Tonight Hana, I am lying here in bed at a childishly early hour writing directly to you because I can find no other way to process what happened. Soothing words are little comfort, television is hollow and sleep is not possible, although I have tried. As ever, the solution is to write, to pour all these feelings down onto the page in the hope that it will help.
We were having an idyllic afternoon out in London after a rushed start to the day. The rain had held off and there was a glimmer of sunshine. Daddy stayed at home with the baby so I could concentrate on you. I didn’t have a nappy bag with me for the first time in months. You had your scooter and were carefree and giggling as you rode along, your little legs working hard as they pushed off the earth, the wind blowing your hair in your face. You loved the train ride into the city. You were excited to see a road and some cars out of the window. I smiled wryly at your sense of wonderment at something so common.
We were meeting family and decided to have lunch in the cafe at the Southbank Centre. You proudly picked what you wanted to eat yourself, delighted by the child-sized cheese sandwich, grapes and sugar-packed drink you found. We sat to eat, the five of us. You insisted on sitting on a brightly coloured chair, not a boring natural wood one. I turned to look at a picture on my cousin’s phone and suddenly became aware of your hands flapping. Delicately. Like a butterfly. I looked up to your face and realised you were choking, and that your colour had changed slightly. You, always a careful, dainty eater – you never needed bibs as a baby whereas your brother often needs a bath after meals – had this time, for an unfathomable reason, decided not to chew this grape, which turned out to be the perfect shape and size to become lodged in your windpipe.
I, we – this is where my recall is blurry – tipped you forward and began striking your back, hard. The seconds slowed as we continued pounding and still you were struggling for breath. One of our party was a doctor but she too was unsuccessful at helping you clear your airway. We were all standing by now and I was calling out, repeatedly, ‘someone, help me please!’ and ‘can anyone do the Heimlich?’ So many people all around, and yet in that moment, I felt alone. As if it were you and me, and I was failing you. There were calls from my cousins of ‘someone call an ambulance’ and it seemed all were looking, but everyone was helpless. An older woman approached, a Spanish nurse I later found out, and she pressed your stomach. You vomited and I watched, my face crumpled, to see if you were ok, but still that ordinary green grape stuck fast. We continued with the futile back slapping and I thought I had lost you. I saw myself walking home without you, broken, destined to always be broken because of the loss of you. And then, miraculously, it worked. The grape made its way up again into the world and you were no longer in danger. You were safe. And I was a wreak.
Let me tell you why. I love you more than myself. I would give up anything so that you could be safe and well and happy. You have been in our lives for four short years and you have made your mark so deeply on me that I will never be the same again. You fill my life with bright colours, mischief and sweetness and in those few minutes that I thought you might not live, my heart filled with unbearable pain. I will always feel like this about you, however old you are or however cross you make me, because I am your mum and my love for you is all-consuming and unconditional.
I will say my prayers more religiously now, in the hope that they can form a shield around you to protect you from wilful harm and accidents alike. And I will try not to let this episode colour my behaviour towards you. I will try to purge it from my mind and to curb my desire to keep you closer than ever and to be over-protective. But one day, when you are older, perhaps you will read this and understand why my heart broke when you were four years old and we were standing outside London Wonderground and you said to me, ‘you thought I was going to go away forever, didn’t you? But I didn’t.’