Thursday, 4 September 2008

Heroines

Mood: Uncertain-about-my-mood mood
[Toot!] Index: 0.2
Communism Bit: Off
Location: Entebbe


My mother walks into the Maternity Ward, skipping over plates and bounding over pregnancies, and looks around. She has been told that the unlucky baby is next to this bed, but she doesn't see any baby. Maybe the baby is lost? So she asks the woman suckling the twins over there, I was told a baby was left here. The twin-mother looks at her and says, Yes this one to the left is the one. Not fed for more than eight hours, madam. She was crying very, very much.
Just as they said, the baby to the left has a big, soft Afro on her small head. It was the easiest way to identify the baby; that's what the nurse had said. Nobody has hair that beautiful in this city, the nurse had said.

Entebbe Hospital, where my mother is the Hospital Administrator, gets jam-packed with people. At all times, it's busy. But the trophy goes to the Maternity Ward, which is so packed that there is only space for pregnant women to coil in foetal position wherever they may find space, and wait for the pangs to deliver them, as it were, from this mal-lit, uncomfortable womb that is the Entebbe Hospital Maternity Ward.
Mama tricks charities into donating pampers, towels, baby clothes, et cetera, for the Ward. But space can't be donated. It's slow in coming. She has strong interest in that Maternity Ward, and it is directly across from her office. She sees everything. One morning ...

I was, for a long time, the Hospital's computer geek-on-call. At random, during the holidays, I'd be trotting the two kilometres to the hospital to go and solve a problem (only to find that the mouse was unplugged, that's all). After healing the machines, I'd stay there to play around and poke about. In my Ma's office, you could see the Maternity Ward. I saw, for example, the heavily-pregnant woman who walked in with a small plastic basket. She told the nurses that her people were on the way. Maybe that was a lie. She had the features of tough beauty that Nilotic women posess; also tall and imposing. And I remember seeing her crack a joke that resulted in the nurses outside exploding in high-pitched laughter for really, really, really long. (I actually felt like going to find out what the joke was, but I also knew that the jokes in Maternity Ward were never the kind your mother should hear you retell.)

So, my mother is in the ward, holding the baby in her arms. She says, We didn't even find out the mother's name, you know. We were going to register her after the birth, which is what happens in these crowded days.
Ma picks up a small plastic basket. It is confirmed as the one that was left there by the tall, dark woman. Ma digs into it. Some small banknotes (it was in the days when we still had notes for denominations under 1,000/=), and a hanky, and a leesu. Not much to indicate that the tall woman had intended to stay for long. When the other baby slept, the mother took back the baby of the Afro, and put her against her bosom. She suckled loudly. That morning ...

From the Administrator's office, I had seen the stretcher with a woman on it being dragged super-fast into the Theatre. The nurses had sweaty foreheads already. The nurses and midwives in the Maternity Ward also don't get much rest. Not any, actually. (Even their lunch is had on their feet, literally. They stand in a quiet group under that tree behind the kitchen and throw their food in fast.) When a birth gets complex, and needs surgery, they do it in their ward's theatre. More-complex stuff requires the Main Theatre. This woman was clearly haemorrhaging. I saw blood. Much blood. And when I saw the long shape, I looked at the face. (They don't cover your head unless you done died.) It was the tall woman of the funny joke. And she was bleeding hard. The stomach, though, seemed to have let go of the baby.

Because it's not that rare for people to be dragged bleeding into the Theatre, Ma has got used to it. She sees accident victims get pulled into the Casualty Section (which is next to her office), so she doesn't mind seeing blood. People come with heads bashed in and necks wrung by drunken driving, and factory workers in shock, with their severed feet in their pockets (I swear, it happened), and guards with accidental bullets stuck in their thighs, and construction workers with lower jaws missing ("It fell in the machine; should we go and get it?"), and men with knife blades broken in their chests, grâce à angered wives, and a child, once, whose hands were still smoking when he was brought in from the fire accident. I won't even tell you about the guy who kept one eye closed, when he arrived with cuts in the face (a window had broken at close range), and when he opened it, a shard of glass sat where his eye should be. You want more? This guy whose suicide rope broke above his (obese) weight, and only his limbs (which he landed on) died after broken bones pierced them visibly. She isn't moved by blood the way we all are. She assumes you'll bleed and heal. Normal stuff.
So, she was shocked when, like six hours later, a nurse walks into her office, says sorry, goes back out, knocks, Ma says, Yes, come in, the nurse walks in and says, Did you know the woman's name? She didn't give us her name. We don't know what to put on the death certificate.

She's in the ward, telling talking to the Afro baby, We don't know your name, because we don't know your late mother's name. Your mother seems to have lied about her relations coming over. She may have assumed too much. We wouldn't even know who they were, if they did show up. We don't know anything about her, except that she has had this hospital's most-beautiful baby in six years.

Anyway, long story short, the baby was never claimed. She did rotations from surrogate mother to surrogate mother in the Maternity Ward for some days, until it was certain she would not be picked. (The mothers who breastfed her, I've heard, were exclusively those with baby boys, as the others felt mbu the competition, of who the more-beautiful girl was, would sour things up.) What happens with abandoned babies or in this case (which was a first and, hopefully, a last) is that some nursing home takes them. Sometimes, Hospital employees take them. (And when the nursing homes win the paperwork war, the employees—who have now got attached to what was supposed to be a temporary duty of keeping the baby—usually physically injure the nursing home people in trying to keep the baby. The Police often has to help. By default, these days, a constable escorts the nursing home people.)

Somewhere, there is an orphaned girl with big, dark hair. The notes the Afro baby's mother left behind, along with the leesu and hanky, will be given to her some time. I don't even know where Ma put them. I'd spend that money if I found it, now. I'm broke as fuck. But then, they are all denominations that no longer work.
I saw this story unfold before me own eyes, and now I tell it. This is me sinking back into that "feminine writing", I guess. And the location, you'll notice, has moved to Entebbe.

8 comments:

antipop said...

this is the first time i have to the end without skipping a word. this is a very captivating tale.Naye rev, you have a beautiful afro. is there something i am missing here?

Spartakuss said...

dude!the story is latently powerful and don't get me wrong it is beautiful even on the surface!

querries: you're barely out of your teens, how the fuck were you troubleshooting computers at the Ebbs mat ward which they like only got a few years ago and then have this time space continuum coincide with the occurrence in Uganda of paper money of value under 1,000?

DeTamble said...

Eh Rev, what I would give to write as beautifully as you.

This was exquisite.

Fluffyhead.

jasmine said...

this is beautiful.
Going to print this out and give it to my mother. She deals with abandoned babies.

jasmine said...

ps: forgive me for focusing refusing to see the elephant in the room. Speaking of how beautifully you have written this and refusing to tell you of the emotion it has invoked within me...
the emotions switch is jammed at he moment. will 'un-jam' later.

leos child said...

i love beautiful people so what happened to that child.hope she grows up to better opportunities maybe she should be made a model when she grows up.

31337 said...

eh! me i have read and was engrossed till i did not hear my boss come in and read over my shoulder.

properly good this post is.

Princess said...

This is the comrade I come back to read. :D