The pain came in waves and the waves were getting closer and closer together. She remembered what Narisja had told her: look at the pain; see its shape; give it a name. Make it shrink. Count it through. Remember that each pain is bringing the baby closer to being born.
She wanted to sleep. It had been going on for four hours now. But the pains were too close together to give her that space.
Narisja examined her for the third time. She had insisted that the younger woman should lie on the table.
‘That’s not hygienic,’ said the Mother.
‘How can the Child dirty a place?’ asked Narisja. ‘How can the blood and afterbirth of his Mother harm?’
The Mother held her legs apart, her feet flat on the table. The midwife placed a metal instrument up inside her. Another wave of pain came over the Mother. Her muscles tightened around the cold steel. The midwife waited for the contraction to stop. The Mother felt the pain fade and her body relax.
‘Good,’ said Narisja. ‘Eight centimetres dilated. Almost time to push, though don’t do it until I say so.’
The Mother returned to her bed. Seconds later, she was up on the ceiling of the cave, looking down at herself. She watched herself writhing and cursing. She was shocked at how brutally she pushed the older woman away.
‘Fuck you, Gabrizan,’ she heard herself shout. ‘Bloody waterfalls. Why couldn’t you control your damned willy - instincts? What sort of Non-Stopes freak are you? How dare you impregnate me? You seduced me. You seduced me and left me.’ She tried to put her hands into her ears and blot out the animal-like scream the woman on the bed was making. But she couldn’t put her hands into her ears, because her hands and her ears were down there, not up here.
Suddenly she hated him.
The bastard. The absolute bastard.
She had a sudden overwhelming urge to push.
‘Not yet,’ she heard Narisja say. There was someone else in the room. Another woman, she thought. She felt hot. The cool flannel on her forehead brought her back down from the ceiling.
‘I’m sorry for swearing,’ she murmured.
The older woman nodded. There was a hint of a smile in her eyes. Then she was coming at her with the metal thing again.
If she brings that near me, thought the Mother, I’ll have to push and the baby will split its head open.
She remembered to pant as the cold metal went up inside her again. Narisja nodded.
‘Can you remember what I told you about pushing?’ asked Narisja. ‘Head down and push towards your womb, towards the baby’s exit.’
The urge was so great now. The Mother pushed with the next wave of pain. The pain disappeared as she pushed.
‘Good, good,’ said Narisja ‘But wait a second. Now pant again. The cord is round His neck.’
She must get it off. She could not lose this baby. He must not die. He was the one connection with the man she had loved - still loved, though he had treated her badly.
The midwife worked inside her, pulling and twisting. Two more pains came. She just had to breathe through them this time. Then the midwife nodded. The Mother knew that this was going to be the strongest yet. She breathed in deeply and as the air went out again, she pushed as hard as she could.
She felt the ball of the baby’s head in the space between her legs. She felt as if her body was going to explode. She needed help. They must help her. This was a sensation she had never had before. She was about to disintegrate. She would lose herself.
‘I’m going to have to cut the skin,’ she heard Narisja murmur.
Oddly, it was only then that she could really see the other woman. She was small and dark-haired, and had a twisted lump on her left shoulder. As she turned to hand the midwife the knife, the Mother could see that she only had one eye. Where the right one should have been there was just a fold of skin, maybe a distorted eyelid. I don’t want her near my baby, thought the Mother. I don’t want her touching my child.
‘I’m going to be sick,’ cried the Mother.
Narisja handed her a bowl. But she wasn’t going to be sick. She just couldn’t think how else to describe this strange sensation.
‘I’m sorry,’ said the old woman. ‘This may hurt.’
She felt the cool edge of the knife and she felt her flesh tear, but there was no pain. She felt the head slip forward and the strange sensation was gone.
‘Just one more push now, and He’ll be there,’ said the old woman.
The pain came and the Mother pushed with it, so it didn’t hurt any more. She saw the one-eyed woman take up the small human parcel and wipe away some of the blood and other fluids from its skin. She put her finger in its mouth and forced it open. It began to cry at once.
The midwife cut the twisted mass of blue and red flesh, which joined the baby to the Mother’s body. The little parcel began to cry more fiercely as if it knew it was no longer connected to its mother. The one-eyed woman laid the baby on the now flatter stomach of the woman, whilst the midwife pulled at the cord of which was still coming out of the Mother’s body. The baby became calmer now.
‘Still push with the pains,’ murmured Narisja, as she frowned and looked up into the younger woman’s body.
The pains were milder now. She pushed more gently. She was afraid the baby would roll over and fall to the ground.
She felt the last of it all come away from her. The small creature on her stomach was making sucking noises. Narisja placed the blue-red material into the bowl, which the one-eyed woman held up to her.
‘That is promised to Jansen Metlan. It will make his soil richer,’ she said. ‘Take it now, Saratina.’
Saratina nodded and shuffled out of the room.
Narisja smiled at the Mother and laid her large bony hand on the baby.
‘Welcome, Peace Child,’ she said.
The Mother looked at the crying lump of flesh, which until so recently had been part of her body. Its eyes were shut. Its tiny hands were made into fists and one of them was in its mouth. Its face was all wrinkled and the remnants of her blood were beginning to dry on its skin.
This was a living creature. This was her son. Suddenly the child opened its eyes. It seemed to stare right into her. She noticed the downy blond hair above its creased forehead. This child was wiser than her. This babe understood everything. She recognized those eyes. They were his father’s eyes.
‘Does the Peace Child have a name?’ asked the midwife.
The Mother shook her head.