“Mummy having a bad day?”
I am on a bus with my son beside me in his pram. An old lady is tapping me on the shoulder: “Is Mummy having a bad day?”
“Oh no,” I tell her. “I’m fine, thanks.”
She shakes her head, jerking her thumb towards my blue-eyed, blond baby. “No, love. His mummy. Hard in the beginning, isn’t it? It’s good of you to take him out for her.”
“He’s actually my son,” I say, but she’s already cooing at the baby and doesn’t notice. He’s cooing back. I feel slightly conspired against.
“He’s my son,” I repeat to the bus at large, in case someone thinks I’ve stolen him. “Hahaha.”
“He’s like a Stu-coloured you,” my friends tell me. “He looks just like you facially.”
“He really doesn’t look like you at all! Are you sure he’s yours?” laugh the women at my local playgroup. “Shall we check the hospital records?”
When we’re out as a family and Stu’s carrying the baby, people get inbetween the two of us on escalators and squeeze between us on trains.
When Herbie is a couple of months old, we’re in Waterstones, and a woman asks if I’m working for families in the area: “You’re an au pair, right? Your English is very good. How long have you been in the country?”
I explain that Herbie is my son, expecting her to be embarrassed and leave, but she continues to ask questions: “Your natural son? Was it IVF?” It doesn’t occur to me to tell her it’s none of her business. “Was he from your actual egg?”
Then she says my favourite thing: “He doesn’t look black at all.” It’s one of the most hilarious things I’ve ever heard, but I still go home and have a little cry.
Whenever he sees a dark-haired woman, Herbie tilts his head and smiles up at her from underneath his eyelashes.
And when Herbie sleeps and his face relaxes, I see my mother all over his face. My black-haired mother with olive skin and dark, flashing eyes. My son’s grandmother, who’s too sick to be in our lives right now. At night, Herbie looks just like her.
And it’s enough.