*Dua la kuku halimpati mwewe. (Swahili proverb, The pleas of the chicken never reach the hawk)
A woman adjusts her position on a couch and places her head on a man’s shoulder. He puts his arm around her.
“I think it’s going to be a girl,″ the man says.
“And what if it’s a boy?” The woman asks, running her fingers over the dome of her pregnancy.
“I’ll make you a bet, if it’s a boy I’ll do his laundry for a month”
“You’re so sure of yourself!” She says, “All right if it’s a girl I’ll let you name her whatever you want.”
Birds chirp their morning chorus over the sound of flipping pages.
“Why are you going through the photo album?” He asks, flitting his eyes over the images.
“I’m looking for my brother. He died when I was eight. I told you about him, remember?”
“Matthew, the one who saved you from the fire.”
“I marked the photo to make sure I wouldn’t forget him, here he is.”
She shows him a photo of a man holding a young girl. There’s scribbling in childish handwriting at its corner. It says, ‘My Hero’.
“He lost his life while saving mine. I feel like it was my fault. If I hadn’t been so helpless…” she sinks further into the man’s chest.
“Hey, it wasn’t your fault okay. It wasn’t anyone’s fault. It was an accident. There’s nothing anyone could’ve done. And stop stressing yourself, I hear babies can feel what their mothers are feeling when they are still in the womb.”
She looks up at his face, ” Sometimes I think you are more worried about this child than you are about me.”
“Well you two are sharing the same body and I can’t scold an unborn child can I?”
She chuckles. A low growl bellows from the man’s abdomen.
“Wow, you sound as if you swallowed a cat”
“I’ve been sipping at the same cup of tea all morning. I should really get something to eat.”
“I’ll do it,” She pushes herself off of him. “I’ve been sitting on that couch all day and I need to stretch my legs a bit.”
As soon as she’s on her feet she leans over and holds her belly.
The man sits up quickly.
She looks back and smiles at him.
He recognises the sly smile, “you’re messing with me again.”
“Sorry,” she giggles, “you just look so cute when you’re worried.”
“You know one of these days you’re going to cry wolf for real and I won’t believe you,” He lies back in the laziest posture he can think of.
“You’d fall for it even if I weren’t pregnant.”
She waddles several steps away before she abruptly stops. She looks at the floor and sees a puddle forming around her feet.
“Oh god… ”
“Too soon,” he says as he raises the cup to his lips, an act of defiance.
A wave of pain rips through her body. She breathes through her mouth to stem her reaction. She looks back at her husband and utters a word.
He concentrates all his senses on the cold smooth feel of the porcelain cup. She won’t get him now, not ten seconds after her last stunt. He must be strong. He must resis- his backstabbing eyes had long snuck a glance. He dashes towards her.
“I told you, I told you this would happen, sasa ona…(Swahili, now see)” he scolds, his voice going so high it’s almost a whimper.
She claims her victory with a smile despite the pain slicing through her body.
“Now… is not the time sweetie.”
There is a small rural clinic on the side of a road. The man is seated in its reception area at the edge of his seat with his head in his hands. He keeps glancing at one side and then covering his head with his hands, resting his chin on his closed fists, standing, pacing, sitting, repeat.
The wail of a newborn. His head turns in its direction. This sound that usually annoyed him so now was the soothing song of hope, of life. The creases of his face smooth out in a look of both happiness and relief. He stands up.
He is a father now.
Crash! A rapid shuffling of feet. An ear lashing scream.
Three nurses crash through a door tripping and clambering over one other. They almost knock the man down as they scramble past him to the exit.
A doctor pushes his way out of the same room and leans on the wall panting heavily. The man approaches the doctor and holds him.
The doctor glares at him with eyes like black marbles rolling in puddles of milk.
“… Lines… white… I don’t...”
The doctor pushes away from him and almost tumbles over. He leans on the wall for support, his gloves painting a red streak as he follows the nurses, his legs weak and shaking.
The man looks at the door they emerged from. His wife was in there, his child was in there. Whatever it was that was happening he would protect them from it. They were his soul, to lose them would be to die. He cautiously pushes the door open. He sees her on the floor curled around something. All his fear and all his bravado disappear in one insignificant puff. He runs to his wife.
“Leave me alone! Don’t hurt my child!” She lashes and curls even tighter.
“Sarah, it’s me…”
She looks up. Dark skin, big worried eyes, no medical attire. Who is this man? His anxious gaze is comforting, disarming, almost funny. He cares. He reminds her of the man she loved teasing, the man who would jump if she coughed, the man who would fight if she pointed, the man who would cry if she did. He reminds her of the man whose kindness swept her off her feet, the man she introduced her parents to, the man whose baby she holds in her arms. He reminds her of her angel of a husband. But where is he? Doesn’t he know that she needs him? That she’s never needed him more in her life? The man’s words echo in her confused mind, ‘It’s me...’ It’s me. It’s him? It’s him! It’s her husband. He’s here. Everything will be alright. Everything will be alright.
“Peter, look... it’s our son.”
Her chest has a white light shining on her from the bundle she holds in her arms. She pulls her hands away from her chest. It’s a baby, a boy. He looks healthy. He looks perfect. Except. The baby’s face has white glowing lines drawing patterns on his face, a white that shines like the full moon on a clear starry night even in the overly lit room they’re in. It’s as if the light is not real, as if it’s superimposed on reality, existing in spite of it if not apart from it. The baby’s eyes are closed but the eyelids seem to be illuminated from the inside. Peter’s eyes widen, his mouth falls open.
“Isn’t he beautiful?” She coos.
The man stares at the baby’s face. The patterns grow dimmer until they completely disappear and the child falls asleep. He can see its face clearly now. There’s something familiar about it. He can’t put his finger on it. Maybe it’s his nose or is it his ears? It could even be its scent, but it takes after her.
“It’s... human.” The words tumble from his mouth.
She puts a finger in her baby’s tiny hand. He squeezes tightly as if asserting his existence. Her joy causes her to make a sound. A sob? A laugh? She pinches its cheek, it bares a toothless grimace. My little boy, my little hero.
Her eyes never leave the child’s face, “You lost the bet, now you’ll have... to…”
Her breath starts leaving before she completes the sentence. She can’t keep her eyes open. Her body wobbles and pours. The baby’s tiny face starts disappearing from her sight. She tries to hold it tighter but her fingers won’t move. She tries opening her eyes wider but the darkness gets thicker. She can’t feel him squirm, she can’t smell his scent, she can’t see his face. Please. Just one more second. He’s so warm. He’s so… She slowly becomes limp, her hands slip off the baby and the man has to hold them.
Half his soul is dying. He panics. He jerks her back and forth. The movement causes the baby to wake up. The baby’s face starts glowing and it starts crying.
“Sarah wake up, Sarah! Someone help us! She’s dying! Sarah!”
They are in a pool of blood.