Tiptoeing on the stairs, Mel made her way to Hiroko Yurcich’s bedroom. As she approached the door, it suddenly opened.
Mel darted into an alcove. A woman dressed in a nurse’s uniform came out holding a tray with an uneaten lunch on it.
The woman, who had a sharp face with a long nose, went off downstairs.
Mel knew she shouldn’t have come up here unannounced, but it was high time she met Hiroko. She wanted to meet her alone, without the overbearing Makso or the nurse present.
“Who is it?” A soft voice answered Mel’s gentle knock.
“My name is Mel; I’ve come to introduce myself.”
The door opened a crack.
“Does Makso know you are here?”
“Yes, of course,” Mel replied, being economical with the truth.
After all, Makso knew she was here at the villa, even if he didn’t know she was up here this minute, defying him and taking matters into her own hands.
“Come in, please.”
There, in the corner, was the most beautiful crib on a stand. White lace and broderie anglaise adorned the basket, and a decorative canopy of sheer cotton protected the baby from the breeze at the window.
“Oh, may I look?”
Hiroko pulled aside the snowy blanket.
“You like babies?”
“I absolutely love them. He’s a darling.”
“You can pick him up if you want.”
Mel lifted the tiny body, which smelled deliciously of talcum powder, and her heart lurched into her mouth. She wanted to hold the baby tight and never put him down.
Just cuddling him aroused all the maternal instincts she had buried on the day she’d been told she’d never have children of her own.
She inhaled deeply, enjoying every sensation. He was priceless, so pretty, so delicate.
“His name’s Ivo.”
“I know, Makso told me.”
Mel stroked the skin of his forehead, smooth as a butterfly’s wing. She rocked him and he gurgled.
“I’m here to help you look after him, Hiroko. Being a new mother can be daunting.
“I have lots of experience, but I don’t come at things from a medical point of view. It’s all about you and Ivo – you and your son.”
Hiroko looked at Mel but said nothing. She seemed distant, unconnected.
“The nurse does everything. He is well enough.” Looking like a schoolgirl, she stood, hands behind her back.
“You might want to hold Ivo. He needs you, not the nurse,” Mel said.
“I do not think so.” Hiroko backed away.
Mel felt for Hiroko. She was in a strange country, without her own mother for comfort and guidance.
Mel stepped forward and handed Hiroko her tiny son. He looked up at her, then reached out one little starfish hand and grasped a soft skein of his mother’s hair.
“He likes me!”
“Of course. He loves you. You’re his mother.”
“I’ve not taken him out. I haven’t been out of the house for weeks.”
“It’s the nurse’s job.”
“Nonsense. Let’s take him out tomorrow. I’ll come and knock for you at ten a.m.”
“What about the nurse?” Hiroko asked.
“You’re the mistress, and this is your baby.”
Hiroko gazed at her son, expressionless. She looked like a porcelain figure.
Soon Mel could see that the baby was yawning and Hiroko was tiring. If she was having to battle against a domineering nurse she probably needed time on her own.
“Let’s put him back in his crib.”
As Hiroko placed him down in the crib by the balcony, Mel couldn’t help noticing that her own balcony was literally just a stone’s throw away, on the next floor down.
Had it been Hiroko who had sent the message this morning? Was it she who had asked for help?