Birth by Fatma AlQadfan

They live in a small house just like every other small house on their narrow street that looked like every other narrow street on the southern outskirts of San Pedro. High walls and iron bars protect these houses. Not like there is any thing precious in house number 97, anyway.  No TV, no fancy computer, not even inherited china from a grandmother. And even if they had a brand new stereo – like Ester down the street who played American music loud enough for the whole world to hear that her husband made enough money to buy electronics – even if, couldn’t some mischievous boys jump over the bars and get into the house if they tried? The walls and the bars are useless. If you want to keep something safe in San Pedro, you carry it with you at all times.

That’s what she does. She takes her children everywhere with her; she does not leave them in the stuffy house behind the iron bars and the high wall. Sofia, a confident child, is turning four soon. She is happy to skip by her mother’s side down the sludgy streets and pick up fallen leaves that she later turns into presents for mama. “Mira, mama, mira!” Look, mama, look. And her mama always looks; she looks proudly at the little girl’s creations. Then there is Manuel, her second born. Her man. Still quiet and shy, he runs after his sister calling out to her, “SO-fee-ah!” When he tires of running he just clutches mama’s hand and gives her a dirty wrapper he picked up. “Mira, mama.”

It’s not hard keeping these two safe. They love being with her and they are such good children that even her elderly neighbors love watching over them. But she’ll soon have one more to worry about, one more to dress, to feed, and to keep safe. And this one is different, in many ways.

The baby growing inside her has already started making demands, telling mama “sit down and rest or I’ll kick until you do.” She already missed a total of ten working days because of this pregnancy. It is getting near impossible for her to stand for hours at the bakery, putting warm, sweet buns in bags and handing them out to old men, overweight mothers of five or six, young working women her age still unencumbered, still free, no baby inside slowing them down. Every day at the end of her shift, her manager hands her two small rolls. For the chicos, he says. She wonders whether he will give her three bread rolls when the baby is here. She wonders whether he’ll just replace her when she takes her maternity leave.

The loud humming and rattling of the dryer slows to a stop. It gives one last clatter, ending her trance. She sighs and tries to clear her head. There’s no use in thinking about the months to come when there is a lot to do right now – clothes to fold and leftover rice to reheat, a raging husband to pacify. She does not even try to predicate what will set off tonight’s shouting match. She just braces herself for another day, another battle.

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