Home > Christmas at the Cupcake Café (At the Cupcake Café #2)(7)

Christmas at the Cupcake Café (At the Cupcake Café #2)(7)
Jenny Colgan

‘Don’t you look pretty?’ she cooed.

Chadani gave her mother a ferocious look and tugged mutinously at the hat. To no avail; Helena had already tied it up for safe keeping. A one-year-old’s hands were no match for the strapping power of a registered accident and emergency nurse. And she was still a nurse, she kept telling everyone. She was going back to it. Just as soon as she found the right person or nursery to take care of Chadani Imelda. So far, there had not been one to meet her standards.

Issy at first had thought Helena must be joking about being overprotective. Helena herself was so strong and confident and independent; how could it even be possible? And it might have taken Helena herself by surprise. Nonetheless, from the first squalling breath Chadani Imelda had taken, sunk deep into Helena’s remarkable bosom, after a quick and utterly straightforward labour Issy felt would do nothing to help Helena’s empathetic skills with the sick – she had marched into hospital under her own steam and popped the baby out in under ninety minutes without even an aspirin – Helena’s entire life had become the Chadani Project.

Ashok’s adoring family, once they’d got over the shock of him fathering a child out of wedlock to a rather staggering and distinctly larger-than-life redhead, did nothing to deflect Helena from Operation C. Ashok was the youngest of six, four of them female, all of them noisy (one of the reasons why he had been totally unworried about taking on a strong woman), and all of them very keen to kick in with help, advice and gifts for the new baby, their own children grown up.

So Chadani never left the house without a couple of extra layers just in case, or an extra feeding bottle here and there so she didn’t go hungry; every toy in the catalogue now subsumed Issy’s old flat, which Helena and Ashok had bought. Once small and cosy, it was now small, cosy and completely hidden under vast amounts of plastic, drying babygros and a large sign on the wall that said ‘Princess’.

Issy had narrowed her eyes at that.

‘She’ll have high self-esteem,’ Helena had insisted. ‘I don’t want anyone pushing her around.’

‘No one pushes you around,’ pointed out Issy. ‘I’m sure she’ll inherit that from you anyway.’

‘You can’t be too sure,’ said Helena, leaving Issy to clear a space on her own old red velvet sofa, now piled high with very small designer knitwear.

‘Helena, this says “dry clean only”,’ said Issy sternly. ‘Now, I may not be a parent, but …’

Helena looked slightly shamefaced. ‘I know, I know. But she does look so amazing in it. I’m surprised no one has stolen her, I really am.’

Issy made a nodding face, like she often did around Chadani Imelda. It wasn’t that she wasn’t a lovely baby – she was, of course; the daughter of her dearest friend. But she was very noisy and squally and demanding, and Issy did sometimes feel that she would be more comfortable out of all those clothes; and perhaps if she didn’t have Helena, Ashok and at least four other relatives jumping to attention every time she squeaked, she might do a little better.

‘So,’ said Helena, importantly. ‘Let me know what you think. Here are the outfits I was planning for Christmas Day. Look at this little reindeer hat, isn’t it darling? To die for.’

Chadani picked up the corner of the reindeer antlers and started biting it, angrily.

‘Then I thought red velvet for church.’

‘Since when do you go to church?’

‘I think everyone at church might like to see a lovely baby at Christmas time. That’s the whole point,’ said Helena.

‘Well, yes, the baby Jesus, symbol of light and hope for the world. Not just a random baby …’ Helena’s face stiffened. ‘Even though she’s obviously a very, very special baby. And she’s a year old now anyway. Does she still qualify as a baby?’

Chadani had cruised over to the television and was pulling Baby Einstein DVDs out of the rack and throwing them on the floor. Helena was completely ignoring it.

‘Of course!’

‘And Ashok’s a Sikh,’ Issy added, unnecessarily.

‘We’ll go to temple for Diwali as well,’ said Helena. ‘Now for that you need to really dress up.’

Issy smiled. She wanted to open a bottle of wine, but remembered that she couldn’t because Helena wasn’t drinking because she was still breastfeeding on demand, and at this rate looked likely to be doing so till about 2025.

‘So anyway,’ said Helena, ‘Chadani is …’ and she launched into a list of Chadani Imelda’s latest accomplishments, which may or may not have included ‘scatter all the Baby Einstein DVDs’.

Suddenly Issy had slightly lost the urge to confide in her friend. Normally they could chat about anything, but since Chadani had arrived, Issy had felt them drifting apart in a way she couldn’t quite put her finger on. Helena had met a load of new, pushy mums through North London Mummy Connexshins, which she presided over by virtue of having the most natural birth and breastfeeding the longest, and their endless, stupefying discussions about baby-led weaning and sleeping through the night left Issy completely cold. Even when she tried to join in by bringing up Darny’s latest misadventures (all the children had to be either perfect or awful, it seemed, there was no middle way; likewise, when you’d given birth you had to have either hardly noticed, or nearly died and required fifteen pints of emergency blood transfusions), Helena had looked at her patronisingly and said it would be different when she had her own. Starting a conversation about missing her boyfriend seemed a bit …

‘I miss Austin,’ said Issy, suddenly. She was going to at least give it a shot. ‘In New York. I wish he was hating it.’

Helena looked at her. ‘Ashok’s on call,’ she said. ‘I’ve been getting up four times every single night, then he comes in and wants me to keep the baby quiet all day. In this tiny, crappy apartment! I ask you.’

Issy loved the flat, and still felt very proprietorial about it.

‘Oh dear,’ she said tentatively, then ventured, feeling cut off from her own feeble complaint, ‘Should Chadani still be waking up at night?’

‘Yes,’ snapped Helena. ‘She’s very sensitive.’

As if in answer to this, Chadani toddled over to the large pile of freshly washed clothes on the sofa and upturned her beaker of supplementary milk all over them.

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