"A fine, healthy baby," says the doctor, pointing at the monitor screen. "You'll soon be a proud mother, dear."
My husband squeezes my hand and says, "Our baby will be as sweet as you. I can hardly wait to see her." His eyes sparkle as he follows the blobs moving on the ultrasound monitor.
I play along with them and smile, trying to decipher the ghostly shapes on the screen. The dark, musty, windowless room is heavy with the cold steel, plastic and glassy smell of machinery. Ultrasound gel runs in icy trickles around my bulging midriff.
The weeks pass in a daze. My body aches so. I waddle around the house ashamed to show my bloated belly to the outside world. I wake up at nights in a cold sweat. My mother tells me to be careful. I might hurt the baby even when I turn in my sleep, she says. I obediently move with slow, cautious steps.
"Hi, Angel! Give Daddy a pat." My husband coos baby talk as he rubs lotion on my ballooning tummy.
"You always called me 'angel,'" I say with a smile. Ouch! Baby gives a sharp kick and I bite my lip and hold back tears. There are three of us now.
"Oh no! What are those red welts around your navel?" My husband stops massaging and gasps. He cringes and his face turns paper-white. He hands me a mirror to see them; angry, blood-red lines slashing through my smooth, translucent skin.
My husband pulls on a jacket and fumbles with the zipper. "I'm taking you both to the doctor right now," he says, and leads me into our car.
"They're just stretch marks, dear," the doctor says, and gives me a reassuring pat.
"You'll be so happy when your baby arrives, you'll forget all about those little marks of motherhood."
"Feel like a drive?" my husband asks one evening. He returns home early these days, canceling important meetings. When I protest that he mustn't compromise at work, he pats my tummy and tells me, "I want the best for our baby."
I push the jeans and my favorite sky blue dress to the back of the cupboard. I'll never fit into them again, but I haven't the heart to give them away. This drab brown tent of a shift is enough to cover the baby and me. My face glows back at me from the mirror. I don't look below, afraid of what I will see.
We drive up to a church. My husband puts out his arm around my middle and guides me up the steps. Then he helps me into the sanctum, and we offer candles. Following him, I move my lips to utter a prayer for the child.
My husband and I count the days for the baby's arrival. I've taken all the vitamins and grandma's herbal concoctions. I've accepted well-meaning advice from friends and elders. I'm a good mother. My husband says so. And I want a good, well-behaved baby.
"Relax as much as you can," says my best friend with a laugh. "After your baby comes, you can forget about sleep. Kids hijack the rest of your life. You'll never be your own woman any more." She helps me get little dresses, sweaters, booties and caps ready and do up the nursery with bright posters and cuddly teddy bears.
Time drags on. Then one day, the pangs begin tormenting me.
My husband presses my hand as I'm wheeled into the hospital. Bright lights stab my eyes. Between waves of paroxysms, the stench of antiseptic mingled with the sticky-sweet scent of blood assails me.
Through a sea of agony, I hear a soft mewing. "What a beautiful girl," the nurses say. "Such large eyes and a head full of hair. She will be gorgeous like her mother." I sigh. My ordeal is over.
Visitors pass in a haze. Packages decked in pastel papers and pink satin ribbons pile up around my bed.
"Some water," I say, my voice emerging in a faint, hoarse whisper. My aunt doesn't seem to hear me. She's busy cooing to the baby. My husband stands at a distance basking in the incandescent blush of fatherhood before his friends.
"Please, water," I whisper. And then I give up and drift into restless sleep.
"Darling, can I leave you both and go for a cup of coffee?" My husband strokes the baby's fine hair. "Be good, sweetheart. Daddy will be back before you know it."
The visitors have gone, and I am alone with the baby for the first time. The baby begins to fuss. I reach out and rock the cradle, but her soft whimpers continue.
I rise with painful effort and peer over the baby. She looks fine, but gently rocking the cradle doesn't please her. I unfold the blanket with pink and yellow ducks and tuck it around her.
She cries on.
I wish my husband would return. The pain cuts through me in stitches. After months of aching restlessness, after the recent hours of gut-tearing pain, I need to sleep. I am a good mother, and I must make the baby obey me.
"Hush," I whisper, drawing the blanket over the tiny head, covering her ears, and then her nose and mouth. I press the fluffy blanket over the miniature face. The whimpers increase and then fade in a reverse crescendo.
The baby is quiet now, her tiny chest still.
I uncover her face and then turn over and close my eyes.
About the author:
Monideepa Sahu is a former banker. Tired of managing money for others and not making much for herself, she quit and took to writing. She still hasn't made money, but it now seems less important. Her short fiction has most recently been accepted into Hobart #5, The Gobshite Quarterly, and A Long Story Short. Monideepa lives in Bangalore, India, with her computer and her family.