Have you thought of a name for me, mama?’
The voice is as dainty as the sound of a dandelion landing in the heart.
I place my hand gently on the bump in my belly and run it over the fabric of my gown. At six months, it isn’t as big as I thought it might be and can easily be hidden under a flowing dress.
‘It’s a girl. Boys make your belly distend more,’ I remember my mother announcing with glowworms flickering in her eyes when she saw me the last time. My mother loved daughters and this disposition had evenly spread and seeped into me too like melted margarine on a toast.
For reasons that I could not comprehend myself or explain to anyone, I believed I would be a better mother to a daughter than to a son. It didn’t have anything to do with the way I was born and brought up or what kind of a daughter I eventually turned out to be to my mother. But there was a fairy tale quality to my dreams about bringing up a girl baby.
My days are now filled with ideas of dolling up a girl with frills and flowers. It is as if my life would acquire a blush on its cheeks thrown in from the pink of her baby feet when she arrives. How will it be to hold and kiss each of her crimson brushed toes? How will it be to let my thumb be swaddled in her tentative baby grip? How will it be to listen to her girlish goo—goo that means to say, “Mama, I will with you for as long I am your girl.’
Daughters. They will forever be there as virtual stilts, no matter how far they go or what they confront in their own lives. They are a mother’s nonnegotiable assets.
‘Have you thought of a name for me?’ The dandelion voice grazes my ears again.
‘Darling, what would you like to be called?’ I ask drawing patterns with my finger on my belly.
‘Err…can I choose my name? Really?’
‘Of course, honey. You can choose anything. It’s your life.’
I feel a tingle in my tummy at once.
‘What are you doing?’ I laugh, inspired by the funny sensation inside.
‘I am doing a happy jig, mama. You just made me happy. How I love you for saying I have a choice! I thought…’
And after a few fleeting seconds during which time she probably lapsed into some distant thought, she says, ‘Mama, you know what?’
‘My friends back there said to me that I would be lucky if I made it safely to the world. They said the path was treacherous and every effort would be made to make my journey tough. And the stories they told the rest of us waiting for our turn made us want to hide among the clouds so we wouldn’t be picked for a birth. I just didn’t want to be born. I was so scared. I still am. What will happen to me once I am out there? Will they do bad things to me? Will you protect me then?’
Sensing a tremble in my sinews, I close my eyes and drop a prayer capsule into my womb. It travels down to where she lies cradled, wraps her in its aura and dispels her fear momentarily.
‘I have heard gruesome tales, mama. About how they treat girls out here. Are they true? Do they…’ her dandelion voice suddenly falls silent.
I feel a momentary squeeze in my tummy. I imagine my princess cringing inside. I drop another prayer capsule.
‘Darling,’ I say and draw a deep breath before considering my reply.
I wonder what sort of evil things my princess had heard about the world from her friends. Both those who made it and who didn’t. I realise that the instances I have heard and seen in my life give credence to her fears. But had she really heard the gruesome tales as they were?