Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Life and Death In The Islands

Behind her back they spoke in hushed voices. She was still smoking. She hadn’t even been to the clinic yet! And the baby was almost due! Their faces wrinkled with disapproval...

Days and weeks passed and her belly grew bigger. It was sweltering hot, and she was uncomfortable. She didn’t want her sons near her. They were so naughty, always up to mischief, she was tired of it! 

But she delighted in our daughter Sanchia. In the afternoon, while Sanchia slept, she would poke her head in the bedroom door, to see if she was awake yet.

She yelled and cussed at her sons, but her eyes lit up when she held our baby daughter. This baby in her womb was going to be a little girl, too. She just knew...

When the time come, she and her husband – 35 years older than herself – and the two little boys arrived so my husband could take her to the hospital.

He dropped them off and came home.

All day we waited to hear news. Twilight crept in. Late in the evening, as we prepared for bed, the news came...

The baby had died.

Was it a boy or girl, I asked?

A baby girl.

She was born with internal abnormalities. Her stomach was in the wrong spot. She couldn’t breathe on her own. The doctors tried to operate but it failed. When she was 12 hours old, they agreed to turn off her breathing machine, and she quietly slipped out of this world, without ever having made a sound.

There was no further investigations, no tests or post mortems carried out. They didn’t wail and demand to know why. That’s not how things are done here. You simply accept the hand that you’re dealt.

During the night, they quietly left the hospital and came home with their dead child.

All through the night, there were muffled noises, doors opening, hushed voices. Sometime in the early hours of that morning, before dawn had begun to creep into the eastern sky...my husband woke me and whispered did I want to see the baby?

Yes, I did.

Everyone else in the house seemed to be already up. In the sister’s bedroom, her aunties held the tiny lifeless body, and talked quietly. Someone took a white pillowcase to the next village, where the brother’s wife was woken up to sew it into a tiny white dress. Someone else went into the bush to find tuitui (a type of nut that is chewed, then put inside a washcloth and used to bathe in. It cleans the skin and leaves a distinctive and pleasant smell.)

An auntie gently washed the baby in the tuitui, sobbing quietly. In the back of the room, the baby’s father sat, watching and crying silently. The mother seemed to busy herself outside. Could not bring herself to meet their eyes. She knew that they knew. This was all her fault...

Nobody touched her, except my fourteen year old step-son, who hugged her.

The baby was dressed in her white pillow-case dress, and laid on a small table at the front of the room. Then we sat and quietly waited. The mother sobbed into her jumper. Village roosters crowed the coming morning

As the sky began to brighten in the East, the Minister arrived. He said a short prayer, we sang a hymn, and then one by one we went to the front to say goodbye to the dead baby. Then they walked to the tiny village cemetery, and buried her there.

Less than 24 hours ago, the baby was making her way into the world, and now she was already cold in the ground. The abrupt-ness of it was breath-taking.

We all straggled home.

They told her to lay down and try to rest, but she would not. Could not. She proceeded to sweep the floor, then she sat on the front steps, eyes red-rimmed, smoking a cigarette. At least, she didn’t have to try and hide that now...

The next morning she was up early cleaning, cooking, cussing at her naughty sons. And the morning after that...

Apart the mound of sand in the village graveyard, life carried on the same as before, and so did she.

To the untrained eye, it might appear that the angel was never here at all...

In memory of beautiful Kava. Born 29th Feb 2012, died 29th Feb 2012.

I will always remember.

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