I don’t think Monica has any idea what she means to me. I fear I don’t have any words for it either.
She arrived on a bright March afternoon and, tiny as she was, seemed to fill our large Manila home. As a baby she didn’t cry much, but when she did it was loud and strong. She wanted her sustenance, and she wanted it quick. As a child, she wanted to explore every nook and cranny, touch and feel every shining object, ask a thousand questions about anything we used in the bathroom or the kitchen.
As Jane and I both worked full time, we had engaged a young live-in babysitter, Piña, whom Monica ran ragged with her insistence on going to the park next door and, when at the park, Piña told me, running up and down the slide and swinging higher and higher on the swing. Our cook, Rose, was happy with Monica, for she ate with gusto anything that was placed in front of her, told Rose it was good and asked for more.
Her closest friend was Peter, the shy son of my Filipina colleague and her German husband, who called Monica pronouncing the first syllable exactly the way they would in my home town of Kolkata. They played at doctor and nurse, and I was struck by the constancy with which Monica took the doctor’s role and, with a serious, almost stern mien, asked the nurse, Peter, to examine the patient, me.
“Darling, Daddy would love to play with you, but he has to first complete this report. Could we please play after another half-hour?”
Monica would withdraw but in barely five minutes turn up again, “Daddy, are you done?”
If I turned her away with another explanation, she would leave, but return in another five minutes, “Daddy, are you done?”
By this time Daddy’s focus was lost, his report-centered heart had melted. “All right, Monica. Let us play.”
The smile of triumph on her face told me that the game did not matter as long as I succumbed meekly to her wiles.
That voice, that smile. I succumb just as readily today.
Monica started school in Nepal, where I was once a guest speaker. Her tiny braid shook with excitement as the principal introduced me as ‘Monica’s dad.’ When Monica finished school in Egypt I wasn’t able to attend graduation, but the picture of her sun-drenched face as her cap flew high against a backdrop of pyramids remains seared in my memory.
Unlike her dad, Monica likes to move. New Orleans, Savannah, Pittsburgh. She takes a technology job and switches to Charleston. If my head is swinging, it doesn’t get a rest. Monica decides to marry, buy a house and settle down. Characteristically, she chooses to marry in the hispanic splendor of the Dominican Republic, where she and I flew kites in a park when she was six and I had taken her to Santo Domingo for a vacation.
“Darling, tell me.”
“I am going to have a baby.”
“What! You are a baby. How can you have a baby?”
“Dad, you forget – I am thirty.”
“You are right, Monica. I forgot. It is wonderful news.”
“I hope it looks like you.”
I realize moments later that is a very rash hope. If the kid looks anything like Monica, speaks like Monica, he or she will be just as hopelessly irresistible and sweep through our home like a whirlwind.
If the kid stands at the door and asks, “Are you done?” Whatever I am working on, I will have to capitulate, “All right. Let us play.”