She’s bagged a prized spot. A cot right under the ancient ceiling fan that churns slowly, weighed down by decades of unmolested dust. A view from the window with a potted plant seated on its edge, struggling to breathe.
All around her, the steamy ward is buzzing. Patients sit fanning themselves with thick wads of cardboard, unconsciously scratching the sweaty spot where turgid belly meets bosom. Chattering, bantering, they alternately curse their fate and the authorities that run government hospitals. Nurses in harshly efficient uniforms, carrying trays and charts march around purposefully. The exhausted blades of the lonely fan noisily cleave the thick heat that permeates through the room. Flat on her back, unmoving she lies, staring at the blades, hypnotized.
There had been a time, two weeks back, when she would probably have moved her head fractionally, every time someone entered the ward. Five weeks back, one could quite easily have spotted her walking around, begging the other inmates of the ward for a rupee coin to telephone her mother from the public booth down the corridor. And in the days when she’d been a fresh arrival at the hospital, she actually powdered her face and combed her hair every evening before visiting hours began.
But today, on her one hundred and eighty third day of existence in the ward, she lies still as a corpse. Since her arrival, thousands of visitors have passed through the ward but not a single one of them came for her. Only a letter came, two weeks ago. A brief, stark, unforgiving missive.
“We are moving home. You don’t deserve to know the new address.” That was when she stopped moving or speaking or eating.
Today, as has been the case for a week now, the intravenous needle struggles to nourish the girl’s body, yet her sixteen-year old frame grows frailer and frailer. Only her bulging abdomen grows inexorably larger. Even the most hard-bitten inmates of the ward, veterans expectant with a third or fourth unwanted female child and left with no expectations from life, feel sorry for the girl. They speak to her, try to feed her, even stop envying her for the cot under the fan. But the girl lies unresponsive, unblinking, barely breathing. The only sign of life is that swollen womb which sometimes stirs of its own volition.
The ritual round is in progress. Flanked by erect nurses in starchy white, the doctor has reached the cot under the fan. He studies the case paper with tired eyes. Unwed mother. Teenager. Attempted amateur abortion, failed. Admitted to the public hospital in the third month when abdomen started showing. Will stay in hospital, complete term. Will deliver and nurse the baby for three months. 90 days after giving birth, she will sign papers putting up the infant for adoption and leave the hospital. Will relinquish all rights to see the child ever again.
The facts are all there, succinct and common. Hardly an unusual case.
The nurses raise the girl’s hospital gown above her knees for the internal exam. All eyes in the room turn towards her. Privacy and dignity are luxuries which maternity wards in state hospitals can ill afford, but the girl does not seem to notice. Lifting her legs, the nurses bend them at the knees, opening up her body. The doctor’s fingers stab her painfully, but the girl does not flinch. Through the curtain of silence enveloping her mind, the girl hears faint voices making meaningless noises. “Her bag has burst”. “She’s dilated”. “Labor is advanced, wheel her to the labor room”. Without warning, a sharp stab of pain wracks the girl. It is the first sensation she has felt in two weeks. It jangles her mind and body to life and she screams. A long, terrifying, animal like scream, “Ammaaaaaaaaaaaa…!”
Bludgeoned into silence the ward awaits the next scream or whimper, breathlessly. A sound, a word, or tear to mourn the childhood the girl has lost and herald the motherhood she will soon lose. But it does not come.
Within seconds, the girl is whisked off the cot under the fan and into the labor room. The bastard life in her fecund body will soon emerge. In her eyes, death has already burnt its indelible stamp.