There are perilous enticements to be overcome on the walk home from the Dart station at the end of a long day.
The Indian takeaway and the off-licence, not least. Not to mention that nice clothes shop which is cunningly having yet another sale. Satan dwells in that building. I've succumbed to his wiles many times before. But no, I tell myself firmly, there's a recession on, and the aftermath of that pig of a budget to deal with. Best just cross to the other side of the street, and avoid temptation altogether. Feeling virtuous, I step out into the road.
Then, disaster strikes. Not a 10-ton truck hurtling at full pelt towards me -- in the circumstances, that would be a blessing. Instead, it's the sight of Marie sitting outside a cafe on the other side of the road, drinking coffee and looking blissfully happy. I mutter lots of swear words inside my head, and a few outside it too, fiercely calculating how I'm going to get out of this one. The problem not being Marie so much as the fact that she's just had a baby -- hence the glowing, beatific countenance -- and, like all new mothers, she's going to expect me to rush over and admire it. This, I simply cannot do. Mainly because there's nothing much to admire. If babies were beautiful, I'd be the first to say it. I am an avid admirer of gorgeous things -- seascapes, chocolate cakes, Georgian windows, shoes -- especially shoes.
But babies aren't beautiful. They're ugly. There, I said it. I realise that, as a woman, and a mother, too, I'm supposed to be genetically programmed to go all gooey at the sight of some pink, wrinkled newborn; but I know ugly when I see it. In fact, babies aren't just ugly, they're grotesque. Like that little creature which bursts out of John Hurt's stomach in Alien. Only with bulgier eyes.
Of course, there are exceptions. Three, to be precise. That, coincidentally, would be my own children, who were all born aesthetically pleasing in every way and have remained so ever since. Not my fault, that's just the way it turned out. Sadly, abject hideousness isn't something that seems to bother other people. "Isn't she beautiful?" they coo irritatingly when new parents come round, expecting congratulations just because they've managed to produce another drain on the country's already overstretched resources. Meanwhile, all I really want to do is pull out a snapshot of one of my Wholly Perfect Trinity and say: "See this child here? That is beautiful. That thing you've got there is just hurting my eyes."
Like all people in possession of highly sensitive information, I find the knowledge that other people's babies are ugly a heavy burden to carry. "Couldn't you just lie?" someone once suggested. "Not convincingly enough," I had to reply. And I should know, because I tried it, but the truth would keep coming out.
"Good Lord in Heaven, what a big head," I'd hear myself saying. "Maybe you should have carried on smoking and then it would've been a bit smaller and easier to get out." It can be awkward, but I don't want to have to collude in other parents' tragic delusions simply for the sake of an easy life. I am a woman of principle. It's right there in the Ten Commandments: thou shalt not lie. Don't shoot the messenger.
The biggest shock is realising that other people don't feel the same way. Recently, a friend and I bumped into an acquaintance who'd just given birth. The usual oohing and aahing ensued on my friend's part. Afterwards, I asked her how she'd managed to lie so convincingly when it was clear that the baby was repugnant. Wrong thing to say. It turned out she actually meant it. Not only did she mean it, but she was cross with me for not feeling the same way. Deep down, though, I know people can't stand the sight and sound of other parents' babies any more than I can. It's just they don't have the courage to admit it to themselves. They'd rather participate in the charade, because then everyone's happy or some such nonsense. Time and again, I explain that truth is far more important than happiness, and that if only they embraced this philosophy they'd realise what a joyful and liberating experience it can be. It's no use. They'd rather keep up the act. It's their loss.
As for Marie, thankfully some other sap has sidled over to sweet-talk her unsightly monster. I am free to slip, unobserved, back to the opposite side of the road where the off-licence, Indian takeaway, and Satan in the clothes shop wait with open arms.
Oh well, this always was my favourite part of town anyway.
Sunday Indo Life Magazine