Chapter 1: A New Welcome
It was a dark night, no moon and not a single street light shone as far as the eye could see. But that was the least of Kamal’s worries. He wasn’t outdoors enjoying the gentle July breeze that swept through the streets; instead, he stood under fading tube lights, distraught between shooing flies away from his face and staring at the door waiting for it to open.
They had told him to wait. He couldn’t, not anymore; he had waited for an hour already, and his patience was running out, fast. It was as if an invisible force stretched him from both sides, trying to discern how long before he’d snap.
He had waited, along with his wife, for ten long months. Now he understood what they meant, that time would creep when you expect something — or someone. It was torture.
He tried leaning on the decaying walls. He sat, but couldn’t for long. He began pacing to and fro the narrow windowless corridor. He couldn’t think straight; his mind was garbled with emotions he couldn’t explain — even to himself. It was his first experience; he was excited, filled with enthusiasm. But he was also worried, his wife needed him — now — more than ever. But here he stood instead, waiting with bated breath and an uncontrollable urge to break down the door.
For months leading to this day, he had assailed his friends and colleagues with questions about their experiences. He had dedicated more attention to their words than he had ever done during his Economics classes back in college. However, no matter how much he had been tutored to stay calm and relax, it was nothing — nothing compared to what he now faced.
The nurses all laughed at his restlessness; the sight wasn’t new for them. Day after day they would watch, as expecting fathers stole longing glances at the closed door.
Each moment seemed an age, and Kamal was growing desperate. He looked around the corridor. It had a surprising sense go gloom, for a labour ward. The lights above his head flickered. In the farthest corner, he saw another agitated young father clinging on to the door knob, expecting news of his child. Turning to his own door, Kamal noticed the paintings on the walls. There were babies. Three babies huddled together in one picture while in another, a baby peeked from behind a fluffy white pillow. Kamal’s lips parted in a tiny smile, and before he knew it, his smile had reached his eyes; he couldn’t wait. He pressed his ear to the door in eager anticipation, hoping to hear the doctor’s footsteps coming towards him. But there was no sound.
Why wasn’t there any sound? He thought back to all the movies he had seen, where relatives waiting outside would celebrate as soon as they heard the baby’s cries and the mother’s wails from within.
What was going on?
A nurse decided to explain; “It’s a sound-proof door, Mr Kamal!”
And a minute later, the mahogany door swung open and out strode the doctor, with two nurses at his heels. The doctor grinned at him through his grey-lined mustache, “Congratulations, Mr. Kamal. You are now the father of a beautiful girl.” The effect was instantaneous — Kamal’s face split into a huge smile and tears escaped though his eye lids. His legs almost gave away, and he clutched the lined chairs just in time to balance himself. For a few seconds, he stood speechless. He opened his mouth but couldn’t form words. Clearing his throat, he tried again gesturing towards the inside of the room.
The doctor threw his head back and laughed. A high-pitched belly laugh, “Yes, you can go and see them.”
Kamal managed a weak “Thank you”, before dragging his weak legs into the room. There on the bed lay his pretty wife, her eyes closed in a peaceful slumber. He saw beads of sweat on her forehead, and next to her, was the cot. He stood at the door, watching his wife. She had suffered in his absence, but he was going to change it. He swore to himself never to leave her side again.
Walking over to the cot, he peeped in slowly, for fear of waking his baby. But she wasn’t asleep; she looked up at her father, smiling and cackling. It awoke his wife. Stirring, she sat up and smiled at him; the same smile that had made him a hopeless lover.
He lifted his girl in tender arms and, trying to be gentle, planted a kiss on her cheek. She began crying immediately. With a baffled look, he handed his baby to his wife. Once settled in her mother’s arms, the baby stopped crying. Smiling at his confusion, his wife mused, “Your beard.”
“I’ll shave it.” He waved a hand, “First thing tomorrow.” He was dazed; his daughter had succeeded where his parents and relatives had failed. For the first time in his life, he agreed to give up his beard. He would give his daughter everything, she would grow up the happiest girl in the world.
“I love you,” He declared to his daughter and she smiled in return. Smiled as if she understood every syllable her father uttered.