Sophie’s Lack Of Choice [#ShortStory]

Posted: May 28, 2017

Few years later on the day I was turning thirty, my mother-in law who was more mother to me than my own, asked me when I would be throwing away my set of birth control pills.

I always thought money was absolutely capable of buying happiness, till I made a visit to a nearby expensive hospital.

The sight of mothers waking up from post-labour unconsciousness only to discover the corpse of their newborn. People breathing through tubes that ran across their bodies like veins, dragging themselves on wheelchairs from one corridor of death to another. Faces paralysed at the exact moment when they last smiled, sketching out living portraits of this mockery called life. The irony was all these people were those who possessed more wealth than blood, but how could the jingle of coins ever drown the sounds of wailing and weeping that was heard outside the doorstep of the mortuary?

What I believe, is that the afterlife does not come for those who are dead, but rather for those who loved the dead and yet were left alive.

Wives breastfeeding their babies while waiting outside the operation theatre, absolutely unaware that they had already turned widows, a few minutes ago.

Mothers and fathers shaking the chests of their children to see if there was any air left behind. Parents, looking at each other with the silence of the lambs, wondering now that their child was gone, what better reason will they be able to think of, to save this marriage. The past years flash at once in the back of their minds. Watching the birth of something they both made from scratch, all that emotional investment into those tiny hands, holding it and walking him to school and back, the first box of crayons and the very first spoken words, the crying and running to bury his face into your lap, and all of that washed away in an instant, like the end of a beautiful dream that they wished could last.

And then, the days after it. The spending of more time at work, because there is no one waiting at home eagerly to devour his favourite mom-made snack or play football with his dad. All the aborted travel plans which were already paid for the tickets of three, all the boxes of sleeping pills in the dustbin, the daily inconsolable urge to look through medical journals to see if there was some treatment that they missed.

That day I had visited the hospital for a tiny stitch in my arms but by the time I returned, my heart felt so cold I thought I might need to go back. I could not sleep well through the night, and my husband Akshay kept asking if everything was alright. But I had already drifted away to another world of kindergarten and working mothers and an obligation to establish womanhood by motherhood. I had drifted away to my own childhood.

Neither was my father cursed with drinking habits or a preference for a male child nor was my mother authoritative. They had a jar to put coins in every time they fought in front of me, and to be very honest, I could never find a penny in it. But when you are born to two senior associate professors of Physics, it was hard to seek their attention.

Their significance was much more for a small family, they mattered at the level of national conventions for science and at the levels of the discovery channel and that of the electron clouds and the space shuttles. What was I but a pale dot in such a vast universe? And how could those school science exhibitions and fancy dress competitions ever manage to find a mark on calendars, where time failed to stretch unlike in the black holes they dug in my heart?

It was difficult to look at my mother, standing in her library in her thick glasses intoxicating on her hourly black coffee, and to advise that she should waste time on things that do not matter. Especially on something like a child, among all other things. Often, days would pass without us getting to see each other. I would go to the park and chase butterflies and hug puppies to get rid of the longing of these empty lovesick arms.

But things got better as I grew up into a smart woman with long reading lists and kissed a smart man between the bookshelves at a library whom I later married, a man who completed all my constellations. Life like everything in the universe, ran a full circle.

Few years later on the day I was turning thirty, my mother-in law who was more mother to me than my own, asked me when I would be throwing away my set of birth control pills. The conversation, painful and incessantly stretching like a woman’s womb, weighed me down a bit.

I cursed this ageing body which demanded of me to decide on child birth much earlier than I could ever prepare myself mentally. I cursed those raised eyebrows which would look at you, gasping in shock if you claimed you were still a noble woman, while rejecting your gift to conceive. I cursed those tender and perfect women who already felt like mothers, years before being told they were incapable of growing a child inside of them. I looked at my husband looking back at me from a distance, reading my face and silently killing in his heart, the desire to have a family.

I knew I was right on my stand, since I had seen very closely that biological obligations were much more easily fulfilled (and advised) than emotional obligations. I aspired to be a student for half of my life and an educator for the other half and the raising of a child would be jeopardized if I overestimated my abilities. There is nothing worse than calling yourself the mother of a child who grew up in the laps of babysitters and in the backyards of overpaid crèches. But what broke my heart was that Akshay would not stop standing at the balcony and looking at the tiny children play cricket in the parking lot. He still had half of his part of the decision to make, and could have convinced me, but he was trying to console his own self instead.

One evening when I was secretly standing at the door of his study watching him work, he asked me to come sit next to him. I told him that I was re-considering. What if we could have actually managed everything and turned into amazing parents? What if we are making a mistake by not taking a chance?

He smiled, looked at me as if he had made his half of the decision and asked me, “But what if we do not?” He did not speak after it but I understood. There is no option to risk a chance when it’s about someone else’s whole life. And what could be a better example of a failed attempt at parenthood, than my very own life.

The dreams of all the grandparents in the family were shattered. Some of the neighbours could not stop muttering. A few feminists were born in the apartment and a few children were raised better. I sat at the balcony and looked at the world down under. A gust of wind hit my hair and passed through my soul, the setting sun was spilling across the sky in furious colours of red and orange and below in the parking lot I watched Akshay play cricket with the little kids from nearby and smiled at how much he absolutely loved children.

Just beside me, I saw someone I thought I already knew. That middle-aged man I had seen in the hospital the other day I visited. He was free from all his tubes and the wheelchair, and was taking a brisk evening walk in his sports shoes. Though I did not know him, it filled my heart with immense gratefulness. As if our life was completely ours to own. As if there was so much happiness in the world, that I might not be able to take it. As if in life, everyone was given a choice to make.

Image source: pixabay

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