He ducked his head through the sliding door of the room filled with the whiff of that Lancôme fragrance she always wore. She is pretty, he thought. Perhaps she had heard it umpteen times from endless souls. Even under the spell of anesthesia, with her hair all across her face, the blue shadow caked in the corner of her eyelids, her face as pale as the snow, she looked gorgeous. She always did. And he thought so.
He had driven her to the emergency section with an expression of guilt scribbled on his face. A nagging fear had bothered him throughout that she would not carry the baby to full term and it had happened. He had always taken a sense of pride in his intuitive capacities, but wished he was proved wrong this time. He had chided her a dozen times for wearing those high heels she always put on and had objected even as they were about to leave for the party. She had tripped and fell on her back, and he had rushed her to the hospital.
The heated impasse with the doctor had numbed his brain. Beads of sweat trickled down his forehead. He felt like an individual dizzy after a roller coaster ride. The re-test he had demanded produced similar results. It had all come in waves. An accident, a surgery, tests and a re-test, and a dead baby who was alive inside her just a few hours ago and who he had loved the past seven months as his own. As he stormed out of the building he felt as though all denizens on this earth laughed at his fate.
He drove back home. In the mailbox was an envelope with postal stamps affixed all over it in a slovenly manner. It was characteristic of the letters he received from his family. His mother had come up with scores of names for the unborn baby. She had promised to be with them, on time for the delivery. He tore up the letter in bits.
God’s ways are amazing, he thought. Or cruel, he questioned. He popped open one of those bottles of soda he had stacked in the refrigerator and muted the television that was tuned on to the children’s channel. That purple dinosaur dancing with a bunch of sprightly kids, he had always thought, would be his little one’s favourite too. He stepped out to the balcony. The jasmine replete with white blossoms no longer looked beautiful to him. The balmy breeze failed to caress him and instead sent a chill down his spine. What played in his mind was the abrasive conversation he had with the obstetrician. He was coerced into a retrospective analysis: a pastime he never indulged in before.
She was in her early twenties, older to him by a year. Bubbling with life, clad in blue jeans and a yellow cardigan, her vivacious laughter had left him breathless that night. He was simply entranced. It was love at first sight, he admitted. The cafeteria was their rendezvous for the afternoons: conversations relating to management projects and “sweet nothings,” interspaced by endless cups of coffee. They were in the final year of business school when he had proposed and they had tied the knot in a couple of years.
He thought he had slipped into a reverie that summer morning when they watched a beautiful sunrise over the pristine waters. They had vacationed in a quiet island, unperturbed by calls or people. He wished he could freeze those moments. Their lives were so much simpler. They desired nothing else, but each other. He believed he had been showered with life’s choicest blessings. They had come a long way since then, traversed many miles in their life together.
The marriage, now in its eleventh year has had its peaks and troughs. For him, his career was his prime obsession. So was hers. Business meetings, deals with clients, overseas tours essentially summed up his daily routine the last few years. The previous year he had made it to the rank of the company Vice President and he wanted to scale even newer heights.
She was never nettled when he spent long hours in the office or left her alone, away on his foreign tours. She was as concerned about her career, longing to reach the summit. It had taken her a while to accept the pregnancy. She had cried when the test results showed positive. It would put an end to her career she presumed. They had argued and he had, had his way out. He now wished he had allowed her to go with the abortion. It would have at least spared him the pain of confronting the reality that he was now battling with.
He thought the baby would cement their relationship which he felt at times had been overtly mechanical in the last few years. What had gone wrong, he would ruminate. Was it their obsession with their careers that had come in the way? He still wanted to believe that she loved him, and him only.
A workaholic otherwise, he had accompanied her on each of those doctor visits. He was wild with joy when the obstetrician had made him listen to the baby’s heartbeat on the Doppler. Perhaps the little one would be his miniature version with his brown eyes and thick hair. He would be with her every step in the delivery holding her hands. They would be together to hear the baby’s first cry, and that would be the finest hour in their lives. Ever since she had conceived he had conjured up a warm, happy, family scene in his mind. He would be back from work- a chubby drooling bundle of joy would be in her arms. He would pick up the tiny one. There would be those sleepless nights, the baby’s first fever, first steps.
The telephone rang. With a thump he returned to the present. It was a call from the hospital. He would have to be there the next morning to sign the release papers. She would be discharged and he would bring her home.
He knew she was clueless about what he had got to know about her. On arriving home, she would be hysterical on seeing an empty nursery they had decorated with cuddly toys and colourful wall patterns. She would want his shoulders to shed her tears. Friends and acquaintances would call to offer their words of consolation. Time is the best healer. Perhaps in a month, or a couple, she would come out of the woods with her depression and return to normalcy. She would resume her duties as the smart executive, the loving, devoted wife. She might as well suggest to him about planning a second baby.
He wondered how he would react. Was he looking forward to a future whose course was undefined? Perhaps he would need to wait till she was less fragile to accept a second shock. That he had come to know about her betrayal, her infidelity. Till then he would put up an act like on of those characters in a dumb charade. But not without being incessantly reminded that he had loved a child he thought was his own, not without the doctor’s words ringing constantly in his ears about the baby’s blood group matching neither his nor hers.