Swarna Pinto (Macquarie University, Australia)
After another sleepless night, Sybil got up from bed early one the morning. She had something to do. She wasn’t hungry. She’d grab a coffee from somewhere, which reminded her to take her wallet.
Sybil was driving to the 24 hour Kmart in Campbellfield. When the fuel warning started to flash, she got on the freeway to save fuel. She was going to look at the swaddle-ups which were advertised in a Kmart catalogue. She wanted to check whether they could keep a baby safe at night.
Her Jay had always slept in onesies. She remembered how Jay blew raspberries and smiled at her. A blaring horn jolted her. A huge truck shook her car as it thundered past on the freeway, just a few inches away from her. She realised that she had drifted too close to the next lane.
The Kmart carpark was filling up by the time Sybil was walking back to her car with her purchase. She imagined Jay in a swaddle-up. Could he have waved his little arms and legs at her? Could he have smiled and blow raspberries at her? Sybil thought not. She thought that swaddle-ups restricted a baby’s movements. But the most important thing was to keep a baby safe at night. Wasn’t it? She could have put a swaddle-up on Jay at night and removed it first thing in the morning. She could have dress him in blue onesies during the day.
Sybil was about to get back into her car with her purchase, when she noticed a pram. Beside the pram was a black four wheel drive and woman in a red top was standing nearby, talking to her phone.
Sybil tiptoed towards the pram and peeked in. A baby was sleeping under a pink blanket. She bent over and lifted the blanket a little. Then she removed it and put it under the pram. The baby stirred and looked straight up at Sybil. It was her Jay! He was right here. They had given Jay to some woman and had lied to her. Jay blinked a few times and screwed up his face. He was going to cry. He must be hungry. Sybil lifted the baby from the pram and rushed back towards the shopping centre. She would go to the parents’ room.
Sybil was panting as she placed her Jay on the changing table. The woman had dressed him in a long pink dress with frills around the hem. He had pink socks and a pink cardigan on. Jay started to cry as she undressed him. She dropped the pink things on the floor.
‘Hush, my little one, Mummy will feed you in a sec.’
Sybil dressed Jay in the brand new blue swaddle-up and settled down in the couch to feed. But he wouldn’t stop crying. He kept moving his face away from her breast. Milk leaked from Sybil’s nipple and splashed over Jay’s face. Jay cried harder. Sybil moved him to the other nipple.
‘Don’t you like the swaddle-up my little one? Don’t cry, Mummy will change you soon.’
As Sybil frantically tried to feed Jay, the woman in the red top burst in and snatched him in one fluid movement. Sybil sat staring open-mouthed as the woman held Jay close to her body with one hand and removed the swaddle-up with the other. Jay moved his head towards the woman’s breast and hiccupped. The woman threw the blue swaddle-up it at Sybil.
‘Here’s your fucking sack. You nearly killed my baby.’
Holding Jay to her chest, the woman bent down and picked up the pink things, muttering about a crazy woman. She carried Jay away in his nappy.
An unbearable silence pervaded the room. The blue swaddle-up lay in a lifeless heap on Sybil’s lap. The walls closed in on her. A familiar anguish threatened to overcome her but with a mammoth effort she pulled herself together.
Sybil heard sirens as she was coming out of the toilet block. A small crowd had gathered further away near the supermarket exit. They were looking at the woman in the red top. She had Jay on her shoulder. In a pathetic attempt to conceal him, the woman had put a white blanket on him. Sybil sauntered towards her as there was no point in running and alerting her. She would steal behind the woman and snatch Jay.
Sybil stopped short when she realised that there were two ambulance officers and a security guard with the woman. Sybil wailed, ‘Somebody call the police. That’s my baby.’
Everyone turned and stared at her. Nobody moved. The woman turned and walked towards the exit, flanked by the two ambulance officers. Jay lifted his head from the woman’s shoulder and looked at Sybil. She wanted to run and snatch Jay but two police officers materialized right in front of her and blocked her way.
‘Let me go. That’s my baby she’s carrying. He didn’t die. They took him. Look. Over there, that woman in the red top. That’s my b… ’
‘Let’s go to the police station. We’ll deal with it there’
Sybil howled, ‘That’s my baby’.
What happened after that was a blur. Sybil woke up in a strange bed. She was wearing somebody’s clothes. Her runners didn’t have shoe laces. She couldn’t open the door. Only a white clad doctor could opened it. Do doctors open doors? Was it an orderly then? Sometime later –she didn’t know how many hours or days or months had gone by– she found herself sitting at a table. She had a huge black hole carved inside her. Facing her was a man in a black suit. He was a talker but what he said didn’t make sense to Sybil. Apparently she was in denial and she had a long way to go. Go where? Sybil had to stifle a yawn. After a while another man came and took her to a room which was nicer than the one she had been locked in.
Sybil kept to herself although there were people in the courtyard, the cafeteria, the library, and the gym. There were few other rooms and the black suit was in one of them. She saw him more often. He talked as she sat mute in front of him. He talked about grief, coping mechanism, kidnap, blah, blah, blah. He said that her own baby had died of SIDS five days prior to the incident.
Nothing made sense to Sybil until she realised that he was gas lighting her. She’d have to play his game if she were to get out of this place, whatever this place was. In the meantime, the black hole grew inside her squashing her heart and her stomach.
The next time Sybil was seated in front of the black suit, she talked. She told that she had done a terrible thing and then pretended to brood for a while. Then she sighed and continued. Her baby had died of SIDS five days prior to the incident. She was very sorry she took somebody’s baby. Her grief had made her do that.
Sybil repeated this performance with little variations until they let her go. As soon as she was out of the main gate, she ran a few blocks away from the building and hailed a passing taxi. She tumbled into the back seat gasping, ‘Campbellfield Kmart. Quick’.
As soon as the taxi drew up at the entrance of the Kmart, Sybil paid the driver and rushed into the shop without waiting to take her change. She went to the baby section and bought a blue swaddle-up.
‘Hang on Jay, Mummy is coming.’
Swarna was born in Sri Lanka and emigrated to Australia in 1990. She has completed a Master of Science degree in Soviet Russia. Her life experiences provide a narrative canvas for her writing. Recently she completed a BA in Creative Writing through Open Universities Australia. Her fiction has been published in The Quarry (2020). She is a Masters of Creative Writing online student at Macquarie University. She lives in Melbourne.