The men sat around the traditional brew, each with straw in hand. They were chatting casually, happy for the new occasion. Today, one of their own would be a greater man, Ibraahim was about to be a father.
Ayaan was seeing scurrying from the hut to the kitchen with a bowl and a piece of cloth. There was blood, lots of it.
“Ayaan, everything is good? How is Alma?” Ibraahim asked grasping the attention of all the men.
Ayaan stopped and smiled at her brother in law. “She is a strong woman, she is doing well.”
The men smiled and two pat Ibrahaam on the back. There was no need for alarm., they said. First time fathers were always nervous but things always turned out great. From thereon a few started sharing their experiences and Ayaan managed to slip away.
Ayaan rushed into the kitchen and rinsed the dirty cloth with warm water and detergent. Auntie wanted the cloth clean and hot water accompanying it.
As she carried the pail she thought of her sister, how two years back she never thought she’d be married let alone giving birth. Mother was proud, father had given her two cows and promised five more if she had a son. And the village doctor had foreseen a son already. Alma was therefore a great honor to her family now. She thought of herself, of her own future…she hoped that Mohammed would keep his word and marry her soon.
A shriek brought her back to reality. Alma was sweating heavily now and was trying to get up. Auntie kept forcing her down, saying that it was the best position to deliver from.
“Push child, push!”they kept shouting at her.
Alma was in tears now. She said that she could not do it, that the pain was too much.
The women in the room chastised her for that comment, but mother moved closer to her and held her hand.
“Alma my child,”she said soothingly stroking her hair, “You cannot give up. Allah has blessed you child, H e has given you a responsibility, a duty to this life. You must push and let him live.”
“But mama, it’s too painful….I think something’s wrong,”she said gasping for breathe. “I want to see Ibraahim…”
Auntie spit on the ground. “No such thing will happen! No man ever walks in here during childbirth, it is taboo! Now, you will be strong, for your child and for your honor!”
Alma started crying a fresh as contractions came on. She had to push, had to breath, had to push….
The bowl with hot water was picked from Ayaan’s hands. She stood there, motionless. She was scared for her sister. She remembered how they used to talk of child birth a while back. The school they used to attend said that hospitals help, that women can give birth in a less painful way, that they shall be nursed back yo health….she wished that Ibraahim had not listened to the elders now, that he had taken her to hospital where they could perform a C-section. She heard that the C-section was painless. That the doctor put a gas mask on the woman’s face, she’d fall asleep and wake up with a baby, no pain, no fuss…
“Pass the bark Ayaan, she needs to bite on something,”said mum lifting Alma’s back gently.
Ayaan picked the bark and walked towards her sister. She took her mother’s position and gently arched her back as she put the bark in her sister’s mouth.
Auntie told her to give one strong push with all her strength. Ayaan could feel the pain and tension her sister felt. She clenched her fists tightly onto the bed and lay stiff, focusing all her strength into pushing.
Suddenly auntie told her to stop. Mother stood and walked towards auntie. Something was wrong, something had to be wrong.
Alma was too tired to notice the whispers. Auntie and the rest of the women started talking then mother covered her mouth as she gasped.
Ayaan was worried now, but did not want her sister to panic. Mother walked out quickly. Auntie came and held Alma’s hand, assured her that she would be fine, that they had sent for a pick up to send her to the clinic. The baby was inverted and it would therefore be a risky birth.
They knew what that meant. Darwu, their neighbor’s daughter had an inverted child and only one life could be saved. The same had happened to Halima, Khadija and Neema. They knew that only the children ever made it alive.
Ayaan was still hopeful. She held her sister’s hand strongly but firmly. She would be fine, she said, the pick up would be here sooner than they thought.
But an hour passed and Alma now looked sickly. She asked for auntie. She said that she had accepted her fate, that the child should not die as well. Mother just stood there, looking at her daughter with tears in her eyes. She said she would be back, that she had gone to look for the pick up.
Outside, commotion was heard. It was Ibraahim, he had been told what was going on. He wanted to see his wife, make sure she was fine. Tell her she was more important than the child, tell her that she should not give up on herself.
But the women would not let him pass. It was taboo they said, he would bring a curse on himself and his family. And the men agreed and pulled him away as he shouted in anger.
Alma lifted her weak hang and nudged her sister. She smiled at her. “Be good to my child Ayaan. Love her as you loved me. Her name is Bello…”
“But the village doctor said it’s a boy…”she said forcing her tears back on.
“She’s Bello,”she said sighing, “I know in my heart she’s a girl.”
Auntie shouted and asked for a knife. She had managed to grab a leg and needed to make an exit for the child. As auntie lowered the knife, Alma whimpered in pain. Ayaan cried freely on realization of what was coming.
The child was out, it was a girl. She let out a huge cry and the ululations from outside begun.
Alma held her baby placed on her chest smiling. She was right, she whispered, Bello was beautiful.
At that moment, mother walked in saying the pick up had arrived. She needed Alma carried in the car immediately.
Three men walked in and carried Alma on her mattress. She was covered, except her face. Ibraahim was waiting outside the hut. He held his wife’s car as they boarded the back of the pick up.
Ayaan watched them as they drove off towards the next town. She prayed to Allah that her sister make it back safely.
But suddenly from a distance they saw the car stopped.
Ayaan dropped to the ground, her legs too weak to support her then. She knew that her sister was gone like the rest of them.