My voice has shunned my body. I hear it over there, dissociated from my being.
“Give me my baby,” it says. First frantic and then more softly, over and over until I can hardly hear it. Sobs rack my soul, merging eventually with the cries of my baby, in perfect harmony.
“I told you it was too early,” a sterile voice says. I cannot see who it belongs to because they are all hiding behind masks.
But early is good, I think. I can hear my father’s reassuring voice. The early bird catches the worm.
He loved idioms. My sister and I always used to joke and call them idiots. “Dad loves idiots”, we would shriek, dissolving into girlie giggles. Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise. I hear him again.
“A woman too,” I would say to him now if he were still with us.
Then another voice, shrill and piercing, tweezes my wandering mind back to the operating theatre. My baby is quiet now and I can’t see where he is.
“What have you done with him?” I say, searching the room with my bloodshot eyes.
“You need to get her out of here. She’s disturbing the patient.” It’s the shrill one again.
“Doctor Jill.” A hand touches my shoulder. Is he talking to me? “We need to go. You aren’t well.”
“I’m not going anywhere without my baby,” I say. I wipe my nose on the back of my sleeve.
Then I see him on the operating table, all red and crumpled, and in the arms of a strange woman. She looks worried and I start to panic.
“Is he alright?” I say. I am crying again. “Is he alright?” The nurse is trying to guide me out, first gently, but now more firmly.
“Please doctor, you’re making this worse,” he says to me.
I lunge forward towards the operating table in a desperate attempt to grab my baby, but the nurse has me in a firm grip. The woman on the table is crying now, confused-looking.
“She lost her baby recently,” one of the masks says to the woman on the table. “Advised not to come back to work so early, but she insisted she was fine. I’m so sorry about this. We’ll get her out now.”
Lost. What? I wasn’t careless. I didn’t lose him! The blood-stained hands of Death wrenched him from me. I tried so hard to hold on, but Death was too strong.
“I didn’t lose him,” I hear myself whisper. “He was taken.”
They all look at me.
“Let her go,” says the woman holding the baby.
“I’m not sure that’s a good idea, ma’am. She’s unstable.”
“Let her go,” she says again. “Please.”
Our eyes meet for the first time. I see the jumbled emotions in hers, mirroring my own – exhaustion, confusion, sadness – but in hers there is also a trace of joy, which reflects back into mine as resentment.
“Do you want to hold my baby?” she says to me.
“Ma’am,” the nurse says. “I don’t…” But she interrupts him.
“Do you, doctor?” she says to me again.
I step forward slowly, unsure now whether this is what I want. She holds him out to me and I can see now that he is not mine. I have delivered hundreds of babies, but I feel afraid to take this fragile creature in my arms. I take another step towards them and stretch out my hands. I hear a collective intake of breath as I take him and hold him to me.
His little wrinkled face looks troubled and in it I see my father. I smile faintly. His little body feels comforting against my chest. Time heals all wounds, my father whispers. The wound in my womb, the wound in my heart, the wound in my soul. They just need time. Better late than never.
Who am I kidding? Who’s the idiot now? The wounds might recover, but they will leave their ghosts behind. The scars will never disappear. I know I can never create and nurture another life inside me. Delivering babies, but never my own. I clutch my baby tighter to my chest and glance across at the anxious eyes. Then I spin around and run.
Michelle Preen (@mpreen) lives on the southern tip of Africa in the coastal village of Kommetjie, in Cape Town. She is a graduate from the University of Kwazulu-Natal and currently works in the field of environmental communications and media. She has had short stories shortlisted and published in various anthologies and magazines, including Black Letter Media’s anthology entitled The Short Story is Dead. Long Live the Short Story!, the Short Story Day Africa 2013 anthology and the Writivism 2014 anthology. She attended the Cape Town Writivism workshop, and was mentored by Monica Cheru. Visit Michelle’s website http://www.michellepreen.com.Follow @JaladaAfrica