I see Sonu with her bucket and shovel, playing happily in the sand pit. I walk towards her, then stop midway.
For several days, the chatter among all mothers and nannies in the playground revolved around the messy divorce of Sonu’s parents. Who said what, who threw the flower vase, who called the divorce lawyer first? Local women are hanging on to every juicy detail and I suspect stealthily making up some.
Looking at Sonu make a sandcastle with a big grin on her face, oblivious to the talk around her, breaks my heart a little.
Sonu, just 4 and a half, is the friendliest child I’ve ever met. I first met her six months ago when I started bringing my son here to play and have developed a soft corner for her. She is one of those rare ones that seem to belong wherever they go.
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“Hi Aunty!” Sonu waves at me gleefully and comes rushing to me as soon as she sees me. She wants me to see her sandcastle. It’s oddly shaped, and lopsided, but it hasn’t toppled yet. Some magic seems to be holding it together. Just like Sonu’s composure.
Behind her, her nanny, a usually cheerful lady in her 40s, sits downcast, away from the group of other nannies she usually talks with. Is it because of the toxic grapevine? I wonder. I’ve only seen Sonu come to the playground with this lady but have always hoped to meet her parents one day to compliment them on the lovely girl they raised. Now, with what I’m hearing, I’m not sure I’ll get a chance.
Today Sonu is more excited than usual. She has great news, she tells me. Her dad has bought a new house. I offer my congratulations and ask her if she’ll be moving.
“Only on Saturdays and Sundays when I go to my dad’s house,” she says happily. “My mom and I will live in our old house on the other days.”
She raves about her dad’s house. There is a lot of space for his gym equipment and she gets her own room with a Princess Elsa theme. Mom won’t get a room though, she whispers, because she has become naughty and used her ‘outside’ voice at home.
I say nothing.
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A big moving truck will come by soon, she says breathlessly, jumping about with a skipping rope. Her parents have told her she is very lucky to get to live in two houses where she gets two sets of toys. Her dad won’t join them at meal times or drop her to school anymore but that doesn’t mean he isn’t her friend, her mother has told her.
That’s true, I tell her cautiously.
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At first she was a bit sad, she says, that her dad won’t be there to tell her a bedtime story every night but he has let her in on a secret. He knows magic. Every night he’ll say a magic word and squeeze into her mom’s mobile phone and tell her a story at night like he always does.
“That sounds so exciting,” I tell her, feigning a little enthusiasm.
“It is, but don’t tell anyone I told you, ok?” Her big brown eyes are focused on me. I promise her. I am desperate to say something to her. Something to comfort or reassure her. But words fail me.
“Time to go home, Sonu,” her nanny calls. Sonu runs off to her. I wave to the nanny. She smiles weakly at me like she has the weight of the world on her shoulders.
“See you tomorrow, Aunty!” Sonu chirps in the sing-song tune she talks and skips away perkily. I can hear her clearly as she heads towards the exit.
“I want to show Daddy the paper plane I made. Will he be home?”
The nanny shakes her head sadly.
The nanny says nothing.
“Day after tomorrow? Day-day after tomorrow?” That’s the last thing I hear her say.
I watch till the little figure disappears from view.
Today she doesn’t need mine or anyone’s words or sympathies. Unlike adults who seem to fall into an abyss when cornered, she, like most kids her age, is shielded by her innocence which is also the glue holding her life together. That’s why a potentially life-altering change like her parents’ divorce, thankfully looks like fun to her. But what about tomorrow? Or day after tomorrow? Or the day-day after tomorrow as she puts it?
I think of her cherubic, cheerful little face. I hope she’ll be ok.