By Srividya Srinivasan
Shaku Bai hunched over, her face twisted in pain. Her feet caught the edge of her saree as she leant over nearer to the fire, rocking herself gently. The ache in her stomach was killing her, stabbing at her in little darts, grinding away with no mercy. The warmth from the stove was rather comforting and it was the only comfort she could draw on. The beads of sweat from her face poured down the sides and ran down her neck to blend with her brown skin and faded blouse and disappeared into the recesses of her body.
She was losing the baby and she wanted to finish making the night’s dinner before that. She gritted her teeth and stifled the cry dying to come out. He was sleeping soundly on the creaky bed. It was a rickety structure with the faded ropes that looked like it would give way under his weight but never did. She often felt like the cot when he thrust his weight on her, pushing and prodding his masculinity deep within her and drawing his pleasure, caring neither for her pain or pleasure.
She had lost three children so far. Three girls. She was aging, she knew. The rhythms of her body felt different. She ought to have been grateful that he had not taken another wife. That he did not beat or abuse her. She could not give him a child. A son. Her mother-in-law was sitting outside chewing paan, spitting it all around, her beady eyes surveying the passersby.
Her hands were trembling as hot tears pricked her eyes. The last roti was smoking, burning her eyes now, adding to the tears. It was all finally done. She covered the food precisely so that the heat would stay and lay down beside the man on the floor, clenching her jaw, her lips bloodied. The pain was intense. She had taken the mixture about an hour ago. It would kill the last baby she could ever have. She knew deep within that it would be a girl. She wanted to decide its fate. It felt only right that she did.
He had promised her a new stove, one that would not burn her eyes if she gave him a baby boy. She now knew that it was never to be. She sobbed silently, deep sobs that she stifled lest she wake him. The old lady was stirring outside.
She must have fainted, as the red washed the floor. She had no recollection of anything. No one spoke a word when she woke up. She was on a hospital bed. Her husband sat beside her and her mother-in-law was standing there eying her balefully.
They told her it had been a baby boy.