A frazzled young woman with her baby pushed through the crowded bus. A man got out of his seat. “Prego, signora,” he said. She said “Grazie,” and sat down. Her baby squirmed, tilted its head back, and howled. An old woman sitting next to her smiled; they exchanged knowing glances. The baby continued howling as the woman shifted it from one arm to another.
Young mother unbuttoned her blue shirt, and did something with her bra that exposed her nipple. Baby eagerly suckled. With her forefinger mother gently stroked the flesh above her nipple, to help increase the flow of her milk. The old woman nodded, as if to say yes, that’s what the child needed. Another young woman standing next to me had what seemed like an envious look on her face. Or maybe it was admiration, or longing.
I sensed there was a profound kinship among the women on that crowded bus, a shared knowledge. And I was an outsider. No, more than that. I was an alien creature who could never know the experience of giving birth, nor of the sensation of a baby suckling my breast.
Mom said she breast-fed both Jack and me, but I don’t remember the experience. Such an essential act of nurturing—forgotten. But then my love for her and her for me had never been doubted.
A man sitting nearby read his paper. Teenaged boys whispered conspiratorially. I continued watching the young mother stroking her breast with her forefinger as her infant suckled. Baby raised his chubby little hand and put it down again, and shuddered gently with contentment. Mother gazed down, knowingly.