It seems only yesterday that my god-daughter, Mina was born. When I first saw her, she was a bundle of wrinkled skin — her eyes shut tightly and her tiny crab-like hands clenched in the kind of vice grip a District 9 tai-tai grabbing a heavily discounted Yohji dress at a Club21 sale would recognise. She looked so delicate and precious.
“Wait!” I told her mother. “Let me sit down first before you hand her to me. I’m petrified I’ll drop her!”
May rolled her eyes. “Oh, for goodness sakes, it’s a baby, not a Lalique vase!”
“Which, if you ask my mother, I did in fact drop when I was a child!”
May’s look of indifference was immediately replaced by one of nervous concern. “Oh, really? OK, maybe you should just sit down first, then.”
At some stage, I must have blinked because suddenly Mina is about to turn 13.
“Thirteen?” I said the other day on FaceTime with May. “How is she turning 13? Didn’t you just give birth to her?”
May’s image sighed. “Scary, isn’t it? I have no idea what happened. And she’s turned so sassy! She’s always rolling her eyes at me!”
“So what are you getting for her birthday present?”
May rolled her eyes.
It turns out that a few months ago, Mina’s baby brother Johann turned 10 and his parents had asked him what he wanted for his birthday.
He turned his lovely almond-shaped eyes up at them and announced that he wanted nothing. His parents were bewildered. This, after all, was the child who, when asked the same question the previous Christmas, had said he wanted to go on the Virgin Galactic flight to space with Richard Branson. “It only costs $250,000!” he said, adding with the kind of economic precision that bodes well for a future in financing, “US dollars!”
And now he wanted nothing.
“What do you mean nothing?” his parents asked.
“I already have everything I need. I don’t need more stuff!”
“A new iPad?” his father ventured.
“My old one still works.”
May hesitated. “A new bike?”
Limpid brown eyes stared up at her. “No.”
“Who are you?” his father said eventually.
It turns out that Johann had just binge watched Marie Kondo’s Tidying Up and YouTube clips of Hoarding and, in the process, the boy has developed a severe phobia of, well, stuff. May reports that since that conversation, he essentially emptied out his room, and reduced himself to just three items of everything. Three books, three underwear, three toys…
“His room echoes!” May said the other day.
“What a strange child,” I said.
“Actually, I’m quite proud of him. I was so scared he would turn out to be grasping and materialistic.” Here she paused and then added with a dramatic flourish, “Like your god-daughter!”
It seems that when Mina’s parents asked her what she wanted for her birthday, they’d been half hoping that, like her brother, she would also say, “Nothing.”
Instead, the girl pulled out a piece of A4 paper on which was neatly typed in Georgia 12-pitch a long list of birthday presents, at the top of which was a trip to Disney World.
“And not the one in Tokyo, mind you!” May said. “She wants to go to the one in Orlando, Florida!”
I leaned closer towards the phone screen. “What else is on the list?”
May’s features hardened. “I’m so glad you asked. Because number two is a trip to Paris. With you. Not with us — the people who have fed her, clothed her, wiped up her drool and vomit, and generally cost us a fortune. Not with me, the mother who literally pushed her out into the world. No. She wants to go to Paris with someone she sees once a year! What’s wrong with this picture?”
I shrugged. “It’s not my fault your child gets along with me better than she does with you. That’s so incredibly sweet. Well, clearly, Disney and Paris with her beloved god-father isn’t happening. What else does the Golden Child want?”
“A Tiffany charm bracelet, a party dress sewn with Swarovski crystals, a French bulldog puppy, and at the bottom of the list is an iPad Pro. She’s getting the iPad.”
Mina later WhatsApped to say she’d made a deal with Johann that she would give him her iPad which she’d got for her last birthday because she wanted the new iPad Pro.
“I really like the retina recognition function and the new one has it. But I knew Mama wouldn’t get it for me because the one I have is only a year old, so I freaked them out with Disney World and Paris with you, and put the iPad Pro at the bottom of the list. So that’s what I got! I love it!”
“Really,” I told Saffy. “Children are so devious!”