A short Story
By Zahirra Dayal
Soniya lays with her jeans stretched far down her hip, and her top hitched up to her chest. When the cold gel touches her stomach, she shivers. The sonographer asks if she is ok, but her pounding chest has locked her jaw, so she only manages a quick nod. The woman adjusts the white tissue tucked around the top of her beige underwear and then smears the light blue jelly substance all over her tummy. Her skin tingles in response.
Earlier, in the waiting room, she was flanked by smiling women with big bumps. Her eyes followed their hands as they rubbed burgeoning bellies. Hypnotised by the motion. Round and round, their fingers went. She thought of the nursery rhyme she often sings to her favourite nephew, Adam. Her sister’s youngest. Round and round the garden, like a teddy bear, she circles his little tummy with her fingers. One step, two step, and she climbs his belly with her fingers, and before she can get to the last line, he is already giggling uncontrollably. When she arrives at tickle you under there, his whole body explodes with laughter.
Her sister churns out baby after baby effortlessly. She has four now. Soniya drowns the green-eyed monster under a watery smile. Jealousy only makes her feel worse about herself because her sister is the kindest person she knows.
“It’ll be fine this time, Sony. I know it will. Just don’t lose faith,” said her sister when she saw her last night, using ‘Sony’, the affectionate diminutive of her name that people closest to her used. But none of them gets it. Her hope, delicate like an eggshell, has been trampled too many times. The missed period, the exquisite lines on the pregnancy test, all the delicious dreaming and planning and then… emptiness, like a black hole which sucks her in. By the third miscarriage, she knew exactly what to expect after the cramps. The pain squeezed her stomach so tightly she thought she might stop breathing. And then, a few hours later, she sat on the toilet and watched the ugly clots crawl down her thighs.
Well-intended but hapless advice was thrown at her from all directions after each chemical miscarriage, as the doctor called it. Comments meant to lighten the mood like, “is that husband of yours still shooting blanks?” were shot down by her icy stares, leaving everyone shifting uncomfortably in their seats.
“The two of you need to take a break, go away for the weekend, and you’ll have a bun in the oven in no time.” Her problem wasn’t getting the bun in there, it was keeping it baking there for the whole nine months, was what she wanted to scream back.
“You need to fatten up Soniya, you’re too thin to carry a baby in that flat stomach.” That was the most stupid of them all, making her face scrunch up like curdled milk.
Sam wanted to take the day off. She’d never got as far as the 12-week scan before. Her bump is even visible now. But the last thing she wants is her husband’s premature joy. She isn’t allowing hope in this time. She’s anticipating the loss. Soniya clenches her fist so tightly, her nails digging deep into her palms. She focuses on the sharp pain in her hands to avoid looking at the screen as the sonographer passes the handheld probe over her stomach.
She hears a whooshing sound like a soft wind followed by a muffled sound: thump, thump, thump, thump it goes.
“That’s your baby’s heartbeat,” says the woman excitedly, a smile cutting her face in half as she angles the screen to help Soniya get a clearer view. Soniya’s eyes scan the screen nervously.
“Don’t worry, everything looks and sounds perfectly ok for this stage of the pregnancy.
Would you like to know the sex of your baby? It’s not always that clear at 12 weeks, but I can try for you,” she asks and guides the probe around again, putting more pressure this time.
“No, no, I don’t want to know,” retorts Soniya. Knowing will only make it harder.
“No problem at all. A lot of mothers prefer it to be a surprise,” says the woman touching Soniya’s shoulder gently. “Your baby is growing healthily, so nothing to worry about.”
Soniya leaves the room clutching black and white prints from the scan, which she tosses into her bag.
As she steps out of the antenatal ward into the crisp air, the clouds have cleared and the sun is peeping through. She sits down under the bus shelter across the road from the hospital and waits for her bus home. Her phone vibrates. She ignores it. That will be Sam or her sister or her mother. They’re waiting for news about the ultrasound scan. The expectancy weighs her down.
There’s a woman seated next to her on the narrow bench. Her face looks creased with all the wrinkles that line her face.
“Everything ok, darling?” the woman asks.
“Yes,” lies Soniya.
“You been to the hospital for your sick or someone else’s sick?” she asks
Soniya finds the woman’s directness disarming, “I’m not sick. I just had my pregnancy scan.”
“Let’s see dem pictures, then. I know now days they give black and white pictures of the baby. In my day we didn’t have no scan or picture. Let me see your bundle of joy, darling.” Soniya obeys like the woman has cast a spell on her. She digs the photos out of her bag and hands them over.
“Let me put my glasses, can’t see a damn thing with deez old eyes of mine. Oh, look at this beautiful chile you got growing in that belly of yours! Your baby girl growing strong and beautiful. She a fighter like her mama.”
“It’s a girl?”
“Yes, she a girl, trust me, I can see things.”
Soniya takes the photo and looks at it for the first time. Within the black and white shades, there’s a clear outline of her baby lying comfortably with tiny legs kicking upwards with strength.
“My baby… I think I have a name for her,” Soniya says, caressing the surface of the print and smiling, “Hope.”
Zahirra Dayal is a London based writer who has lived in all corners of the world as well, but she can be found on Twitter (@ZahirraD) and on Instagram (@zahirrawrites).