The Night Off

Some kind friends with two kids of their own have offered to take the baby off my hands for three hours on Saturday afternoon. I am looking forward to this as an inmate might look forward to his walk in the yard. But when I drop him off I am ripped by guilt. He is looking around at the cooing strangers, strapped helplessly into his car seat, and I feel that cold-stomach feeling that you get when your parents leave you at summer camp for the first time. My friends have to rush me out before I cry.

So what do I do with my free time? I go home and answer some emails. I resist the urge to nap, as I have so much to do. I go out shopping, feeling lonely. I wander through a noisy Polish festival, one of those unexpected ethnic eruptions that one finds on random weekends in this city. I am so jetlagged it appears surreal: the bright embroidered traditional costumes, the hissing amplified recorded folk music, the choreographed dancing and clapping, the fixed smiles. The air is smoky with grilling sausage, and I realize I am starving. I have been neglecting to feed myself.

I hoover a barbecued Polish sausage with hot mustard and pickles; it is almost the best food I have ever had. It’s four in the afternoon; I don’t know what meal it is. My cycles are completely, totally off, like those of a guy in a science experiment in a cave.

A band is now playing amplified bluegrass music. An old white guy is singing in the accent of the Mississippi Delta. I wonder what part of Poland he is from. And then my break is over and it’s time to collect the baby.

My friends are all smiles: He’s been so wonderful! He’s no problem at all! He just slept the whole time! He is indeed fast asleep.

I get him home and he’s still asleep. I have two friends coming over in the evening to watch a movie and help me with him. He doesn’t wake up. We have a great time. Hugo wakes up once or twice, gets fed, goes back to sleep. I don’t need any help at all. Everyone leaves by 11:30 or so.

And just as I hear the doors of the taxi slamming outside, the engines humming away, I can sense – like that terrifying scene in Invasion Of The Body Snatchers, the remake with Donald Sutherland and Jeff Goldblum, when someone’s eyes close and the pod being’s eyes flick open – I can sense him opening his eyes wide. And opening his little mouth up, sucking in the first air of the long night for his first major hysterical scream. Which he does, and which goes on till four or five.

We both get a couple of hours sleep around dawn. I wake to a golden, dead quiet Sunday morning. 36 hours to go.

Image courtesy of Athanasius on Flickr.

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