I would see Viviane every other day, her long hair in a braid and a small teddy in her hand, going on a walk with Nyla in a stroller. Sometimes she would stop to say hello and move on. In a while, I saw Nyla sitting up in the stroller and looking at everything, including me, with large, limpid eyes. Then one day Viviane came out without the stroller, with Nyla holding on to her hand and tottering forward, step by slow step.
There was no stopping the baby after that. I visited her parents for a cup of tea and saw the baby endlessly rushing from room to room. Occasionally falling, getting up and again lurching to her next destination. She had discovered the strength of her little legs and the joy of moving them, and nothing would inhibit her explorations.
Thus began my special relationship with Nyla. On a weekend, I had just put down my first cup of coffee and opened the voluminous Sunday paper, when I heard a soft noise on my front door. There was Nyla, too small to be able to reach the calling bell, banging her little fist on my door. Viviane stood nearby, looking a little abashed, and explained apologetically, “Nyla wanted to see you.”
I opened the door and Nyla toddled right in, followed by Vivian. Nyla came to see what I was doing on the computer and then went to the living room and closely examined the large white teddy bear astride a chair, a memento left by my baby. She caressed it, smiled and, with what seemed like a nod of approval, went out with her mother.
After that, our relationship grew. Nyla went out regularly for a walk with her mother, sometimes accompanied by her father too, and periodically strayed to my home to meet her two friends, me and the teddy bear.
Over the years, Nyla grew into a pretty little girl, exploring the streets near our homes, playing in the park near our home with other children or in the park farther away where there were tempting slides. She learned to hop, skip and jump on the sidewalk, the squares marked in chalk in her progressively steady but still uncertain hand. She kept visiting me too, now by herself, flaunting her independence. If I was working on the laptop, she would sit on my lap and watch the letters appear in sequence. When she left, I would plant a kiss on her chubby cheeks and place a Lindor chocolate in her hand.
Ted and Vivian home-schooled her for several years. When she started going to a neighborhood school, I would see her run to the yellow school bus with a large backpack. I signaled to her from my doorstep and was rewarded with a huge wave and large smile. I began to see less and less of her, doubtless because she started spending more and more time with new friends. I saw even less of her when she graduated to high school, for she began to swim competitively and volunteer as a lifeguard.
This was nothing new, for I remembered how strange it seemed when my daughter went to college. Something seemed to be missing in my life when I would come back from work in the evening and the home seemed unnaturally quiet.
However, Nyla was always warm and scrupulously pleasant when we met, and I loved the limited time we had together. She would tell me of her friends, the ones who were cordial and the ones who were unaccountably catty. She told me of her new activities, the school play she was acting in and music lessons she was taking.
I told her that I was going abroad on an assignment for seven months but would return just in time for her birthday. I would love to take her out for dinner.
When you return to the country after a long stretch, there are always many chores to attend to, but I remembered my commitment to Nyla. I made a reservation at a French restaurant and told her. She said she had a tea party in the afternoon with some friends for her birthday and would meet me at the restaurant.
I was waiting at a table when Nyla walked in. I almost didn’t recognize her for a few seconds. She was wearing a floral tie-front maxi and her hair looked stylishly piled. High heels contributed to a more adult look. I said, “Nyla, happy birthday! You look splendid.”
But it was much more than the look. She had grown up. She wasn’t the little girl who would casually hop into my lap. She looked charming and she acted charming in every way, but she was now different. She now talked in a different, maturer way; she even said my name differently. No doubt, she had grown up.
I recalled the day my daughter returned from college. I loved her as ever, but she was different and grown-up. She was set to take a job, to start her own home and begin a new and separate life. Good luck to her, but on my desk was still her school graduation photo.
They all grow up. I almost wish they didn’t.