Tina was a good baby. Ever since she was born, other mothers watched us with envious, longing faces. She was so quiet and peaceful. She was a good sleeper and didn’t mind being put in the crib; most nights, I could make it only waking up to feed her once. The dream of every mother and every babysitter.
She didn’t mind being around other people, and never cried for me when I wasn’t around. Potty training her went smoothly. Tina was the most easy-going baby, toddler and little girl I have ever met. I would add that she’s also super smart and beautiful, but every mother thinks their children are. I think it’s our brain deceiving us so we don’t be like “ew, 9 months and a lot of stiches for that? I’d better throw it in the garbage can”.
Well, I would trade all of it to have a healthy daughter. I wouldn’t mind one bit if she was a hysterical child, covered in snot and unable to poop by herself.
It started suddenly as silent tragedies usually do.
I was at work when her kindergarten teacher called me. She talked in a calm, almost singing-song tone, the only one grow women who spend the whole day around little kids know.
“Hiii, Mrs. Davis, how are you doing?” after a pause for exchanging pleasantries, the teacher spoke again. “Look, Tina is being reeeally good as usual, but today she’s a bit under the weather. We checked and she has a fever. Could you come pick her up now?”
I left in a hurry. When I got there, Tina could barely stand. I carried her in my arms to the car, unsure if I should take her to the hospital or just put her into bed with an antipyretic. Tina never got sick before.
I sighed, wishing I had some help. Wishing her father hasn’t left. I was so, so in love with him.
My mother lived in another town, but I decided to call her for advice. She told me to let Tina rest for today and take her to the hospital tomorrow if she didn’t get better. Pretty obvious if you’re not feeling overwhelmed and tired.
As I drove, I started thinking about Ben. He was handsome and a sweet talker, ten years older than me. I thought we were madly in love. When he asked me to have a child with him, I was silly enough to think it was the biggest commitment a couple can make. I felt honored and blessed.
Until he had a job offer in Japan and decided for me that I wouldn’t be happy there. I assured Ben I would be happy anywhere with him. He said I couldn’t leave my job (which I didn’t like that much) or my mother (who I didn’t see often anyway). And in just one week he was gone forever.
When Tina and I got home, I made us some tea, prepared a bath and put my daughter in her bed. I had a bad feeling about this, but I dismissed it as classic mother paranoia.
I slept by Tina’s side in a tiny bed that night. I couldn’t wait until morning to take her to the hospital. She woke up sweaty, shivering and with an ugly cough. Her lungs made a weird static noise.
“Time for some serious antibiotics”, I said to calm myself.
As we got there, Tina had to be immediately intubated. She could barely breathe by herself. She was so small and fragile between the machines that kept her alive.
In the next few days, things just got worse.
Her hair was rapidly falling. Hundreds of strands at a time.
Her skin was so dry and sunken in the bone that she looked a thousand years old. Her eyes got milky and blind, her voice was all raspy and her breath smelled awful. The doctors had no clue what was going on. We called specialists in infectiology from other states, other countries even. No one knew a thing, and a huge effort was made just to keep her alive the way she was, with no improvement.
I still had to work, so my mother came to stay with Tina at the hospital. I spent all my days crying in my desk and researching rare diseases. I posted a plea on my Facebook wall — “if you know what my daughter has, please tell me. I’m desperate”, I wrote, and described all her symptoms.
A woman I didn’t know or had in my friend list reached out to me. Her name was Jennifer, and we had no mutual friends.
“Samara, I can’t even imagine what you’re going through. I need to talk about your daughter and her father, and it’s really important. Can you please meet me at [coffee shop near a subway station]?”
I immediately answered yes, and we met on the same day. I had no time to think this was some scam. My guess was that she was some old friend of Ben and knew he had a disease. I was full of hope.
Jennifer was in her middle 30s — a little older than me. She was tall, pretty and looked friendly. She was already there when I arrived, and bought me a cappuccino.
“Look, Samara, you don’t have to believe me. I know it’s crazy. But I know what your daughter has. Will you give it a chance and listen to me?”
“I will listen to anything. I’m desperate”.
“I’m Ben’s ex-wife. I know. You probably hate me and think I want to harm your daughter. But I’m fucking serious. That man is a psychopath. Did he leave you when you got pregnant?”
“…Yes… and no, I don’t think you are a bad person”.
“Well, I had to put a fucking gun in his head to get this confession. The son of a bitch made a deal with the devil. He wanted to be attractive for longer, and promised his firstborn in exchange”.
“WHAT?” I screamed. We were the only clients there. The young barista quickly looked at me, then probably remembered people scream all the time in front of him and didn’t mind us much.
Jennifer gave me some much needed time to let that sink in.
“So… you guys didn’t have a kid?” I asked too casually.
“Oh, I had a kid. Ben thought my son was his, but jokes on him, he wasn’t. He started to get desperate. He begged me to have another child with him. Said he would take care of everything and I wouldn’t even miss it. It. A son or daughter of mine”.
“What a monster”, I mumbled.
“I obviously refused. I know it wasn’t right to cheat on him and get pregnant with someone else’s baby, but I had a gut feeling something was wrong. Before I got pregnant he was too intense about it, and I knew he always hated kids. I knew something shady was going on, but couldn’t imagine how big it was. I thought it was some inheritance matter, you know? I’m really glad I did it. But Ben was running out of time. So he…” she hesitated for a long time, bit her lip and looked at me with eyes full of pity “Well, he started looking for someone else to bear his child. Now the devil is claiming your daughter”.
We talked for a long time, and I’d say we became good friends. After a month, Tina got so much better, and was out of the hospital in no time. She’s back to her old, full of life self now.
There’s a tiny detail I’m forgetting to tell you. I took a trip to Osaka with my new bestie. We had a little talk with the man who tried to ruin our lives. Maybe we were a little too… blunt, if you know what I mean. It was a real burst of emotions. And brains.
My life is only getting better and better. I think Satan was pleased that I sent something that belonged to him. I heard he’s really warm when it comes to welcoming his deadbeat debtors.
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