Celebrating East African Writing!
Sophia was born in a dingy market. She had other siblings, but they did not live longer than an hour. The sanitation at the time was negligible, medical care had not yet been discovered…at least not for the likes of Sophia’s mother. So, the chances of survival were strictly for the fittest.
Sophie was conceived under compromising circumstances. It had been raining steadily for a week or so. Fatima, her mother, had a housing problem for her house was letting in water at the time. She had tried for two days to live with her guest, but it was finally deemed impossible. She sought help from the watchman who guarded the market; they were good friends. He took her in until the rains ceased. He was such a kind hearted man that he gave her a “going away” present. She did not realize this until she was two months along.
On the morning of Sophie’s birth, Fatima, -a fish monger- went to the lake to collect the little fish left by the shore. Her body could not allow her to fish for herself as she would have liked to. Afterward, she returned to her second home, the market. Sales were poor as usual. She decided to have a seat and breathe. Take a break from the usual shouting taken as advertising during those days.
The noise in the market could not keep Fatima from her sleep. She had stayed up all night in pain, because Sophia had lain on the wrong nerve. Her body was in stitches due to fatigue, filth and excruciating pain. She found comfort on a tree stump, sat, and drifted into slumber.
Not far from the market was a cottage where Aisha was having a rest in the comfort of her bed. She was carrying her first child, Ousmane, and it was more than a task for her. She had to visit the rest room more than fifteen times a day. Her fingers doubled in girth and her feet looked as though they had been attacked by elephantiasis!! Her husband
had to deal with her cravings from beef to stones, which was hard to come by because they lived on vegetables.
She woke from her bed when felt the urge to relieve her bowels. It was in her mid-step that her water broke. She was in such shock that her muscles gave way and she relieved herself right there. She called out to her lady in waiting to inform her husband immediately. She had practiced how to stay calm and breathe, but she found it difficult to
bear the pain that was surging though her body. She howled with all the air that her lungs could take in.
She struggled out of her buibui in an attempt to lessen the heat produced from and around her body. She stripped her beddings and spread the mackintosh initially bought for her child, then sat on it and put a couple of towels between her out stretched legs. The pain of
the next contraction had her gripping the wall with so much might that she chipped her nails and split her skin.
Blood dripped from her fingers, but that was not even a fraction of the pain that she was feeling. She feared that she would pass out…and she did.
In an hour and a half, Fatima was close to snoring. Her face was supported by her left palm, whose arm supported her torso with the elbow anchored onto her lap. This caused her body to be angled forward as though diving into the earth while still seated on the tree stump. Spit oozed freely from the left side of her mouth. The oil-like liquid first entangled itself in the fingers of her left hand, underneath which it spread and touched on her buibui, soaking it.
This was not the only area of her clothing that was soaked. The part of it that made contact with the tree stump as she sat was also soaked. Her water had broken. A fly disturbed her sleep by buzzing next to her nasal passage, and almost made it through, had she not woken up. She tried to lick the wetness from her mouth, but the effort seemed fruitless as she awed at her fingers and soaked clothing, all covered with her own viscous ooze, not to mention Abu’s water.
“Great!!” She said to herself in disgust.
“Here we go again. Maybe we’ll get lucky this time Fatima.”
She leaned against the nearest pillar, pulled up her clothing and outspread her legs.
People, Fatima to be precise, did not feel the need to keep mum of the normal. Death took place literally everywhere. It was advertised and celebrated. Why was giving birth so different? She believed that people were born to die, so there is no need to be secretive about it.
Realistically, this was her ego speaking. Truth was that she could not afford to be modest about it because she depended on herself for everything. She looked at her stand and found half of the original amount of fish. Disappointment clouded her mind. She regretted having slept, for she may lack money to fend for this child she was trying to give life to.
She begun to muffle her wails as people walked past. She gave Abu all the effort and strength she had. After thirty minutes of pushing, panting and struggling, the pain receded, but this was just the beginning, and she knew better. Sweat beads graced her forehead like ornaments. She tired to stay conscious for the sake of her remaining fish. She would hate it if she did not get the worth of her work.
Aisha had been out for thirty seconds when her husband came to the cottage. Her silence deadened him on his tracks. He feared that she was dead, but her steady breathing proved otherwise.
The maid came in with a bowl of water but was sent out rudely because his wife was not wearing any clothing. He used the water to cool the temperature on his wife, but that did not bring her around. A dreadful terror filled his insides, and he lightly tapped his wife’s cheek. She still did not wake up. He added a little pressure with each passing second until finally, panic took the better of his reasoning capacity.
With one blow, he struck his wife across her face with such force that she opened her eyes and sat on the bed. Blood had soaked the towels she had placed between her legs, but the baby was still inside her. Now that she was awake, blood started flowing from her profusely. She did not have much time and she knew it.
“You will have to take it out. We don’t have much time.”
He looked hesitant but she consoled him that it was just like removing the bones from fish. He was skilled enough to do it in his sleep. Another contraction led Aisha to swear and utter words forbidden from anyone’s lips. He left her and returned with his tools, a blade and a bowl of boiling water. The towels were already there. The water used to cool her body did nothing compared to the blade that was in contact with her skin. Tears sprung from her eyes as she wailed. The pain did not come from the blade.
Fatima could not take the pain any longer. She squatted and pushed, waited for the next contraction and pushed. Her fingers were digging into her flesh as she cried out. If she had long nails, they would have torn into her flesh. Her knuckles had turned white. Finally, she felt him descend. This somehow renewed her strength and she pushed
harder, and took in breaths in quick gasps.
After the final scream, Abu slopped from his mothers womb. She did not raise her hopes though, for she had delivered five times before, but never heard the cry of her babies from their lips. She pushed him away from her so that he may not drown from the placenta that was to come in fifteen or so minutes. Using the nearest knife she could reach; she cut him loose from her… and waited.
Aisha had just taken a glimpse of her son, when she felt light headed. She could not pass out now, not after adding weight and carrying him for nine months. Not after her she had gone through all that pain and had survived the agony of having her abdomen skillfully cut open. She needed to re-assure herself that at least it was not in vain; that her
son had survived. She would virtually do anything to hear his cry, but her body was not co-operating. She had done all she could, so gave in and closed her eyes… and waited.
It is not often that we find something good to come off a dingy market…let alone this one to be specific. The food is not that good and the surroundings are much worse; but when Ousmane and Sophia made their first cry to their audience, it was life changing. Fatima, who lived amongst noise, had never before felt so blessed to hear this specific noise. Aisha did not live long enough to hear the melody, but her husband did…and Fatima thought it to be painfully … agonizingly … impossibly beautiful.
© Beatrice Wainaina 2009
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