Wearing their gown I was led into a room with a terrifying array of instruments. A needle pricked my arm, then a blessed blackness descended..
by Deepa Agarwal
The doctor’s waiting room was painted pistachio green; perhaps it was meant to be soothing. But I found it nauseating, like the pictures of the impossibly pink and bonny babies that decorated the walls. They didn’t look human to me–someone’s grotesque idea of the perfect infant–as remote from reality as a celluloid doll is from a real, live, breathing baby.
Snatching up a two month-old magazine, I tried to concentrate on it, just to shut out my surroundings. But try as I did, I could not shut out the nasal tones of the ghazal singer, wailing insistently at me via a strategically placed speaker, or the murmuring of the other inmates’ voices.
Cool, crisp cotton saris, languid chiffons, smoothly flowing salwar kameezes–covering all manner and size of pregnancies. Large, small, medium, gently rounded, aggressively protuberant, painfully prominent. I’d never thought the sight of pregnant women in the plural could be so terrifying.
An ominous warning kept flashing through my mind, as irritatingly insistent as neon sign. This could be–this would be– me, if I failed to act in time. The worst was, they looked so smug and secure, accompanied by proprietary looking mothers-in-law or proud, smirking husbands. The little fathers-to-be. So pleased with themselves. Curious glances flickered at me: I was so obviously alone.
A feeling of overpowering suffocation came over me. I wanted to get up and run. But where to? There was no way I could escape my problem. Besides I’d been running from it long enough. As though by ignoring the damn thing, it would just vanish on its own. Can one psyche an unwanted pregnancy away? Goodness knows I’d tried.
In fact, if I hadn’t fainted that day on my way to the bus-stop, I probably wouldn’t have been here–in the pistachio green room–sweating profusely in spite of the air conditioning. I would still have been trying some mumbo-jumbo to solve my problem.
Like wearing pure white saris as though some perverse force would not be able to resist staining them with menstrual blood and bring me deliverance. Or forcing food down my unwilling throat as if the nausea wasn’t there forcing it out again. A kind of desperate magic that wouldn’t work.
Then the silly home remedies I’d heard about, running up and down the stairs, carrying heavy weights, hot and cold baths–they’d all proved useless.
It was the fainting incident that did it. Forced the painful certainty of it all on me. Finding myself flat on the ground suddenly, when just a moment before I had been chatting with Sumi, my friend. The ground felt scratchy and hard beneath my face. I could taste mud and blood from my cut lip. And as people helped me to my feet, a scene from an old Hindi movie flashed through my mind. The hapless heroine becoming aware of her condition in a similar manner. But I’d known all along, hadn’t I?
“What happened?” Sumi asked, shocked and bewildered, as she helped me into a three wheeler, a worried frown creasing her broad forehead.
I didn’t want to talk. My head ached. The taste of blood was sickeningly strong in my mouth. I knew I’d have to act soon, before it was too late…
“Parul!” The loud voice jerked me back to the present. It was the receptionist beckoning with a synthetic smile. Somehow I managed to totter along on suddenly rubbery legs, to face first a barrage of questions, then a battery of tests. And eventually I found myself spread on the examination table, legs ignominiously drawn up, trying not to flinch from the probing fingers.
“Hmm,” the doctor said. She was rather smartly got up, smelt almost overpoweringly of perfume and had a carefully cultivated manner. Guessing this was the signal for me to get up, I clambered off and tried to rearrange my clothing and my dignity. Heart-in-mouth, I approached her desk. You see, I hadn’t given up hope completely. Maybe she’d say it was all a silly mistake…
She beamed at me from behind her trendy specs. “You’re definitely pregnant,” she said happily. “The tests will confirm it, I’m sure.”
I tried to stretch my congealing lips into an answering smile. I could see her opening and closing her mouth–but could not hear the words. All my senses were numbed. Little did she know that what she thought were tidings of joy, were actually a knock-out blow. Then I realized that she was staring at me puzzled. So I quickly nodded and grabbed the paper she was holding out. Handing over what seemed like an exorbitant fee, I fled the place.
The humid heat outside made me gasp. But I walked on blindly for quite a while till a wave of nausea made me stop short. I had to get home. But it was only when I was rattling home in the three-wheeler that I realized that I had forgotten to arrange for the abortion!
“You dummy!” Sumi said, when I reached. We shared not only the barsati flat but also our deepest confidences. “You should have gone to one of those clinics — you know those…”
With uncharacteristic delicacy she left out the word ‘abortion’. I was grateful. The word itself conjured up all sorts of horrors. Grim faced females preparing to attack one with knitting needles, shifty eyed quacks operating in foul smelling rooms–the stuff of all the gloomy fiction on the subject one had read.
I pictured myself bleeding to death in some back alley and shivered. Even though I knew it needn’t be that way. I forced myself to recall what one of my married colleagues had once said. “It’s no big deal… I went and had an ice cream as soon as I came out. It’s perfectly safe and painless…”
But somehow I hated the thought of going to one of those places. It seemed so horribly obvious. “What are you going to do now?” Sumi demanded. “And — aren’t you going to tell him?”
“No!” The answer jerked out spontaneously. True, he had helped to create this problem. But an odd revulsion had been growing in me ever since I suspected what was wrong with me. Somewhat perversely, when I could have done with his help I wanted nothing whatsoever to do with him. I could not understand it myself, but the feeling was so strong, so overpowering, that I could not fight it even if I wanted to. I’d have to deal with it myself, all on my own.
“I’ll find another doctor,” I said, meeting Sumi’s anxious, puzzled gaze. I couldn’t face the thought of meeting those pasted on smiles again. I’d noticed another gynecologist’s signboard on my way to work. That’s where I headed.
Experience made me confident, but the place made me uneasy. Shabby, down- at- heel, there were no fancy trimmings here, no chummy first name familiarity. The clientele was a little mixed, unlike the uniform prosperity the other place had displayed. The seats were covered with cheap rexine, gashed in some places and the walls grimy with the oil from the countless heads which had leaned against it.
But somehow the doctor restored my confidence. A tired looking woman with grey hair escaping from a bun, her movements were brisk and efficient.
Again, I went through the routine. But before she could pronounce the verdict, I blurted out, “I want an abortion.”
She stared at me for a moment. “Are you quite sure?”
“Absolutely,” I replied, holding her gaze. “As soon as possible.”
“All right,” she nodded, asking no further questions, as though she had guessed my predicament. “Thursday, 8.30 a.m.,” she said consulting a diary. “Come with an empty stomach.”
The relief felt unreal. I couldn’t wait to tell Sumi about it.
“I-I’ll come with you,” she said.
“Thanks.” I was really grateful. Because a sudden unease was fluttering up, chilling the edges of my being. I didn’t want it to progress further, turn me into a block of fearful ice.
Thursday. Did it arrive soon or did the wait stretch out painfully? I’m not sure. It seemed too long to wait for deliverance, to be free of this thing growing inexorably inside me. To be free of those nightmarish fears, saved from disastrous consequences. But the dread that wanted me to put off the moment forever. It would insist on creeping up on me and obliterate the feelings of anticipated relief.
I woke bright and early that day. We reached the nursing home well before time. The place–sparklingly clean, in contrast to the clinic — was just coming alive. Floors being swabbed, nurses bustled about importantly, breakfast trays rattled their ways into rooms.
As we waited, tense, the high wail of a new-born infant pierced through the silence. A curious flutter rose from my stomach up to my throat. Goose pimples blistered my skin, for a moment I thought I’d choke. It had never occurred to me that this thing inside me could grow into something like that baby…
But the doctor appeared just then, distracting me from that uncomfortable trend of thought. Still in her dressing gown, she looked worn out, as though she’d been up all night. She nodded to me. “Be with you in moment,” she said. Then a nurse came along, “Come with me,” she said.
Irrationally, I wanted to escape. All the horror stories surfaced again… what were they going to do to me? A last frightened look at Sumi and I was hustled away.
Wearing their gown I was led into a room with a terrifying array of instruments. A needle pricked my arm, then a blessed blackness descended…
I came to life to find an anxious Sumi bending over me.
“Is it–is it done?” I asked uncertainly.
“I’m fine,” I said, producing an extra large smile for her benefit.
But it was only after I’d paid and left the place that elation really swept over me. It’s over, I thought, light headed with relief. I’ve been saved. How simple it seemed now, almost an anti-climax! What happened to the gory stuff? I almost felt cheated.
Even the city looked transformed as we drove home in a cab. A shower of rain had washed the dust off the trees and the bushes and everything looked fresh and green and new — like me.
A dull pain was beginning to throb inside. I welcomed it. It was proof of my newly cleansed self. And then, I had pain killers if it went out of hand. But it was only when I lay in bed as I’d been told to — that the sound began to ring in my ears. The cry of an infant, a thin, high pitched wailing.
“Sumi,” I asked, “Where’s that baby crying?”
She gave me a peculiar look. “There’s no baby crying,” she said.
I put the pillows over my head but I couldn’t shut it out. She’s wrong, I thought. There is a baby crying. Because the sound came back, again and again and again — grating on my senses.
Then I realized what that cry was. It was the baby that hadn’t been born, that I hadn’t — that I couldn’t allow to be born. What had it been–girl or boy? Thin, chubby, pretty, playful, naughty…? I’d never know, would I? Never, ever…
The sudden wetness of tears trickling down my cheeks jolted me back to my senses. I sat up… the sound began to fade. You stupid, stupid fool, I thought. It never existed, it never was real… it was a menace…
I repeated it over and over again like a mantra, and finally it worked. The sound faded out as I lay down and drifted into a deep, dreamless sleep…
Pic Attribution: Kim Traynor (wikimedia)
This short story was first published in Meghdutam.com (between 1999 to 2002).
Hope you enjoyed reading…
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