Irma felt her life being sucked out of her. This was not what she had expected. Just a week ago he had promised to come back and stay with her. Ever since he had given her that hope, she was beside herself, happily planning everything. Rearranging his closets, planning to contact the school principal to request a re-admission.
How difficult could it be? He was an A-grade student after all. Things would once again go back to being the way they were. It seemed like a perfect plan. But now, forcing a laugh in her voice she hopelessly asked, “How come? I thought you didn’t like it there.”
Her heart pounded as she waited for him to answer. There was silence for what seemed like an eternity and then hesitatingly, he answered, “I have started liking it here now.”
She abruptly hung up. Her insides were in knots. The pain was like nothing she had ever experienced before, not even at the moment when she had felt her pelvic bones stretch out and embrace him for the very first time.
Her thoughts trailed back to a small clinic in Sleepy Hollow, New York. Her nails all bitten off, Irma had been anxiously waiting for the doctor’s verdict. There had been complications in her pregnancy. In her very first trimester she had been diagnosed with Toxoplasmosis- a parasitical infection which could render a child in a vegetative state if the foetus got infected. Scared, she had asked,“What now?” The poker faced doctor who herself was pregnant at that time, had replied with usual nonchalance, “You can choose to abort the baby.”
“Abort?” even as she uttered the word, she felt like she had betrayed the being inside her. At 20 weeks, the baby had already started moving inside her womb. She had silently cradled him, kept him warm and selflessly let him feed off her own flesh and blood for almost six months. She had loved him madly throughout her nausea and sleepless nights. How could she just let go of him now? Irma could feel the bile churning in her stomach and reaching for her throat. She was choking on her tears and thoughts as they clashed with the doctor’s words.
“There is a possibility that the child will be born blind or worse, get confined to a wheel chair for the rest of his life. We can do a test which can determine if the foetus is infected or not but that too can be risky in this case. Maybe you should..,” the doctor paused as Irma looked up at her. She gazed at the doctor for a brief second and then defiantly stood up, “Please call me up when you get an appointment for the test.”
Later, Irma stared at the half-painted wall in the baby’s room. Her eyes travelled over the pure white walls with the colorful Disney cartoons seamlessly stenciled in. Cherubic angels peacefully hung from a musical mobile over the crib. One had a broken wing. “A bad omen,” she thought. Quickly she dismantled the mobile and put it away. Nothing was going to stand between her and happiness this time, not even the angels.
From the very beginning, Irma was certain that the life growing inside her was a boy. He had to be. There had to be at least one man in her life who would love her and need her unconditionally. Over the years, her life had been a series of unrequited loves. Even her husband who claimed to love her, had on different occasions accused her of being an overly needy person. She had finally got someone to love till the end of her days but now he could desert her, even before being born.
She clutched at her rosary, her prayers mixed with the salt of her tears, her eyes half open with hope, half closed with the exhaustion of sleepless nights.
A few weeks later she was back at the clinic for the test. The Amniocentesis was a quick but painful procedure. The wait was even more excruciating. Three days was a long time for someone whose life depended on a negative or a positive. She prayed continuously to the child in her womb, begging him to fight back just as she had done, promising him a life that she had never got.
As her mind raced back to the present, a painful realization dawned on her. He had kept his end of the bargain but she had let him down. She had robbed him off the security that she had never got. She had unknowingly made the mistake of forcing him to choose between her and his father.
The divorce had been inevitable. The journey to the courts to sever the past was agonizing but not as awful as being answerable to the three-year-old Ryan. With sole custody also came the sole responsibility of handling his emotions. In the beginning, it was a spate of lies and made up stories. “Your dad’s away on work.” “He will be back soon.” “Of course he loves you.”
Ryan was growing quickly. At six, he already knew what the word ‘divorce’ meant and on the surface everyone pretended to be fine. Every birthday was celebrated with gusto and fake smiles exchanged between Irma and her husband.At the end though when all the plates were neatly stacked, and all the gift wrappers tucked away, a hollow feeling enveloped her always. Would she ever be able to gift Ryan a complete family?
Ryan had turned out to be a bright, sensitive and affectionate son. Over the years he had seen his mother mask her tears with a smile or a silly anecdote of his childhood, and that had sufficed. At times when his emotions were in a tumult, he had also fought with her and asked her to get back with his father. Slowly that too had stopped.
Now at 11, Ryan’s needs had changed. He was now voicing his needs, his rights. And one of them was that he wanted to go live with his father.
Irma’s heart sank when she first heard this request. At first she thought it was his father’s fancy Mercedes beckoning him. Irma had given up on her career in the 10 years she had spent trying to save her marriage. After her divorce, she realised that starting from a scratch would not be easy because the world had moved on. To catch up with it would mean long hours of work and leaving Ryan alone with a nanny. Something she had never wanted. So she began to do freelance work but though the basics got covered, luxuries were still a distant dream.
Irma had tried to reason with Ryan first, weaving silken dreams. She even bought an expensive phone for him. He was happy but not satisfied. His mind was made up. He wanted to go and live with his father ‘for some time’ as he had carefully put it.
That some time had turned to three months now. During the three months Irma and her son had had long conversations over the phone, ranging from him being confused about his feelings for his father, to hating him or feeling let down by him. Throughout it all, Irma reminded him, “Remember, life is not a one way street. You can always turn around and no one will think any less of you.” And Ryan had told her he would come to spend the holidays with her and would most likely stay back.
When he arrived Irma’s joy knew no bounds. She pranced around like a kid. Happy, that he still needed her. The two weeks flew by and it was decided that when Ryan went back he would talk to his father about moving back.
That was a week ago. Now all that had changed as his words once again played out in her head. He was not going to come back. She should have rejoiced in his happiness. Why then this immense sense of loss?
She slowly let her fingers feel the 11 year old stitches on her belly and suddenly it all made sense to her. The doctors had cut his umbilical chord a long time ago but her umbilical cord was still attached to him.
The tears broke free. In the kitchen, her phone rang constantly and the answering machine began to play a sweet voice..
“Mama…mama? what happened? I promise I will come back soon. I know you’re upset with me, but I still love you, mama.”
Irma’s eyelids flickered as the last tear escaped; along with a smile.
Insia Dariwala is a graduate from F.I.T New York (Advertising and Mass communications), loves to tell stories and is a filmmaker. ‘The Candy Man’, her hard hitting debut film on child abuse won her two ‘Best Director’ awards in India (2009, 2010) and also got nominated at Barcelona International Film Festival and the New York Short film Festival in 2010.