It’s 11:18. Allo, allo, says the only other person in the room. That is the last I understand as the staccato Arabic sentences bounce around the quiet and chilly room. I am quite sure of the time as I have been tilting my watch repeatedly for the last hour. It is pretty, a dark grey face on a gunmetal strap with diamantés instead of numbers. The hands are silver. As I said, pretty. But almost impossible to read especially if I am tired and a little tense, as I am now.
My thoughts are momentarily distracted as I think about the language being spoken and I wonder where in the Middle East he is from.
11.24 – oh good another six minutes used up. My companion’s conversation ends and he smiles shaking his phone a little, shrugging in apology. I smile back. We both know how the other is feeling.
You ‘ave bin ‘ere long time? he asks.
On and off since early afternoon, I respond, thinking of my rush back to the house to feed and exercise the dog.
Yes. It take time.
It certainly does, I agree.
We lapse back into the silence, now and then disturbed by a juddering sigh from the vending machine ready to spew out a variety of chocolate bars and crisps ranging from plain to paprika and cheese. Another machine next to it, though this one silent, offers coke, sprite and virulent coloured orange. No water. Next to it, with the insertion of coins, none of which I have, I could have coffee with or without powdered milk, tea or hot chocolate. Various toys encouraging dexterity fight for space amongst the mess of videos scattered over a low plastic table, the off-white and scribbled on top cheered by pillar-box red legs.
11:38 – My mind wanders over the last four days. Most of the first was spent in a fog of jetlag. The next I spent with friends, first at Café des Amis which was apt, and later at the Miró exhibition at the Tate Modern. A day that paid testament to friendships around the globe, picked up randomly in different countries, but always strong. Saturday saw me heading to the Forest of Dean to see my brothers-in-law. Sitting on hard flip up seats in the open air watching Richard III performed by the Rococo Players, which whilst very good, reminded my of why I prefer Texas in summer. Wearing a borrowed fleece and mac did nothing to alleviate the seeping chill of an English summer evening laden with a threatening drizzle. Finally warming up later in bed my phone rings. Midnight. It is a call from my daughter. The real reason for my visit.
I think I’m in labour Mum, she said. We agreed I would head back along the A41 to London in the morning. And here I am 24 hours later.
11:59 – I call my husband, still in Houston. What news? he asks before the phone is anywhere near his ear.
None yet, I reply. I’m getting nervous. I’ve been in the waiting room over an hour.
Go and bang on the door, he says.
I scoff at his suggestion though secretly that is exactly what I have been wanting to do.
I left the labour room full of good intentions: the birth of a child should I think be a private affair between the parents. The start, let’s face it, of eighteen years of negotiating uncharted territory, mostly smooth but occasionally jarred by ruts. And just sometimes when the going is fraught a reminder of what was shared at the very beginning is a good way to return to what is important.
00:14 – okay, my good intentions are going out the window. The urge to bang on the door is building. What the hell is happening? Is my daughter, my first-born, okay? I would laugh at myself pacing the halls outside the labour ward, a cell phone in either hand, if I weren’t so anxious.
My companion-in-waiting joins me as I read the notices on the board – for the third time. The words seem new to me.
It take long long time I tink, he says again.
I smile tightly.
00:29 – Ava arrives. I am instantly besotted. A new phase in my life has begun – global grandparenting.