I observed him carefully as he walked to the door. I knew that time was running out but suppressed the urge to check my watch. I took a deep breath and started counting in reverse under my breath.”ten,nine,eight,seven…”
I wished that time would come to a standstill so I didn’t have to do what I was about to. I could hear my heart beating in my ears as his footsteps became closer. “three, two,..”Before I could reach the end, my thoughts were drowned in the noise of the doorbell. This is it. There is no turning back now. It’s now or never. I took a deep breath and opened the door.
There he was. He looked as handsome as ever. His breathtaking smile still had the capacity to sweep me off my feet. The last thing I wanted was to fall for that smile and go back on my plans. I was afraid to look him in the eye. Afraid that mine would give away the fear that I had so carefully hidden. “ Hai mom”, he said.
And at that instant, my heart stopped for a second. I could feel the weakness in my knees. It felt as if the earth beneath was shaking. My lips trembled. Even if he noticed the stranger in me, he hid it well. “Come in Eric”, I mumbled.
When I held him for the first time in my arms, he was just a mewling infant. I can still remember that day like it was yesterday. I was on my usual night shift at the government hospital, in a remote village in Bihar. Eight years as a gynecologist, I was used to all the sickening long hospital hours. And that night was not any different.
I was doing my usual rounds when I overheard two people speaking in the adjacent corridor, which was quite unusual at 3 in the morning. “…there is no other way. We already talked about it”, said a hushed voice. “But it’s just ….” answered the second voice. “There is no ifs and buts about it. We have to say that the baby died.” said the first voice. “It’s really…”
“What the hell is going on here?”I entered the corridor to see two frightened young doctors. They looked as if they had seen a ghost.
“No…nothing. We were just going to the..ah…the restroom”, said one.
“I heard what you two were talking about. There is no point in trying to get away. Tell me the truth or else I’ll make sure neither of you have no jobs to come to tomorrow.” I was really proud of myself for the fact that I could be really scary if and when I wanted to.
Both looked at each other helplessly, each trying to find out what the other’s eyes were saying. Finally, as if they had reached a mutual understanding, one of them spoke up.
“Doctor, we have just come from the operation theatre, after delivering the baby of Mrs. Khanna. But….”She licked her lips nervously and looked at her companion.
“Come on. Speak up”
“The thing is her husband doesn’t want the baby. He is of this really old superstitious family and apparently their family priest stated that the baby in her womb will bring doom to his father. So Mr.Khanna approached me, demanding an abortion. But of course I disagreed with it, saying that his wife was too late into pregnancy, for even considering an abortion. When he offered me cash for my “little negligence”, I realized how important it was for me to do something about it. Because if I didn’t agree to it, it was obvious he would approach another doctor. So I agreed to do the necessary and requested a meeting alone with his wife“.
“Doctor, one look at the woman and I knew how shattered and helpless she was. She told me that her husband would never let the child be alive. Even if he could not kill it in her womb, he would make sure it died, sooner or later. She also told that there was no point in approaching the law, cause her husband was from a very powerful family and had”friends” in the law. With teary eyes she begged me” Please save my baby. Just take it away. I don’t care what or how you do it; just make sure he doesn’t kill my baby”.
“So I agreed to deliver her baby, all the while telling that fool of a husband that I would be aborting the child. I have not the slightest clue as to what made me take such a drastic decision. But at that moment all I could see was that woman’s tears and I just couldn’t let the baby fall into the evil hands. Faced with such a dilemma, I approached Dr.Renu here for help. And together we decided that we would deliver the baby safely, but tell the husband that we aborted the baby. And tell Mrs.Khanna that the baby died at birth”.
“Wait a minute. Why tell the mother that the baby died? Cause if I heard it right, she wanted to save her child.” I inquired.
This time Dr.Renu spoke up. ”Doctor, you know how a mother can be. Sooner or later she is definitely going to approach us asking for the whereabouts of her child. And soon enough the husband is going to find out. And then the child will be murdered and we may lose our jobs, if we are lucky enough to be alive. Dr.Diya made a promise to save the child, and we are afraid this is the best way to do so.”
What they were saying was true. I myself had performed several abortions for the most absurd of reasons, which is indeed one of the ill effects of working in a rural govt. hospital. I couldn’t let another child succumb to the ignorant religious and superstitious fanatics of rural India.
“Am afraid I have to agree with you. Go ahead as you planned. Tell the mother her child didn’t live. But tell me, what are you going to do with the baby?”
“We are giving it to an orphanage”, said Dr.Diya.
Orphanage! The child should die rather than rot in one of the slums of an orphanage, with no future, nothing. And probably end up a thief or worse, a murderer like his father. There was no way I was letting that child go to ruins. “No. you are giving the baby to me. “
Before dawn the two doctors placed that tiny and perfectly healthy baby boy in my hands. And I had not the faintest idea as to what I was going to do.
Fifteen years later, here I was in my living room, facing that same boy, and feeling the same dread as of that day.
“Mom, you agreed for a week’s sleepover. Why did you call me up so urgently? I was having so much fun at Drake’s home“.
I had a bit of trouble answering him. But somehow I managed, “I have something important to tell you”.
“What is it?”
“Sit down, next to me, wont u Eric?”As he sat down beside me, I took his hands inside mine. I took a moment cherishing how his hands felt. I was fighting to keep my tears away. I couldn’t help but steal a look at the time. There was not much left. It took all the courage I had ever had, to look him in the eye, and say,” son, listen to me carefully. I want you to understand every word I am going to tell you.”
He nodded. I went on,” I have never hidden anything from you. From when you were a little boy, you have known where you came from. How I found you, how we ended up abroad. And I made you promise to never ask me to reveal your parent’s identity. But my dear, it is time”.
He gave a faint nod and asked” But mom, I don’t understand. Why are you telling me now? I mean I have wanted to know who they were. But now I guess I don’t want to”
“You must. Cause your mother is coming to meet you”
He was my son too. And whatever emotion that was going through his little head, he masked it well. We both stayed silent for a while.
I continued,” your father passed away a couple of years ago, leaving your mother all alone. She was highly depressed and attempted suicide. One of the doctors who delivered you met with her by chance. Seeing her terrible condition, she could not help, but tell your mother that you are alive and well. Just knowing that helped her a lot in coming back to life. And now she is coming here, to take you back, to bring you home”.
Eric suddenly rose n shouted “Take me back? Bring me home? This is my home. You are my mother. Do you even hear yourself? “
“No Eric. She is your mother. She is the one who carried you in her womb and gave you birth. She has every right in the world to take you back”
“Every right? What right does she have? For god sakes, mom, she wanted me dead. And now she wants me back? No!! She has absolutely no right to even think of such nonsense”
“Eric,you know very well that it was your father who wanted you dead. Not your mother. And for crying out loud, she is the only reason you are alive now”
“NO! You are the only reason I am alive. And you can’t give me back. I am your son. Your only son”.
I knew exactly where this conversation was going and so I shouted, “Shut up Eric. You are not my son. You never were and never will be. I had to give up everything for you. I didn’t even have a life cause of you. All you ever were is a burden to me. And now I am truly sick of you. I want you out of my house now. All your belongings have been packed”
Tears started streaming down his cheeks. And right then every bit of me just wanted to hug him and tell him how much I loved my son. And it took all my strength, not to. And then the doorbell rang.
I opened the door to Mrs. Khanna and her lawyer. All the formalities were already taken care of. All that was left was to deprive me of my son.
“He’s ready. You can take him”, I told the woman in front of me.
She spoke up” I am really grateful for….”I motioned her not to speak.
I went back inside to see my son standing still, full of tears, looking at me. I didn’t have the guts to look him in the eye. I mumbled with as straight a face as possible,” Jacob, you may kindly leave”.
He slowly walked out the door and as soon as the chauffer had taken all his bags outside, I closed the door. I slid down slowly to the floor, wrapped my arms around my knee and wept.
-originally written for the TOI Write India contest, for the prompt given by Ashwin Sanghi
PS: Image courtesy-naldzgraphics.net