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?
What notions did she carry within her babbling heart? What did she envisage in her tiny head about the life that was ordained to her?
I kiss the back of my fist as if it were her forehead and lay my hand on my child, the vibes transferring through my pulse like soft sunshine diffusing into the woods. I shrug mildly to get rid of my own disquiet before I pick my words. What I say to her next will be crucial.
My baby has begun to decipher things, I reckon with equal surprise and jitteriness. The weeks ahead are my exclusive time with her. No one has a claim or an influence over her. It is my opportunity to show her the map of the human world. What I show her now is what she will remember, the stories that I narrate now is what she will believe and the thoughts that I infuse will decide what she will become. Despite what my life has been. Despite the shabbiness of it. Despite my fights and forfeitures.
‘Speak to your baby as often as you can,’ I remember my mother telling. ‘She learns the most when she is in your confines, untouched by the perils on the outside. Feed her the right thoughts.’
I briefly think of the dangers lurking outside, waiting to devour my child once she arrives. It is hard to deny their existence. It would be foolish to be blind to them and tell my child that she is coming into a paradise. Who would know about the dangers sneaking outside than me and my mother? We trudged our way through the dark forests inhabited by wild beasts and venomous creatures, but there is no way I can reveal the ugliness we have witnessed to my daughter. I must be honest with her, but it must be done without any brutality.
I think of ways to tell the truth without frightening her. As moments pass in contemplation, I sense my breath and my heartbeat slowly settle into a symphony. I seek the blessings of my deepest source to speak the truth to my child. No gnarled stories that will corrupt her or airbrush the reality of our lives. No tales of horrors that will scar her squishy heart. I had to be cautious, for speaking truth comes with its own dangers.
‘My angel,’ I whisper, making sure my words don’t fall on her harshly.
A vague stir inside indicates that she is all ears.
‘This is your mother’s story.’ I pause, unsure of which way to steer. A lot has transpired between my birth and now that I don’t know what to include and what to leave out. In the end, I decide to be brief, chiseling out the raw details.
‘I came into the world without my mother’s consent. It was a birth that wasn’t supposed to be, yet happened because my mother didn’t have the courage to smother me in her belly. She loved me too much for it.’
The uneasy silence that creeps between us makes me wonder if I was treading a precarious path and if I must stop now. But I decide I had an obligation to answer my child’s question.
Are the stories she has heard about what people did to girls in the world true?
I pour myself a glass of water and rest against a pillow on the cot. I slowly lapse into a state where my thoughts and words merge, and I let my story unfold intuitively.
‘I didn’t have the slightest clue of what to expect when I was like you and happily traipsed down to the world imagining it to be a playground where one could play all day. It was anything but that. I will keep the details for another day. But know this.
The world, as they have hinted to you, isn’t an entirely bad place. It is the ones who inhabit it that taint it black. They decide your size. How much space you occupy, how much you grow and glow.
Now you have a choice – to tow the line that these people draw and cast yourself in their moulds or to expand yourself to such heights that you touch the cosmos. Do you get what I am saying?’ I ask, patting my belly.
‘Know this. Freedom isn’t something that people give you. It is something that comes with your spirit. It is an inherent part of you. Learning to use your freedom in a responsible way is what makes you a complete human.’
I wait for a response from inside, wondering if any of what I spoke made sense to her. I had learnt that babies had an enormous capacity to comprehend things when they were still inside. It was only after they touched the mortal plains that they lost their insight and became blinded by the darkness and ignorance around. There was light inside, my mother said.
‘Yes, I have heard that they tied you up. They took freedom away from you and made you helpless. Such stories abound back there,’ she says, her voice cracking.
I cluck my disapproval at what she just said. Her thoughts were full of adversities, and it isn’t how I am envisaging her future. I want her to gain strength from the possibilities.
‘They can seize your freedom only if you allow them to. It is yours and only yours to keep and preserve,’ I say firmly.
She must have nodded, unsurely, for I felt a weak nudge inside. I shift from my side, and lay on my back, allowing her space to waltz freely inside. I reckon that she needed more room to build her convictions.
‘And you mamma? Did you live a life of freedom?’ she asks eagerly, lifting her voice just beyond a whisper.
I don’t reply. I don’t want to dish out a lie. There was no way I could tell her that I had let them do bad things to me as a child. And before that, to my mother. That I don’t know my father. Neither do I know hers. Somewhere in the corridors of passing nights, I was born. It is where her seed too was sown. Anonymously.
But she will not live the way we have lived. It is a promise I have made to my mother. My daughter will not do what we did. Surrender. Compromise.
‘No, I didn't. But you will live in freedom. All that I was denied, you will acquire. All that I suffered, you will escape. I can’t wait for you to come into the world and build your space where evil will fear to tread.’
I feel buoyed by my own inner voice that echoes through the length and breadth of my body till it explodes as sobs of release.
I wipe my eyes with the back of my hand. A sweet silence permeates the air, which sounds like a lullaby to my unborn child. I hum with it indistinctly and sink into a velvety slumber.