How Much Longer

“How much longer to go now?” Gunther would ask at least once each and every visit, forever anxious to know when the baby was due.

It was Gunther’s Million Dollar Question and I marveled at his unbridled pleasure at receiving my updated figure. “Oh yes,” he’d beam with an all knowing smile, “only a little more time to go. Then you’ll see,” was his stock reply.
Next the kid would be running the house, he’d continue, before making other light hearted jokes about the new world he fully Smiles from Guntherunderstood I was about to step into.

I laughed an obedient, nervous laugh but, the truth was, I was going to have to take my old friend’s word on the subject. Eventually, yes, I’d see; whatever it was I was supposed to see. For the moment it was just nice to see Gunther having a good chuckle.

And so, six months became five, five became four and two, one. With each passing week it seemed the question began getting the better of the man. “How much longer to go now?” he was soon asking…all of 15 minutes after having last asked.

Though I initially pointed this fact out, the increasing frustration which registered on Gunther’s face, became too much. As he explained to me, a combination of age and some new medications were turning his memory to soggy mush. He apologized profusely but I assured him he needn’t worry.

He’d earned the right, I reminded him. It was just part of getting old. Having to repeat myself seemed a very small price to pay.

And, in the meantime, I kept my fingers crossed. Crossed in the hope that my friend’s health would hold out long enough to be able to share in the corked up emotions I had concerning my child’s pending arrival.

Fortunately time was on Gunther’s side this time. Though, the long awaited first meeting of the old and the new wouldn’t play out as I’d envisioned. My naïve imagination had scripted the moment in various settings–all of them involving me bringing my docile and content son or daughter to Gunther at his assisted living centre mere days after leaving the hospital.

Of course, reality had a much different plan.

The ten minute drive home from the hospital had proven difficult enough. Now, feedings, mastering cry interpretations and attempts at bizarre sleep schedules made the 30 minute drive north along the M1 Motorway suddenly take on the complexities of the Sydney to Hobart yacht race…in an inner tube.

In the end, with his daughter and son-in-law leading the way, Gunther would come to us….

And there, on the back deck, the scene I’d held my breath about for nearly nine months played itself out. That of an old man and a baby girl united by a common bond of friendship.

A massive weight seemed lifted off me. Fate, it seemed, had finally decided to be kind to my old friend. I smiled, breathed an emotional sigh of relief and watched as Gunther ga-ga-goo’d uncontrollably. His heavily creased hand caressed Kaia’s face before the affection would be reciprocated with tight, affectionate grips of Gunther’s finger.

“Oh, she has a real grip on her,” Gunther marveled with the sort of smile and sparkling eyes I didn’t think possible for a man of his age and experiences…before inadvertently letting his attention and Kaia’s head drop in a manner that released my inner Mother Hen so fast I nearly shat myself.

It would be the first of a handful of concentration lapses on Gunther’s part, each time followed by patient but firm reminders from all parties to keep his arm and Kaia’s head up. Despite Bec’s code red stare in my direction, I resisted the powerful urge to take Kaia off him, opting instead for re positioning myself ever nearer.

It’d be there, Kaia and Gunter Imagehovering close within less than a quick arm’s reach, my newly discovered parental Sixth Sense honed in and on high alert, I remembered what Gunther had told me so many times weeks and months before.

Then that I finally understood with absolute clarity what Gunther was referring to when he’d kept insisting ‘things’ were going to change.

It was to be the first of many changes for me. And, for Gunther as well, as not long after, a new question from Gunther would emerge and, like the previous one, need subsequent, repeated answering.

“How old is it?”

“SHE” is one week old Gunther, I patiently replied not realizing at the time the significance of the moment.

It was, I see now, the start of the final bend in the road. Our last journey together and a final countdown, of sorts, had begun.

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