identity, that she’d made a monumental, irreversible mistake.
Teresa didn’t deny or try to talk her out of her worries. She just listened, acknowledged and shared her own expectations and fears. She basically made Tracy feel that she was perfectly normal. If Teresa didn’t exactly turn Tracy’s emotional tigers into pussycats, she definitely made them seem tameable.
And now she had found out that Teresa was leaving. Such was expat life, she knew. She had been lucky that she and Max and Caroline had been together as long as they had. Dubai had a notoriously high turnover rate. People signed on for a one or two or three-year contract, then moved on to the next job in Malaysia or Qatar or Shanghai.
Tracy sighed, leaning her elbows on the kitchen island. Knowing that Nigel would be around more often was a great comfort, but she needed a mommy friend. Poor Caroline was out of the running for the moment, and perhaps for quite some time if Max followed through with her plan to confess to Caroline about her affair with Louay.
“It’s just you and me kid,” she said to the little person in her belly as she unwrapped another wine glass and placed it on the marble-topped island. Her stomach rippled and stretched as the baby moved inside her, almost as if it had heard her.