In a distant city – it seems unbearably distant to me – in the south of United
States lives the world’s most charming woman.
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 cried rarely, but when she did it was loud and strong. She wanted her ration, 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 bought, ate, wore or used. Round face, sparkling eyes. Her little but sturdy limbs could barely contain her gushing energy, as she rushed from a room to the next, one floor to another.
Jane had been writing a letter to her mother and had left it unfinished on her desk; Monica climbed on the chair and finished it with large sketches, with the pen also left on the desk. I had just bought a magnum bottle of French cologne that Monica had seen me splash on the chin after shower; she somehow managed to reach the bottle and had a shower of the cologne.
As Jane and I both worked full time, we had engaged a young live-in babysitter, Piña. Monica ran her ragged with her insistence on going often 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 often played at doctor and nurse. 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.
When Peter wasn’t available, she would come to the study, where I was toiling at a knotty report, and announce her presence with a firm, demanding, “Daddy!” Intoned that way, the word meant, “You have wasted enough time doing what you are doing. Don’t you think you should now come and play with 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 would be back another five minutes later, “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 floated high against a backdrop of pyramids still floats 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 whirling, it doesn’t get a rest. Monica decides to marry, buy a house and settle down. Adventurously, 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.
“Dad, I have some news for you.”
“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 it is a rash hope. If the kid looks or acts anything like Monica, he or she will be just as hopelessly irrepressible 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.”
(The writer is a Washington-based international development advisor and had worked with the World Bank. He can be reached at [email protected])