Vignette #6 — Nerida

Photo by Sanjay Vachani — Photoshopping by Daan Spijer

Nerida walks along the busy suburban shopping street. The farmers’ market stalls are all but packed up, but many market-goers are still seeking cafés for afternoon tea and a rest. Nerida needs that too.

Her arm is tiring from carrying two-month-old Osmond. He’s whimpering, hungry. She sees a vacant chair under a large umbrella and sinks into it. She looks around at the other patrons and then notices the sticker on the café window: Breastfeeding welcome here. She sighs, pulls down the loose top from her left breast and positions Osmond. He latches on eagerly.

When Nerida looks up from her blissfully feeding baby, she notices a number of patrons obviously trying not to stare. For a moment she doesn’t care, still revelling in the delightful energy flowing through her body that was such a pleasant surprise the first time she fed Osmond. Then she feels self-conscious, aware that the people around her would be having all manner of attitudes about her ‘public display’.

She overhears one woman remark to her female companion, “She could at least go inside with that, in a back corner.”

A waitress appears before anger overwhelms Nerida. The young woman, about Nerida’s age — mid-twenties — smiles. “He’s cute. Oh sorry, is it ‘she’?”

“He’s a boy. Osmond, two weeks old.”

Osmond stops sucking and turns his head towards this new voice, then settles back to feeding.

Nerida orders a fruit smoothie, no ice. On her way back inside, the waitress has her arm tapped by a middle-aged man sitting with his teen-aged son. “That shouldn’t be allowed in a public place.” He points at Nerida. He turns to his son, who hasn’t taken his eyes off Nerida. “It’s not right.”

The waitress says, “You know something? There are twice as many breasts as penises in the world.” She walks inside, leaving the man looking puzzled.

Nerida smiles at the waitress’s remark and feels better. The teen keeps glancing furtively now. “Poor kid,” she thinks. “He probably has no girlfriend. Breast-deprived.”

She hoists Osmond onto her shoulder and gently pats his back. He burps and she puts him to her right breast as her drink arrives. She sips it gratefully.

She overhears the man say to his son, “Mind you, they’re not bad. She’s a good-looking sheila.”

The waitress must have heard this as well, judging by the dirty look she gives the man. After looking after some other customers, the waitress approaches Nerida. She holds out a magazine, the sort normally displayed in shops in a plastic wrapper with advertising print hiding most of the front cover. “Some of our customers read this while they’re breastfeeding,” the waitress says. “And they usually fold it inside out like this.” She folds the magazine and hands it to Nerida.

Nerida tries to hide her smile as she takes the magazine and holds it up as if reading.

The teenager nearly chokes on his drink when he sees the photo of the totally naked woman looking at him from the magazine. The father cuffs his son on the back of the head, but can’t suppress his own smirk.

The woman who made the first remark when Nerida bared her breast, stands up and says to her companion, “I think it’s time we got on with our shopping.” As she walks past Nerida, she says, “I hope you’re pleased with yourself.”

“Oh, I am,” Nerida replies. “I am.”