As I stand outside the modest labour room separated from my wife by a dark green screen, an aluminium door and a thick curtain of apprehension, I feel a numbness spreading from my chest. I know it’s a decent hospital, and medical science has come a long way. And that the doctor is a well-known gynecologist. But when you rush back from the office to find your wife clutching her belly tightly and unable to walk or speak, as contractions – it was to come at least a month after – wring her insides, your faith on everything is shaken.
There is the all-powerful medical science. There are experienced doctors, statistics and studied probabilities. Then there are ultra-sounds, anomaly scans, blood tests and an army of complex, advanced medicines. A lot of things on your side. But then, there is Fate. The unexplained. The illogical. That little terrorist of uncertainty that still infiltrates your make-believe rampart and tears it apart.
So an unknown fear flies around me around me in circles, refusing to go away. The smell of spirit and floor cleaner is nauseating. The cold, dry air of the AC is gloomy. I look around. I am not the only one waiting. There are other labour rooms and other husbands. Mothers and sisters too, who pace up and down the corridor flanked by their handbags and medical files. Their faces tight from anxiety, their skin colour-drained. There isn’t any respite from my own demons in the collective paleness of their faces.
The little alley leading up to the labour room is pregnant with hope, fear and prayer.
Three to four hours, the doctor has said, post which they would intervene for a C-section. Two hundred minutes of wait when every second plucks away a part of your heart! I feel terrible for my wife who, in spite of her career and an unwillingness for another child, is now writhing in pain on a narrow bed inside.
I realise that we were all waiting for that soothing cry that marks an end, that marks a beginning. The only cry that is not out of happiness, yet which brings so much joy to a little world. The “uaan…uaan” that is surprisingly the same, cutting across caste, ethnicity or religion.
I wait with a desperate desire to see my wife again, smiling, a little someone by her side. We all wait. For two lives to undergo a painful separation, quite ironically, to begin a journey of lifelong association.
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I pray for one last time. Girl. Oh God, please give me a girl. And take care of my wife as she undergoes one of the most painful moments of her life. I feel guilty that my longing for a girl is more intense than the well-being of my wife. As I close my eyes, I see the orange darkness behind the lids give way to a beautiful little girl running towards me, hands raised in an empty embrace. I see a white lace frock, stepped from top to bottom, looking like a white flower in full bloom, out of which a little head has popped out. I only see the outlines of her face, the details tantalizingly absent. My hands slip below her arms and I lift her high. Her fingers on my face are unimaginably tender, her feet a delicious shade of pink. The deep black eyes and the long curly hair makes me want to bury my face into her and not let her go. I know I have fallen in love with this girl.
The images vanish and the noise of nervousness pours back. It’s my anxious-looking sister-in-law. As I transfer to her the heavy load of information (which really isn’t much but which needs to be repeated in various ways to satisfy the receiver), someone asks me to admit the “patient”. She waits in my place while I run downstairs to finish the admission formalities. They ask me if I have insurance. I do, but I have run out of patience for the long procedure. Though I whip out my credit card, I still have to perform the unenviable job of waiting in a queue and look helplessly at the executive who takes his own sweet time to finish the work, between checking messages on his mobile, talking to his colleagues and laughing about things that seems criminally unimportant to me.
“Give me the bloody cabin quickly and let me go,” I want to say, “…and you can laugh till your jaws lock.”
“Someone delivered a girl, ” my sister-in-law says as I rush back upstairs. She isn’t sure whose it is and no one is telling her, she complains.
Not so soon, I think. Or could it be ours? May be. May be not. Probably not. I alternate between a distant unreasonable joy and an hurtful rational denial. A nurse rushes out. “Is…is it a girl for Mrs. Kar ?” I ask, almost jumping in front of her. She either doesn’t recognize the name or doesn’t pay attention. What follows is an excruciating wait. Sometimes waiting is the most difficult activity in the world.
The doctor finally comes out in a dark green apron and a white mask with a hint of green hanging from his neck. I take two steps forward to block his way, desperate as I am to know if everything is alright. He smiles at me.
“What happened?” I guess I have lost the metal faculty to ask a pointed question.
“Exactly what you wanted. Nothing to worry, she is fine.”
She? Which She?
“Girl, right?” I don’t want to believe it yet. The real world probability transcend the simple laws of mathematics. The more desperately you want something which you have no control on, the lesser is its chance of happening.
“Yes, yes. Girl!”
Though I ask him other questions, questions about my wife and how she is doing, a parallel part of my brain has gone berserk. It’s a girl. Thank God. It’s a girl! Images of someone running towards me with opens arms come flooding back. And I fall in love with a girl, all over again.
A real girl this time, but unknown, unseen yet.