By Nancy Adaeze
“He’s dead”, the doctor said. “We tried all we could to help. We lost him, I’m sorry”.
If the doctor’s shoulders did not slouch immediately, like a sac, half-filled with sweet potatoes; if the doctor’s eyes did not avert immediately from the face of the bleeding woman; if the doctor’s grip on the newborn did not loosen continuously with every passing second; I’d have sworn it was some sort of a joke, one too painful to be funny, and too heavy to provoke hilarity.
I took her hand, the woman’s who just had a still-birth, and I lifted her fingers to my lips and kissed them.
“I’m sorry”, I said. “I’m so sorry”.
I knew she had wanted a baby for years. I was there on those cold nights when she sat outside the gate, under the stars, praying to the Gods for a child.
I knew when she got pregnant.
She had raced to my apartment screaming, “Neighbour! God has finally done it!”, on top of her voice, and flailing her arms in the air like a tantrum-throwing toddler would do on a school-day.
I felt her joy. It was surreal and contagious. We danced together that night, and the next.
Then her husband died, on the third day after she’d conceived.
He went to bed calmly the night before, but would not wake up by morning.
I was there while she struggled to put the broken pieces of her life together, with nobody helping her but me.
I held her fingers tightly in mine and squeezed them. My eyes would not stop pouring tears.
“Shhh…” I heard someone whisper.
I raised my head up, and my wet, swollen eyes, met hers, dry and gleaming with excitement.
It was the woman whose fingers were interlocked with mine.
She glanced around furtively and spoke to me in an audible whisper, “He’s cursed,” pointing to the lifeless body of a newborn, wrapped in a shawl and placed tenderly between her thighs.
“He killed his father. I saw him do it. He swore to kill me too. So, I acted like I was losing my breath, in order to distract the doctor and nurse. Immediately they turned their attention from the baby, I squeezed him to death with my thighs”.