She has a swarm of children, a whole regiment of children. Her name is Iris. She is wearing a long flowery skirt and pearl drop earrings. She doesn’t mind when someone calls her “young lady”. She had never planned or imagined that one day she would look after a daily schedule of so many lovely children and would recognize each one’s cry instantly and without a mistake.
Usually her morning starts at 8am, the moment friendly birds’ noise is interrupted by the creaking of the old Károlyi Kert gate. Iris wouldn’t mind to have another hour’s sleep, but she can’t sleep when tiny Anna, who’s two months old now, is screaming the entire neighbourhood down. The only possible way to calm her down is to rustle the gravel on the pathway for a couple of hours.
Anna is the first one. The other rowdy ones arrive soon after her. Five of them, no less.
“Dani, János, Léna, Ági, Ványa” – Iris is counting.
Everything is just like she expected. The tiny people who are sitting in their buggies, crawling, crying and sleeping peacefully, one after another. Iris eventually recognizes a melody in a baby’s screaming.
The air has not warmed up yet. There is no heat at this time of the day, but there is a nice breeze, and workers who cut paving slabs into small pieces, making the street look nicer, are not making any noise yet. They’re eating sandwiches, smoking and chatting quietly.
Iris has several coffees, too. She is thinking about her littles ones growing bigger, how they are now talking more than screaming, how they slide down the slide for the first time and want to go higher on the swings. They would happily wave at her and she would wave back at them, too.
The fountain starts working at 9 o’clock. The door of the marketing agency also opens at 9am, and young men dressed in skinny trousers with suspenders (that make them look like boys instead of grown men) play with their smartphones, sip coffee from colourful mugs and clean their glasses before an important meeting. Later on, the Csendes Társ café opens too, and tables instantly fill up with people who anticipate the heat and want a lot of lemonade with mint and ice.
The group of toddlers, the “over ones”, arrive, filling the old park with noise and usual hullabaloo. Local cats and birds skedaddle as soon as they hear them. And the rabbit, who lives in the park, retreats to his burrow underground to escape from the crowd. Iris tenderly calls them “the suicide squad”.
For Iris, this is a magical but anxious time of the day, when any step or movement can easily end in death. At least Iris is convinced so. That’s why she feels that it is by pure magic that the toddler “suicide squad” members stay alive. But before this, Iris goes through drama. She imagines herself having a cigarette (although the one cigarette that she allows herself to have every day is still hours away) and she is whispering with hope, then despair, and then with hope again:
“Be careful, sweetie! Where are you going, my dear? No, not there, honey! Poppet, it’s your head. Be careful please! Oh, no no no…. darling, watch out for the swings! But, sweet-pea, you see, the horse is a bit too big for you… My poor child! Be careful, my love, look out for the curb… And stairs, stairs, stairs.. Oh no! Not again…”
Iris adores them and she would do anything for them to stay safe.
It’s getting hotter, and the park is peppered with coloured spots of people wearing sunhats. Sandals seem like a good idea. The slide is hot and therefore empty. Children start winging as they get hungry. The tap with drinking water is a popular place: hands, faces, tummies need to be washed. Mothers, nannies, fathers on duty open lunch boxes and offer drinks. Peach juice runs through little fingers as they squeeze the ripe fruit, rounds of cherry pits are shot at the bushes.
Iris follows suit. She puts on a wide-brimmed hat, she washes the fruits and berries, she eats cheese and spits cherry pits into an empty coffee cup.
The small kids are not the only ones bringing amusement to the park now. It is filled with students, couples, tourists. Younger women are stepping out in their elegant shoes and perfectly ironed silk dresses. Then they sit on the benches, chat and pick at a sweet cheese pastries while observing the universe. Older women are just happy to be among the babies and they feed the birds with freshly baked bread – their tiny leather bags seem to contain nothing else.
The fountain is going crazy and now it’s not just sprinkling but jetting around. A pure happiness for schoolchildren who drop by during their lunch break and get thoroughly wet in seconds.
Iris looks after the older ones too. She knows about their achievements – Tamás is good at football, Viki sings songs in different languages, László lost ten kilos which is also good. She feels bad when boys fight and girls cry. Iris turns out to be the only one who really cares. The only one who doesn’t want László, who lost weight, but is still rather overweight, to inadvertently push small smiley Ádám… She is the only one who wants things to be peaceful and in order.
Finally her eyes and ears need a break, she is hungry, and she is not made of stone after all. She has seen enough tears and bruises today. And anyway how could she really help if she is only guarding from the balcony?
Straight after the clock on the watchtower strikes twelve times, sounding not much louder than the children, the park is starting to empty. Iris, the guardian says good-bye to the children who don’t see her and sends air kisses that get stuck in the treetops and never reach the tops of the heads that they were meant to land on. Iris walks over to her sofa. Now it will be quiet, and Iris can eat and read, and close her eyes, and not worry about any of her kids. She can even have a nap and dream about an evening walk with someone by her side.
Iris knows well that in a few hours the park will be buzzing again. The evening air will be filled with adult voices this time. The adults, who had an awful day and now are looking for a retreat. The adults who would be on the phone, cursing and shouting, talking and not hearing. Feeling tipsy after drinking all that wine, they would sit by the fountain in tears – as if trying to hide behind the fountain stream.
Awkward violin sounds would be heard from an open window and less awkward sounds of a piano. They may be joined by a base and a flute. This would mean that a mother of three and a conductor named Magda called in her chamber orchestra for a home rehearsal.
Then the night would fall and the children would fall asleep, and the park would remain in Iris’s charge. She would go out to the balcony and sit there, calmly and peacefully, for as long as she wants, and no one would interrupt her thoughts.
~~~ The End ~~~
About the author: Masha Kamenetskaya is a journalist, psychologist and a writer, originally from St.Petersburg (Russia), currently living in Budapest with her family. Her short stories appeared in online and printed magazines in various countries (in Russian and in English), and they were included in several anthologies of short stories. She is also co-author of the non-fiction book for new mothers called “A Mother and a Child: The first Year Together. The Path to Physical and Emotional Connection” which was published in Russian.
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