The alarm goes off at the same time as usual. At first it just blends into my dream but then reality dawns. I turn around, hit it and close my eyes again. Sleep is so difficult these days. Derek has already gone. He works in construction and has to go early every day. I try to recapture my dream but it rapidly fades away from my memory.
I awake again with a start and jump out of bed. Bleary eyed I reach around for my glasses and look at the clock. It has only been ten minutes. Relieved I drag my oversized body to the bathroom and go through my morning rituals. They take longer now than before. Tiredness is a constant companion these days, but today is worse than usual. My head feels fuzzy and I feel hot and cold at the same time.
Derek tells me, “Pull yourself together”. Apparently his first wife found everything much easier. I moved into his flat about four months ago, but I still don’t see so much of him. He has to work, he says. Derek has two children already. The younger one, David, is going to be a footballer he thinks. He has to take him to practise every evening. My little Rex is already kicking around; I hope he will be good at football. It will make it much easier for Derek.
At least the sickness is over. That was awful as I could not concentrate on my work. I made lots of mistakes, but thankfully Mr. Jones, my employer, has been good to me. I think it is because he has a young child himself. But he says he won’t be able to keep me on once the baby comes. Something to do with the law, he said. I don’t mind as long as Derek continues to get work.
I grab my necklace and wobble downstairs and out of the door. The necklace has a cross on it from Italy which my Mum got for me. It is meant as a good luck charm for the baby and was blessed by one of the bishops there. I always keep it with me to protect Rex. I say a prayer for him every night. Even my vicar says everything will turn out OK.
The pregnancy is “going really well”, says Margaret my midwife. She always seems happy with me which makes it easier to go for check ups. I’ve even managed to give up smoking. Well nearly. Sometimes when Derek and I argue I need one to calm my nerves. Margaret says that is OK as the stress would be worse for the baby. Derek and I have been arguing a lot recently.
I scramble around in the darkness, searching for matches to light the paraffin lamp. I have to mend Preeti’s dress before she goes to school. She sleeps beside me on the mattress as I work. I watch her for a few seconds, still, except for her breathing. The moment is peaceful, without the clutter of noise from outside. It is a little cold, so I wrap my sari around her body. Nayan works away from home, so it is just her and I in the hut. It is important since he has to earn money for us to survive; especially with us having Preeti. I haven’t seen him recently but he promised to be back in time for the birth. Does he miss us I wonder?
The light breaks through a small crack in the ceiling. It is like the return of a friend who eases the loneliness of darkness. The night sky filters the sun’s rays turning them blue- grey in colour. Outside, the noise is increasing as everyone sets about their daily tasks. I give Preeti a gentle prod. She does not like mornings but she is a good girl so she gets up. Preeti is in her first year at school. She is doing really well and is third in her class. I always help her with her homework when she gets back, but it is getting harder and harder all the time. I only reached standard three.
Preeti likes to feed the stray cats in the morning. It is a bargain I make with her if she eats some breakfast herself. I prepare a few chapattis and warm up some dahl from yesterday. After eating, she collects her things and goes off to school with Mrs. Mukerjee’s daughter from next door. She is in standard four and looks after Preeti like a little sister. I watch her till she rounds the corner, skipping all the way. I don’t think she has noticed her mended dress.
I stumble back into my hut and collect the water can. We have been told we have to collect our water from a new tap because the old one will make us ill. Nayan says this is rubbish and the old one is fine, but I don’t want to take any chances with little Raj on the way. I used to go with Mrs. Mukerjee, but I am too slow now so I go on my own. I know I am getting close as I have to start avoiding the little rivulets of water that run beside the road. It takes about half an hour and then I wait in the queue. I meet and greet the usual congregation of women who collect water at this time. The rainy season will be upon us soon. The air is heavy with expectation and clings to your body. It makes the walk so much harder.
This pregnancy has gone well so far. It is my third time. First there was Preeti. Now I can see where I went wrong. I was young and didn’t heed the advice of the family. That is why we got a girl. The next time was a miscarriage...Nayan got angry, but it was my fault really as I lost the money he gave me. But surely this time will be better. I have done everything I should have. I visit the temple every day and have appeased all the gods. Even Nayan is sure we will have a boy. We have no choice; we can only afford to have Preeti. I can only make one mistake.
The bus will be coming in a few minutes so I walk quickly. I worry about the fumes I am breathing in as the cars roar past. I get to the stop in time and panting, haul myself onto the bus. The driver stares downwards at my legs. They are wet. My face becomes red with embarrassment. I turn around and rush home and sit on my bed motionless. It is too early; it can’t be starting already; it was just six months last Tuesday. The cross weighs heavy around my neck.
I try calling Derek, but he does not answer. He won’t be happy. Tears fill up in my eyes. They dislodge my contact lenses and blur my sight even more. I call Margaret who tells me everything will be alright, but I must go to the hospital. It seems such a long way in the taxi. Derek is not answering his phone. I wonder what he will say.
I enter through the revolving doors and am met by an elderly woman who directs me to Maternity. I tell her I am OK, but she is concerned so she takes me there. The ward seems very busy and I am not sure what to do. One of the mothers points me to a lady in a dark blue uniform. She takes control and whisks me to a bed. Soon others appear and put a monitor on me and check my blood pressure with a machine. A young doctor arrives who starts asking lots of questions. My temperature is up so I am started on some drugs. I ask if Rex is OK and she smiles back; I think this is good.
The hours pass by slowly. I get used to the ward and the routines. I briefly make friends with the women near me, but they come and go so quickly. I don’t think the doctors are very happy with me. They always look concerned when they check the chart at the bottom of my bed. Margaret has been to visit and explains things to me. I’ll be out of here in no time, she says. Derek comes as well, though he seems preoccupied with the building site. I think the weather has caused problems.
My chart continues to get worse. It has red lines on it now. The doctors start talking about delivering Rex. That it might be better for me. They ask me what I think but I don’t know what to say. They smile, write up some more drugs and move on to the next bed.
I return from work in time for Preeti. I am a cleaner for a rich family nearby. The work is difficult as I need to bend down all the time. The floors are especially tiring. And my swollen legs just make things worse. I am glad for the work though and they are good to keep me on in my present state.
Preeti comes rushing home from school. Gleaming with excitement, she hands me a present. I pick her up, kiss her on the cheek and thank her for the gift, wondering what it is. She tells me it is a doll she has made for baby Raj. I tell her how wonderful it is while trying to decipher the face.
Preeti plays with the doll while I prepare dinner. I start to feel faint and sit down. Preeti is concerned. Confused, I look down to see that my sari is wet. My waters have broken and Nayan is not here. Will he be angry? I tell Preeti that baby Raj will be here soon and that she needs to go and call Uncle Deepak. She runs outside while I prepare the room for the delivery.
Deepak and my Mother-in-Law arrive with Madame Parvathi. She is renowned as an expert in delivering babies. I feel safe with her looking after me. Preeti pleads to stay but Madame does not like having children nearby. She leaves me with the doll for Raj and then
Deepak takes her out with him. I am left in Madame’s experienced hands, with my Mother-in-Law presiding over.
Madame tells me how quick things should be second time around. The pains start soon, but there does not seem to be much movement from Raj. She feels my tummy and expresses some concern to Deepak, who dutifully waits outside. He confirms that the hospital is not an option. I ask her what the problem is and she reluctantly tells me that Raj is the wrong way around. I explain to her how I did all my prayers and that everything was meant to be OK this time. She gives me a wry smile. My Mother-in-Law frowns.
The next day brings more worried faces. The doctor who first saw me calls for others. I then see a flurry of people. It seems that they have decided to deliver Rex. They tell me that he is not well. My head is hurting and I don’t really understand what they are saying to me. I’m sure they know what they are doing. I ask them to call Derek; maybe he can answer their questions better.
I get moved to a room by myself and then on to the theatre. I keep on falling in and out of sleep. I dream that the whole thing is over and that I am breastfeeding Rex at home. But then I am woken by a clatter of instruments and a strange antiseptic smell engulfs me. I vomit over the side of the bed. I think this upsets the man in the mask beside me. They then put a needle into my back to put me to sleep, except that it does not put me to sleep. Awake, but paralysed I am wheeled into another room. Derek arrives dressed like a surgeon. He sits next to me and clenches my hand tightly. He seems scared to speak. There are lots of people in the room all doing different things. They keep on reassuring me.
The operation starts. The sensation is surreal; hearing and smelling what is happening, but not being able to see it. I am a spectator at my own delivery.
The pains increase in frequency as the evening blends into night. Madame leaves to prepare the meal for her own family. She seems a little distracted and impatient when she returns. She can feel Raj’s leg just inside and decides to speed up the process by pushing down on my tummy. It is quite sore as she puts her whole weight into the action. I question whether this is good for the baby. She starts telling me how many babies she has delivered. I quickly apologise scared that she might leave me.
Safe in the knowledge that my reward will soon come my way, I concentrate on pushing like I’m told. The floor underneath me feels unusually uncomfortable with little bumps I have never noticed before. I don’t remember it being this difficult when Preeti was born. Maybe giving birth to a boy is different. Madame tells me that the pain is part of the penance before the baby can arrive. I thought I had done enough already.
With a cry of pain, the leg appears. Madame tells me to continue pushing while she pulls him from below. Soon the other leg and then the body quickly follows, but the head gets stuck. Despite my continual sweating, I feel cold and start to shiver. I relax with exhaustion, but Madame scolds me telling me to continue pushing. My Mother-in-Law leaves her stool and sits on top of me, pushing down from above. Finally he comes out!
I watch Rex being taken out and put on a machine. He is surrounded by people. The operation ceases while everyone stares towards him. A bell goes and then more people arrive. I hold my breath anxiously waiting to hear him cry. He doesn’t. He is placed in a big, computerised box and wheeled out of the room. The operation finishes soon and I am lifted and moved to another room. Derek goes to see Rex but I am told I need to rest.
Later Margaret arrives and takes me to Rex. She does not reassure me this time. His room looks like something out of Star Trek. It is dark with a blue hue reaching out from the corner. There is a regular clicking sound from one of the machines and occasionally beeping reverberates around the room. Derek is sat in the corner. He doesn’t seem to notice my arrival. Rex is inside a big plastic box with machines and monitors all around him. I peer inside: he does not look real. So small and surrounded by so many contraptions. The doctor greets me and explains that Rex is on a breathing machine. From the tone of his voice this does not sound good. He keeps on telling me how ill Rex is and they think he has an infection. I ask if he got the infection from me, but he avoids the question. They tell me that I cannot feed him yet. Maybe they’ll give him some other milk. Maybe mine has the infection.
I am wheeled back to my room by the quiet Margaret. I get placed in bed and given more pain killers. Feeling drowsy I rest back against the pillow. I had not planned it like this. He was meant to be OK. Will I ever get to take him home? Will Derek cope? The breathing machine provides a soundtrack in my mind as sleep consumes my thoughts, “Click… Click… Click….”
I listen anxiously for the beautiful sound of crying. Madame takes him to the light and I hear the noise of skin slapping against wet skin. One, two, three…the crying begins! I breathe a sigh of relief and slump back on the ground, preparing myself for the afterbirth.
Squinting at the light I see Madame wrap him up and hand him to my Mother-in-Law. There is an exchange of money and she leaves contented. Deepak comes in and discusses with my Mother-in-Law. He looks towards me and then away ashamedly. They turn around and take her outside.
Preeti is brought back to me. As darkness shrouds us both, she sleepily asks how Raj is. I explain that things did not go so well and he has gone up to heaven. I hold her close to me, clutching my doll of Raj in my other hand. What will Nayan say?