Can’t say where it came from. Mummy didn’t buy it, neither did Grandma or Granddad. Had nothing to do with me. It just appeared, this tiny little baby rabbit toy. Soft and grubby. A dirty white in colour, with shiny black eyes, no whiskers, small legs and arms; one ear shorter than the other.
Its neck had come apart at the seam and Mei Mei liked to put her finger through the stitching.
She’d had a few favourite toys. An owl, a monkey, but this one was special because it was the first toy she talked to.
I’d catch her sometimes, having these little conversations, and she’d do the baby rabbit voice as it chatted to her back. Whenever she saw me looking, she’d stop, feel shy, and it would have been easy to make fun, to push her, to say, “Ah, you’re talking to your rabbit?” But I didn’t. Instead I’d look away, pretend I hadn’t seen. Or I’d offer her a knowing smile and let them get on with it, not judge or interfere.
“Ahhh, I want some ice-cream,” the baby rabbit would say.
“Okay,” Mei Mei would reply.
She’s go and get some pretend ice cream. Tear up bits of paper and later when we got Play-Doh, she’d use that.
“Not too much,” she’d tell the rabbit.
“Ahhh, I want more,” it would squeak.
“Okay, just a bit more.”
Baby Rabbit started sleeping with her before long. “Baby Rabbit!” she’d say.
“Oh, yes.” And I’d find it under the sofa, in the kitchen, in a box in the upstairs spare room. “What was she doing there?”
Mei Mei loved Baby Rabbit and Baby Rabbit loved Mei Mei. She was her mummy.
“Ahhh, Daddy, Daddy.”
Mei Mei had begun to slide Baby Rabbit into my collar when I was putting her to bed. “Babby Rabbit wants Daddy.”
“She wants to sleep with me?”
She’d rest under my collar, head protruding out, but later, when Mei Mei was asleep, I’d slide the rabbit back under her arm.
“Baby Rabbit’s crying.”
“Oh, what’s wrong?”
“Baby Rabbit’s sick.”
I told Mei Mei stories before going to sleep. I’d make them up, stories about big bad wolves and cakes. Baby Rabbit had her own one.
“One day Baby Rabbit was in the sweet shop. There were so many different kinds of sweets; green ones, turquoise ones, pink ones, chocolate ones …”
Baby Rabbit bought a big bag of sweets and on the way home thought she’d try a few. Just a strawberry one, just an orange one; another chocolate one.
Coming through the front door, Baby Rabbit was feeling sick. She’d eaten all the sweets. Mei Mei gave her a cuddle and told her to be careful next time, to not each too much at once. She gave her some water and put her to bed. Baby Rabbit was crying but in the morning she felt better.
In my job I started late, so in the mornings we’d go out for walks. To the forest or to the park or playground.
On the last day we saw her, we were by the front door, about to go out when I said, “Oh, wait, you’ve forgotten your baby rabbit.”
Took us a while to find her, but there she was, hidden in a pile of clothes.
That morning I was tired so we didn’t go far. I needed something from the chemists, Mummy wanted some cold noodles from the convenience store and while there we bought some jelly.
We rode on the electric car outside. Mei Mei bobbing up and down. A passer by saw Baby Rabbit resting on the pavement. Picked her up and handed her to Mei Mei.
When we got home, Mei Mei was holding the jelly and I had the noodles and the bag from the chemist’s.
We ate lunch, then Mei Mei went upstairs with Mummy for a nap. She was crying about something and at first I thought she was looking for the rabbit but when I went up there it was all about her favourite pyjama top which was in the wash.
I went back downstairs and almost looked for the baby rabbit then. But I was already running late for work.
It was only when I got home and saw Mei Mei that I twigged that Baby Rabbit didn’t seem to be around. No, not straight away. It was later. Not quite bed-time but I had a feeling. I searched every room in the house. I ran back outside in the dark, retraced our steps from that morning. The shops were shut, all except the convenience store.
“You haven’t seen a little baby rabbit toy? Someone handed it in?”
Sympathetic looks from the cashiers and manager. They knew Mei Mei by sight. Probably knew the rabbit too. They could see the desperation in my face. That night I couldn’t sleep.
In the early morning I rushed to the chemist’s.
“A little baby rabbit toy?”
I walked up and down the street. Inside another shop.
“Someone must have taken it.”
Back home again, I turned the house upside down. Mei Mei was out with her mummy. I had time. Time to retrace our steps again. I went to another nearby shop that sold soft toys with the idea of buying Mei Mei a new one. But looking at them all … they just seemed so lifeless.
That evening I sat her down.
“There’s something I want to talk to you about.”
Mei Mei looked at me, came to sit on my lap.
“Baby Rabbit is not here. She’s gone. But she’s okay. Another girl found her. She lives in that girl’s house now. Do you understand?”
“Yes,” said Mei Mei. She meant it. She’d taken in my words.
“Why did the other girl take Baby Rabbit?”
“Because she wanted to help her. She saw her in the street and Baby Rabbit was crying. She gave her a cuddle and took her home and now she’s looking after her.”
“Will Baby Rabbit come back?”
“No, she lives in that girl’s house now.”
“I don’t like that girl.”
“No, no, she’s a good girl. She wanted to help Baby Rabbit. Baby Rabbit …” I paused, how to put this? Baby Rabbit’s found someone else? Moved on? “Baby Rabbit is happy, she’s okay.”
“But it’s not that girl’s Baby Rabbit. It’s Mei Mei’s Baby Rabbit.”
“I know, I know. But Baby Rabbit is happy. She’s okay. She’s not crying.”
“I’m sorry,” I said.
We held hands. And it was hard to tell who was comforting who.