At dawn, she drags herself from the bed, leaving the sheets ruffled into a heap in the center, walks out of the small room and finds herself at the back of the house. She picks up the metal bucket and, using a small bowl, she fills it with water from a tank filled with rainwater from last night. The cold cuts her skin when she folds her leso up towards her waist, squats with her thighs spread apart and splashes the water with one hand, rubbing with the other. She closes her eyes. The pain is in her mind, she tells herself. The pain is a consequence of her imagination. The baby too…stop calling it a baby, she shouts in her head that still hurts. Stop. The baby. Stop. She splashes the water, faster. The cold is a small knife now; cutting, cutting, cutting. The red slowly spills on the ground. She bites her lower lip. Her thighs are shaking. The water wets her leso. She is crying. Is she crying? This is the third one. Of course she is crying.
She opens her eyes and finds him standing there. Looking at her. She sinks inside. Another brother or sister not coming home. Another brother or sister lost to the war inside her. How will she explain to him that this one too has been lost?
– Go back to sleep, Jafar. Her voice scares her. Certainly, it terrifies the small boy too.
– Is Baba coming back?
– Yes, he will be here soon.
In thirty minutes or less, her husband will be walking in, tired from his night shift at the hospital where he pushes and pulls stretchers carrying the dead, the alive and the in-betweens. In thirty minutes, she will have to tell him that the baby came, just not as they expected. The baby, she smiles to herself. She knows she should not call it a baby yet. Thirteen weeks. But after the first and the second, she wants to cling to this one and call it whatever she wants to.
We lost the baby. Sounds wrong in her head. Sounds like the baby had a mind of its own, legs fully formed, and decided to walk away from them. Still, that is what she wants to say.
Inside the house, she puts Jafar back to sleep. She sits on the bed and drinks her pain in gulps. She is allowing herself to feel this this time. She is allowing the waves to rock her and hit her if they must. It is only from the feeling of drowning, of sinking, that she will make this pain go away. And she has exactly twenty minutes to do that. For when Baba Jafar walks in, when he pushes through the frame of that door, stinking of antiseptic and the death that clings to the hospital walls, she should be ready to swim for the both of them. She has always been the one to be strong for the both of them. Like the first time…she chooses not to remember that. Too painful. Some memories are better left buried in an unmarked grave. The second one, yes, that one which happened like it didn’t happen. One minute the baby was there, the next there was nothing but a blotch on her pant; like a heavy period. But she knew, she knew that was her baby. Their baby. She told Baba Jafar. So casually, like one tells their spouse, Honey will you be having eggs today?
– Baba Jafar, the baby is gone. She said as she sliced the onions that stung her eyes.
Baba Jafar, a man so small in stature but with big emotions. He felt things twice the way everyone experienced them. He laughed with the purity of a child’s laughter and cried with the vindictiveness of a baby’s cry. He smiled always. And he spoke like a sports commentator from the radio. He was lovable. And when his heart broke, it broke in the way that beautiful things always break. It folded first, sunk, slipped then landed, unfolding into a million pieces that shone and shone when the light hit them at the right angle, scattering, then, finally, motionless. The death of beauty is, after all, a death altogether. And that is what the second one did to Baba Jafar.
The third time is what she dread. She gets up from the bed, careful not to wake Jafar up. She fastens the leso around her waist and glided to the small kitchen that is the only other room in the house. The stove sits on a stool and the soot sits on the stove. She blinks away the sleep and the tears in her eyes and sets a pot of water on the stove. The door creaks open and Baba Jafar walks in, stink first followed by his body.
– Baba! Jafar exclaims, getting up from the bed.
Through the slit in the kitchen door, she sees him throwing himself in his father’s arms, laying his small head on his father’s chest. She has tried to get him off this habit but the boy loves his father and no warning of how he will catch the diseases his father brings from the hospital is sufficient to sway him. He is six going seven and boys that age either love their fathers or hate them; nothing in between. And Jafar, Jafar is one of those who think his father is a God. For one, he is convinced that his father is a surgeon who saves lives in the hospitals.
A smile appears on her face. As a little girl, this is all she ever wanted. A family of her own. A happy family.
The kitchen door opens slightly, Baba Jafar’s smile asking her what more she wants from the world. A daughter, she would answer. One who would carry her songs through my days and after; just like she carried her mother’s and her grandmother’s. But the kitchen is too small and he doesn’t ask her what more she wants.
The tea is ready and she sets the flask in front of him. He whistles the song of dusk but the tune is lost to him so he stops and starts whistling the song of dawn. A cheery tune that rises and falls then rises again; like the hummingbird perched on the branch of the bougainvillea. It is, after all, dawn.
– Baba Jafar, my husband, I need to tell you something. The song of dawn breaks. He shifts.
– Mama Jafar, is anything the matter?
She wants to free herself and tell him that she is tired of nesting the war inside her womb. She is tired of playing mother to babies who don’t want that from her. This is a cruel way to say it, and she would never be cruel to him. He is the sweetest man she has known and even her pain would never make her cruel to him.
– Baba Jafar, the baby chose to leave us. I woke up and found it gone, leaving behind red footprints.
She sees it when it happens. When the smile disappears and his face goes blank. She wishes she wouldn’t have to put him through this. But it is not her fault. It is never anyone’s fault. She takes his hand in hers and waits for him to speak.
– Mama Jafar, maybe you shouldn’t have to go through this again. We have Jafar, and that is enough. If you want to, my wife, we don’t need another son or daughter.
– But I want a daughter.
– Your choice, entirely. But these are not things you want.
– I have always wanted to have a daughter.
– At what price? What currency do you have to trade?
– Nothing. We have nothing.
At dusk, she walks briskly towards the house. In exactly thirty minutes, Baba Jafar will be leaving for his shift at the hospital. She has just left the hospital. The doctor was a kind man who made her comfortable in her choice. She feels now, that she could live with this decision. Jafar sees her getting through the gate and runs to her, she opens her arms, folding him into her, and the feeling of his head on her bosom washes the pain away.