Doctor Mitch has me scheduled for a Caesarean tomorrow. I can't sleep, which is why I'm writing this. I just wanna scream, and I can't wait to get it out of me. I can feel it - kicking, kicking hard. I don't like it anymore, I wish I was dead! I wish I'd never let that bastard touch me.
-- Devi Chandra's Journal; March 22nd, 1992.
The surgeon's knife cut, and the woman's abdomen was severed. She had been drugged, and her screams had ceased. Yet still, they echoed in the bustling silence of the hospital. Her robed body lay serenely exhausted upon the table.
The tanned skin of the woman's face was expressionless, and her dark hair was tied back in a beautiful clasp. Sweat glistened upon her, masked by the scent of lavender and cilantro.
Minutes passed, and to those present it seemed like hours. They watched through the viewing window. The baby was not healthy. However, the boy was alive. Yet, that did not matter. The people watched, concerned for her; not him.
The silence of the room had been false, set by an unnatural mood. Nobody had noticed the incessant beeping of the machines, until they stopped. She flat-lined.
She survived the first, the Caucasian surgeon looked expressionless, as if this was what he had expected. Devi has not been so lucky with her second child.
The glass barrier between the viewers and the surgery table was thick with glare, and now useless as the nurse slid the blinds into place with a polite smile.
On the other side, there were two small crowds. A young woman, similar in appearance to Devi yet very much alive, cried upon a man's shoulder. He wore a large work coat, with a tag: 'Hari Patel', 'Custodian'. They bore matching rings upon their left fourth fingers. Three others, who stood as sentinels amidst an awkward staleness, huddled near the couple.
The other group was clearly separate, and crowded around a bottle of liquor. They smelled of marijuana and alcohol. They remained silent, and showed no sign of grief other than the ritual passing of the bottle. Thoughts passed through their heads: 'I should have used protection', 'Damn, I'll miss her.', 'Good, that bitch is gone...', 'Ahhh, the good stuff!'.
Hospital staff passed, soberly, and did not react. Each nurse and doctor seemed more and more tired than the last. The hospital workers seemed to be on edge. And all the while, the hall smelled of geriatrics, liquor, sterilization and death...
What in the name of Allah Almighty? It was his first concrete thought, in a long while, and coincidentally the last he'd had before that break. He remembered something of it: the warm touch, the restful darkness, and the serene solitude. It had felt nourishing, sustaining and alive. Air assailed his nostrils. Where am I now?
The room was a blur. He was moving, being carried by large, strong arms. They passed the outline of a woman, lying limply on a bed. He felt something indefinably nostalgic about the blurry outline, and the whole room.
There was a calm, feminine voice, "Hello, Ashok."
No, that's not a woman... he realized, as the faint outline of a male nurse left his view.
"God bless you, infidel!" Cain said soothingly, in his flamboyantly effeminate accent. "You're going to need all the luck you can get." Damn, I hate this part of the job... this baby is so cute.
There was an overwhelming sense of déjà vu, in all of this. The voice was familiar, though Ashok could not bring a face to match it. More importantly, his vision was blurry and he couldn't move.
I need a café latté, real bad... Nurse Cain strolled down the neo-natal unit, eyeing the five empty cribs that followed the eight that were occupied. He left the room, on coffee break.
Ahah! Finally, Ashok's brain made sense of his sight, quite prematurely. And then, came the shock: he was tiny, weak and helpless. Ashok Chandra was a baby, and there was nothing he could do about it. However, he felt great about it. An overdose has never made me hallucinate like this before...
An adult stood in front of the window, looking down at Ashok through the crib. There was a grin on his angular, unshaved, Hispanic face. Also, he had hair gelled to spikes, in a style before its time.
Who are you? The speculation carried hatred. He was positioned such that his immobile head could look up at the window, and see the passing of staff. Ashok began to fall asleep, with one last ponderous thought, If mother, Kali, is not my mother, then that probably makes you my...
The man opened a fresh pack of cigarettes, and lit up. Smoke filled the hospital hallway, and nobody seemed to care at this hour of the night. He stood there, in his black leather sports jacket, jagged chain around his neck. Dark shadows loomed just below his eyes.
An effeminate nurse walked by, carrying a coffee cup and shouting at one of his fellow nurses who had just turned the corner, "Hey Alice, I'm off break, care to finish my latté?"
Carlos pushed the noise out of his mind.
Another nurse turned in her tracks, answering to 'Alice', and greeted the newcomer in a French Canadian accent, "I'd love t’, Cain!"
He stood there, a dark figure in a solemnly gray hall. Smoke sifted out his lips, and he tucked the pack of cigarettes into his dark, tight jeans. The man's back pocket bulged, and caught Cain's eye as he handed Alice the coffee.
Oh, les hommes... she snickered inwardly, "T'anks, Cain. Mmm, m'fave!"
The man in black leather stood silently, oblivious to the exchange. Again, he lifted the cigarette to his mouth and breathed in. He was gazing down at the newborn.
Nurse Cain ran off, his eyes departing last, his limestone-colored, linen gown flapping boyishly in his wake.
Alice stood where she was, taking in the smell. She glanced up and down the row of cribs behind the glass, pink and blue blankets covering sleeping infants. A sip, a sigh, and a smile met her lips one by one.
"Is dat one y’rs?" she asked, hesitantly.
The man grunted in confirmation, and lit up another smoke.
She tried to sound sweet, "Y'know, y'shouldn' do dat 'ere. But I don' mind, hon."
His broad shoulders shrugged ever so slightly, and his gaze remained fixed upon the sleeping infant before him.
"Y'don'-talk much, Carlos."
He suppressed a frown, not quite sure of how she knew his name.
"She's in a betta' place."
Finally, he spoke, in a sonorous bass, "I don't care where that whore is."
Alice was accustomed to this. She continued to converse, in her thick, north-eastern Quebec accent, "Wha's gonna 'appen t'yer son?"
"He's not my son, lady!" Carlos suppressed his seething rage, "Her sister's gonna take him in as her own."
"Oh," she paused. "An' how does dat make ya' feel?"
He took in a large breath, his handsome chest heaving in the reflection.
Alice absent-mindedly pinned together the top button on her nurse's gown, not wanting to give the wrong impression. Another swig of the warm coffee, and she felt better about it.
"I don't mind. I'll never see this little guy again. Fatherhood ain't the life for me."
Ashok's sleeping body lay in the crib, beneath a soft, blue blanket. He snored softly, in rhythm with the other babies. Above them, a set of colorful mobiles spun softly to the ephemeral ringing of its inner gears. The sun, the moon, the stars, circling round and round the ceiling of the neo-natal unit.
Through the looking glass, a nurse downed the last of her coffee, and a thoughtful man crushed his last cigarette between his fingers.