"Did you see the news about the outbreak in the earthquake zone Dad?"
Hank's daughter was on the phone. It was a fairly rare occurrence and when she did call, she never wasted time on salutations or small talk, often starting out like they where in the middle of a conversation.
"Nope – none of our TV stations picked up on that one", Hank replied. Nor had he expected them to – it was Ashes Test Cricket week after all, so something as insignificant as a cholera epidemic added to the already abject misery of some villagers in northern Pakistan was unlikely to get a mention.
"But I did get a news-flash from MSF this morning on the e-mail," he added. "I've sent off a sum." Hank was wealthy and could afford to be generous.
"Oh goodie," his daughter said. "You'll be paying my salary!"
Hank was not surprised. Camilla had studied medicine not to become rich but to make a difference and this was not the first time she had been posted by Médecins Sans Frontières amongst the neediest of the world. She was an expert on cholera management and her early involvement was unsurprising.
"Will Cathy be staying with Kamal then?" Hank asked. His daughter and her husband had been separated for several years, but they had a very civil relationship for the sake of their daughter. Cathy was born with serious health problems and it was probably only because both her parents were doctors, and very good doctors at that, that she was now completely healthy – if still very small for her 8 years. But the process had taken its toll on her parents' relationship and they had separated, but worked in the same city (at different hospitals) and could thus share in their daughter's upbringing.
"No, that's the problem Dad," Camilla said. "Kamal's not available. He went home to visit his folks for New Year and I can't reach him. I tried to call his sister to get in touch, but I obviously got nowhere with her."
Hank sighed. Kamal's sister had always hated Camilla with a vengeance. She never wanted her brother to marry a (nominally) Christian, thoroughly western, highly educated and liberated woman. She was close to the cousin who believed she should have had 'first dips' at Kamal and had actively been sabotaging the fragile marriage, urging her brother do divorce Camilla and relocate to Pakistan. Hank knew his son-in-law well enough to know that was not going to happen. Nor would Camilla take up with anyone else, but he despaired at the two of them not patching up their differences. It was mainly pride that kept them apart; they could be so stubborn.
"And?" Hank teased. He knew what was coming, but he wasn't letting his daughter off the hook that easily.
"Dad, could she stay with you?" Camilla was almost pleading. "Bringing her with me is not an option."
"Of course not," Hank agreed – shuddering at the thought of bringing a small child to a cholera-ravaged earthquake zone. "She is more than welcome, you know that. How do we work this?" With Camilla in the UK and Hank in Australia, the logistics were kind of daunting.
"Eh, we're booked on a flight to Sydney via Singapore tonight," Camilla admitted. "If you can pick her up in Kingsford Smith then I can get a flight back to Karachi 4 hours later."
"Short and sweet," Hank said with a laugh. He should have known his daughter well enough to know it was all planned. "I'd better book domestic flights right away. How is Cathy, by the way? Anything I need to know about?"
"Not really," Camilla said evasively. "We've been having a bit of toilet troubles recently, but I guess it is all about attention seeking."
"'Toilet troubles'?" Hank repeated.
"Yes, well, you know, being wet at night again," Camilla said, sounding exasperated.
"Not a problem," Hank said. "I know a thing or two about wet beds."
Camilla didn't comment. She had conveniently repressed the fact that she was in night diapers, or nappies as they are called in Australia, until after her tenth birthday. And Hank didn't press the point. He had solemnly promised his daughter many years ago never to tell anyone and he was a man to keep his promises.
The small girl's thrill cry of delight made everyone in the busy airport turn to look as she launched herself at the tall grey-haired man just outside the restricted arrival zone. She was very pretty with dark brown hair and eyes. She looked to be about 5 years old and the man easily caught her and swirled her around.
"Hi Pumpkin," he gushed. "It's so good to see you."
"I am going to stay with you while Mummy helps the sick people," she said seriously, clinging to Hank like lichen.
"That's right sweetheart," Camilla said. She had now caught up with her daughter, pushing a trolley with a large amount of luggage. "Granddad will look after you." She embraced her father too. "Thanks for helping out."
Hank smiled. A widower and semi-retiree, he certainly had the time. He saw his only child and grandchild much too rarely, so he was happy with this opportunity. He occasionally did consultancy work, but not much in the summer – and most of it he could do from home. "Any time, for however long," he said with conviction.
"When will you come and get me again?" Cathy asked her mother
"I don't really know," Camilla admitted. "It depends on how long it takes to stop the disease."
"Will I have to go to school while I'm here?" Cathy demanded.
"Hardly," her grandfather laughed. "It's summer holidays here you know. School's out for many weeks."
"Silly, it is Christmas Holidays," Cathy laughed.
"Sure is," Hank replied. "But down here we have Christmas in the summer."
They had a meal together in the airport before Camilla had to check in again for her flight back to Karachi and Hank and Cathy transferred to the domestic terminal. Hank noticed that Camilla constantly urged Cathy to go to the bathroom – something that obviously pained the girl. Even as they hugged their farewell hugs, Cathy was urged to remember a toilet stop before the flight.
"She does go on a bit about it, doesn't she?" Hank said conspiratorially when they walked towards the transfer train.
Cathy looked up at him shyly. "I guess..." she faltered. She'd had a small accident on the interminable flight from London to Singapore so perhaps her mother had a point.
The flight to Canberra was on a small turbo-prop with no direct access from the terminal, so as they were boarding they went outside for the first time and the heat of the Australian high summer hit Cathy like a brick wall. "It is summer," she exclaimed. "I thought you were only teasing."
Hank laughed and explained all about different seasons on different hemispheres. During the flight he explained a lot about Australia, including its unique and not always harmless wildlife. The noise in the small aircraft, and the excitement of it all, kept Cathy awake, but once they had landed in Canberra, found Cathy's bags and Hank's car, Cathy was visibly flagging. It was only mid-morning, but her internal clock said late evening and before they were even out of the parking house she was fast asleep.
She woke up long enough when they arrived at Hank's house on the other side of the Australian Capital to take in the strange sounds and smells outdoors and to appreciate the pleasant room that was to be hers for the next while. "It used to be your mum's room when she was a girl," Hank said.
"Uh huh," Cathy said. Hank stripped her down to her underwear, tucked her in and tip-toed out of the room. Cathy's last conscious thought was how nice the bedding was – very pink and very girlish and pleasant smelling. There was a crinkling noise when she moved, but before she could work out why she was out of it.
Hank returned a little later and unpacked Cathy's suitcases, transferring her clothes to cupboards and drawers. It was all so small – and much too warm for the season. 'Miss perfect organizer must have forgotten about Australian summers', Hank chuckled to himself. He would have to do something about Cathy's wardrobe quickly.
Hank didn't want Cathy to swap day and night, so he intended to let her sleep until mid-afternoon, tire her out with some activity and hope she could then sleep a normal night's sleep. Kids usually get over jet-lag easier than adults anyway, so he wasn't concerned. He was working on a consultancy report in his office and kept an eye on the clock, deciding it was nearly time to wake up Cathy when a pitiful cry was heard from her room. Hank rushed in and found her sitting up in bed crying inconsolably.
"What's the matter Pumpkin?" he asked. "Did you have a bad dream?"
"No," she wailed. "I, I, I wet the bed." Indeed she had. The bedding was drenched.
"Is that all?" he asked. "I thought something had happened to you!"
He picked her up, carried her to the bathroom and started running a bath. "Bubbles?" he asked and held a bottle of strawberry scented bubble soap to her nose."
"Yes please," she whispered shyly.
He added the soap, frothed it up to a generous layer of foam, stripped off her wet underwear and plunked her in the bath. She sighed with pleasure.
"Nice, isn't it?" he said with a smile. "Can you promise me not to fall a sleep" he asked.
She nodded and he left her alone for a while.
When he returned a little later, he brought a large fluffy towel and the lightest of her clothes. He lifted her out of the bath, rubbed her dry and got her dressed. The accident wasn't mentioned. Cathy was confused. If it had happened at home her mother would have been going on and on about it, but Granddad didn't seem to care. "Want to go and see some of the local wildlife?" he asked. Cathy nodded shyly, took the proffered hand gratefully and walked out in the scorching hot afternoon.
They walked to a local nature area that separated Hank's suburb from the next. There was a small stream running through it and a group of small kangaroos were grazing the lush grass. Flocks of colorful Eastern Rosellas were foraging the shrubs and trees. Grandfather and granddaughter sat down companionably on a log, drank water Hank had brought and studied the kangaroos – who on deciding that Hank and Cathy were harmless had returned to eating. Growing up in a large UK city, this was the closest Cathy had ever been to wild animals – or indeed any animals apart from visits to the zoo. The heady scents of flowering trees and the loud noise of insects added to the mystique. Cathy was enchanted, but she could also feel her bladder pressing and reluctantly asked Hank if they could go home again. She just made it to the bathroom.
Hank had found some of Camilla's old toys and urged Cathy to play with them while he cooked an early dinner. Cathy readily agreed – she was especially attracted to a near life-size baby doll. It could be "fed" water from bottles and would "wet" itself shortly after. The original toy nappies of poor quality were long gone, but Hank's wife had been a neo-natal nurse and had gotten hold of some proper miniature nappies that fitted just fine. Cathy was endlessly fascinated – and, like all children through the ages, was thrilled to play with toys that had been her mother's.
They ate dinner, Hank read an exciting Australian children's book for Cathy and before long she was tired enough to go to bed. When Hank removed the bedspread Cathy was momentarily confused that the bedding was the same as earlier in the day. Crisp, clean and sweet smelling; it was like the wetting episode hadn't happened at all. She let herself be tucked in, once more briefly wondered about the crinkling sound – and fell into deep sleep.
To her despair, Cathy was drenched again when she woke up next morning. "Granddad," she cried out and within moments Hank was there. He had in fact checked up on her a few minutes before and was forewarned, so he simply lifted her up, carried her out into the bathroom, stripped her out of her wet underclothes and plunked her into the waiting strawberry-scented foam bath. He kissed her on the top of her head and said "Breakfast when you've finished your bath. I was thinking pancakes today."
Cathy was confused. Not one hard word. No scolding. Nothing. And her favorite food for breakfast.
When Hank returned a little later with a towel and some clothes, he picked her out of the bath, dried her and dressed her. "We got to get you some summer clothes today," he said. "It seems you mother forgot about the season thing. Silly mummy." Cathy giggled and gleefully agreed.
They shopped in an air-conditioned shopping complex some distance from Hank's home, requiring a fair bit of driving. Hank decided to let Cathy choose what she wanted. He was concerned that her small size would mean she wouldn't be able to get the 'tween' stuff he expected her to choose. He needn't have worried; on the contrary: Cathy went for the little-girl stuff in bright colors (lots of pink) and wanted skirts and dresses only, no trousers, not even shorts. For accessories she again chose the brightly colored stuff and wanted a lot of hair elastics to put her hair into pig-tails. She got sandals and snickers and after a light lunch at the center they drove home. She fell asleep in the car. Hank could see her nodding, her head getting heavier and heavier. Her right hand drifted up to her mouth, she sucked on the thumb and fell asleep. At an intersection, the stop/start eco engine cut out and Hank could just hear the hissing sound from Cathy's crotch as the hated jeans darkened. "Oh well, never mind," Hank thought. The upholstery of the child seat is easy to wash. They have to be.
Cathy was mortified when she woke up – and once more confused by her grandfather's complete lack of concern or anger. "You get to wear one of the new skirts sooner," he said cheerfully as he led her to the bathroom and quickly and effectively rinsed her with the shower head. He decided that the car seat had gotten so little on it it could be wiped with a very wet cloth and left to dry in the sun. Next he retrieved this morning's bed linen that had been washed and left to dry on the line outside. He folded it up neatly and put it in a drawer with several sets of the same pattern, resolving the mystery that had so intrigued Cathy. She also saw the rubber-backed mattress protectors, answering the question about the crinkling sound. But one thing she didn't understand: Granddad was so calm about it all!
She played with the baby-doll all afternoon, taking it for a walk around the block in a lovely play-pram. They had dinner, read stories, and Cathy was off to bed.
Cathy was soaked once more the next morning. "Granddad," she called – this time with less despair in her voice. "I wet the bed again."
"Did you sweetheart?" Hank said, appearing in the door. "Poor you. We'd better get you out of the wet things and have you washed."
Cathy could contain it no more. "Granddad, how come you're not angry with me?" she asked.
"Angry?" Hank repeated as if not understanding. "Angry about what?"
"Angry with me, you know, wetting the bed," Cathy said. "Mummy always gets so upset with me," she added barely over a whisper.
"But why should I get angry with you?" Hank asked. "It's not like it is your fault, is it?"
"Mummy says big girls don't wet their beds – or their pants, like I did yesterday. Only little girls do that..." Cathy trailed off, tears trickling down her cheeks.
"That's not true, is it?" Hank countered.
"Huh?" Cathy asked, completely confused.
"Little girls don't wet their beds and pants, do they?" Hank asked.
"I don't understand," Cathy started.
"Only big girls do that. Little girls wet something else, don't they?" Hank asked gently, holding up the baby-doll which was 'dressed' in only a nappy.
"Oh, I suppose," Cathy said while the implications of that sunk in. "Besides, I don't want to be big..." she muttered in so low a voice that Hank could only just hear her.
He picked her up, took her to the bathroom, undressed her and plunked her in the waiting bath. "I'll go get breakfast ready," he said and left Cathy to enjoy the strawberry scented foam.
Hank had to work that morning so Cathy played – mostly with the baby doll – but after lunch they walked over to a playground in the next suburb. It was a very nice playground with lots of activities and lots of other children. Cathy quickly got over her shyness and started playing with a group of young children while Hank sat on a bench in the shade and talked to the other adults, mainly mothers.
Cathy was so absorbed with the playing that she missed the signals from her bladder. As she got up from squatting next to some of her new friends, she felt a spurt of pee escaping, but it was absorbed by her little cotton panties. She squeezed her pelvis hard and stopped the flow, but she knew she would need a toilet – and fast. She ran over to Hank. "Granddad, I need to pee."
Hank could see from her little dance that she was serious and rushed her over to the service block at the far end of the playground. To his despair they were met by large "Closed for repairs" signs on all three toilet doors – women, men and disabled alike. "It seems we're out of luck Pumpkin. Do you think you can hold on until we get back?" Hank asked.
"No," Cathy said. Tears were forming at the corner of both eyes.
"Tell you what," Hank said. "Go sit on the grass over there and make sure you are not sitting on you skirt. Then just let go. The grass won't mind and in that way only your panties get wet."
Cathy looked startled but then nodded and did as her grandfather had suggested. She sat down on the grass at the edge near the flowerbed carefully spreading out the skirt. It felt strange and for a while she couldn't will her bursting bladder to let go. Then she put her right thumb in her mouth, relaxed and moments later the flow started.
When she had finished, she got up, looked around furtively to see that no one had noticed anything, and walked over to Hank. "Let's go home," Hank said and offered his hand. Cathy grabbed it and they walked off. She looked very small and her gait was a little strange from the wet panties, but her skirt was quite dry. She was deep in thoughts.
"I guess I am a big girl after all," Cathy suddenly said with a giggle when they were almost home.
"What do you mean?" Hank asked slightly confused.
"I wet my pants just like big girls do," Cathy said with another giggle that turned into a laugh.
Hank laughed too. "Yup, so you did."
He cleaned her up with the shower head, once more eliciting loud giggles. "It tickles!" she squealed, but she didn't want him to stop.
While dinner cooked in the oven and Cathy watched some children's TV, Hank slipped out to the local shops for some quick purchases. When it was time to put Cathy to bed after dinner and reading, Hank picked her up, looked her in the eyes and asked "OK, little girl or big girl?"
Cathy was a first confused, but then she got it. She looked into her grandfather's mild grey eyes, seeing nothing but love and affection. "Little girl, please," she whispered.
"OK", Hank said. "Let's clean your teeth and then come with me to your bedroom."
Wearing only a tee-shirt, Cathy was placed on a towel on the bed and Hank proceeded to rub cream into her nappy area, then sprinkled her liberally with baby powder before putting a Pampers size 6 years on her. He then tucked her in. "Sleep tight Pumpkin," he said. "This time you will wake up dry."
Falling asleep was not easy though – the forgotten sensation of being in nappies took some time to get used to. There was an additional crinkle when she moved around, but first and last she felt warm, snug and safe.
Not being in a wet bed meant the Cathy slept much longer. Hank had expected that and didn't wake her up before nine. "Good morning Pumpkin," he said. "Slept well?"
"Yes Granddad," Cathy said happily, stretching out – only now feeling the heavy nappy around her waist. "Eh, my nappy is very, 'eh, wet..." she trailed off.
"Sure," Hank said. "That's what it's there for. Your bath is ready." He picked her up, carried her to the bathroom, stripped her of her tee-shirt and removed the well used nappy before plunking her in the bath.
So went the following week. The nappies solved Cathy's night time problems and her day time was full of fun and adult attention. Hank and her played, read stories, visited the sites of the Capital and had a great time. When Hank had to do some work Cathy was very good at entertaining herself. On one occasion Hank had to call on a client, but she was home too having school aged kids as well. Her just teenaged twin daughters made much of Cathy – offering to baby-sit 'any time'. Mid-week late one night Camilla rang on a very bad satellite phone connection. She sounded despondent. "If Hell exists on earth it is here," she sighed. Hank who knew his daughter's usually unbreakable resilience was concerned. He sent another large sum to MSF – it was all he could do. Except of course assuring his daughter that Cathy was doing very well. "Any problems?" Camilla asked just before the call broke up.
"None," Hank assured. "None what so ever. And I've updated her wardrobe for the climate..."
"Ups, yeah, I guess the suitcase was more geared for the winter holiday in Brittany we were planning on," Camilla said sounding fairly sheep-faced through the static.
"Not to worry," her father assured her. "We're doing great." He didn't know if she had heard him though. The line was now dead.
On Friday Cathy asked if they could go to 'the great playground' once more. Hank readily agreed, but remembering last week's episode and being fairly certain that no further work would have been done on the toilet facilities, he asked Cathy if perhaps she would like to wear a nappy – 'just in case'. After a bit of thought Cathy agreed.
It felt strange to have a nappy on during day time and Cathy was adamant she wouldn't need it, having gone to the toilet just before they went out. But once at the playground she forgot all about it. Several of her new friends from the week before were there and they quickly established a good game. On occasion they would 'check base' with their respective adults for a hug, a snack or a drink of water, but otherwise they looked after themselves.
"Your... ?." A woman started after Cathy had darted back to the sandpit.
"Granddaughter", Hank offered
"Your granddaughter is a real cutie," the woman resumed. "And her language is really advanced for her age."
Hank smiled. In her pink skirt, pink t-shirt, pink sandals and pig-tails held by pink elastics with large pink plastic hearts Cathy didn't look a day over five. He simply nodded.
"But she is still in nappies?" the woman asked.
"Cathy has the occasional day-time accidents," Hank conceded. "And with the toilets here out of order, we took the precaution."
"Wise," the woman agreed. "I wish I could get my Jimmy to be as sensible. He is also five and I have all kinds of problems when we are out for a long time, on road trips and so on. He absolutely refuses to wear a nappy. I can't count the number of times we've ended up with wet pants. I tried trainer pants, but he won't have a bar of those either."
"Oh, we have no problems in that respect," Hank said. "Cathy would rather have a nappy on than wet clothes."
At exactly that moment Cathy, hitherto completely absorbed in the game, suddenly realized that her bladder was full beyond capacity. Almost involuntarily she put her right thumb in her mouth and released the contents of her bladder into the nappy. The pee was absorbed quickly, leaving a warm feeling.
Jimmy, sitting next to her didn't notice what happened to Cathy. But moments later, to his chagrin, he released a torrent of pee himself, drenching his underwear, shorts, socks and sandals. "Mummy," he wailed and ran over to the bench. Cathy followed him.
"See what I mean?" the woman said in a hopeless tone. "Better get you home buster," she said to her son. "Why couldn't you be a smart as your friend?"
"I couldn't help it Mummy," Jimmy sobbed.
"Neither could Cathy, but she was smart enough to be prepared," Jimmy's mother said, eyeing Cathy's visibly sagging nappy.
"Prepared?" Jimmy sniffled.
"Yes – she's wearing a nappy because she knows there is no toilet here," the woman said.
"Really?" Jimmy sniffled.
"Really," Hank confirmed.
Cathy blushed slightly, but she didn't feel nearly as embarrassed as she thought she would have.
As the sobbing and dripping Jimmy was let home by his mother, Hank turned to Cathy. "Sorry about that Pumpkin. Jimmy's mother spotted your nappy herself. I didn't know she was going to tell Jimmy."
"That's OK Granddad," Cathy said. "It was a good idea to wear it."
"You mean it is wet?" Hank said only now discovering the sag. "Oh, yes, I can see that it is."
"Uh huh," Cathy said.
"Well, I have brought another," Hank said, "but there is really nowhere I can change you."
"That's OK Granddad," Cathy said again. "With Jimmy gone I think I'd rather go home anyway. I'm kind of tired."
They walked home in silence. When they got to the house, Hank took Cathy to the bathroom and removed the saggy nappy. He washed and dried her. Holding a pair of panties in his hand he suddenly remembered Cathy's comment. "You said you were tired. Do you want a nap?"
"Uh huh," Cathy nodded, looking down.
"Big girl or little girl nap?" Hank asked.
Cathy looked up at her grandfather. He was offering something she hadn't dare ask for, but really wanted. "Little girl", she whispered.
Hank undressed her, but on a fresh nappy and carried her to her bedroom. In the mid day heat, she didn't need any clothes and he just covered her with a sheet.
"Sleep well Pumpkin," Hank said, kissing her forehead. "Granddad will be in his office working."
"OK," Cathy said and rolled over on her side. The snug feeling of the nappy made her feel safe. Safe and loved. She put her thumb in her mouth and fell asleep.