WE ARE PREGNANT
“Are you alright in there?” I said, tapping the door once, then twice again. She had been in there ten minutes, and I was certain it did not take that long. It was late July, and most people pulled their 3 layers of clothing tighter around them. Were it a different day, I probably would have done so too; but on the day, my shirt stuck to my back. I wanted to shed my skin off, dawn a new one because this one was too wet, too clammy. There wasn’t enough air in the room; and the little that was there felt like pebbles wrestling their way in and out of my nostrils. My heart leapt in and out of my mouth, leaving me nauseated. My torso was too heavy for my knees, my head too heavy for my neck. I was worn out. I had never been that afraid, that petrified of something that had not even happened yet. A wind crept in through an open window, and in it I could hear echoes of this one incessant prayer. Would God answer this prayer once again? For the 500th time? Would He not, by now, be tired of hearing this from me?
The door creaked and I stepped back. She stood frozen in the doorway, her face drenched, her eyes had puffed up, her hands folded into fists at her sides. For the first time in the year we had been together, she was not invisible, not untouchable; she was only a scared little girl, looking to me for answers to a problem too monumental for her as though I were not a part of it. I pulled her in and held her against my torso. She felt stiff, hardened, yet delicate, as though she would break if I squeezed a little harder. She felt even smaller in my embrace. I myself felt small; I was too tiny for such a big world, for such a big life, for such a huge problem. I needn’t ask her any questions for I already knew. How had this happened? I mean, I knew how, that was obvious. But how had I allowed it to happen? Me? Chipo Munyama? Was I not to be smarter than this? Ought I not to be able to swerve my way round predicaments such as this?
I had always thought it funny how easy it was to speak and look down from our thrones of morality upon those in whose shoes we had not walked, whose burdens we had not shouldered; how easy it was to say, “Yeah, I would probably do better” or “It can never be me” as we, from a distance, watched others toil with some consequence of their decisions. A few months before, I had said of those shoes, “This is a choice. It can never be a mistake. What do you expect from it? Besides, it is clearly avoidable.” Yet there I was, bleeding out having stuck a toe into the very shoe I swore I’d never wear.
“A baby girl isn’t such a bad idea,” she said the first time we made light of this shoe.
“Oh, not at all. She’d be cute” I responded, “we could give her a pretty girl name like Ayanda or something.”
“Right? She would have your eyes.”
“And your smile.”
“Maybe Ayanda is on the way,” we often joked when she had her weird cravings or when her sleep schedule was all messy. It was our inside joke, only satire. But this was real life. There was no banter to it. Our baby girl was on the way. We were pregnant. Perhaps “manifestations” were a thing after all. Perhaps we really did speak things into existence. I had, up to that point, thought them to be one of the many social media perpetuated unrealistic beliefs we had adopted. This was all too real.
“I mean, we did say we wanted a baby girl,” I said after a while on that day, and she laughed. It had always been so rich, her laughter, so full of life, of hope. And it was so even in that moment in which it was dawning on us, perhaps for the first time, that we had ravaged our lives, had undone the little good we had going for us.
I wanted to tell her how my account held savings enough to keep me afloat but 6 months on minimum expenses. Throw a pregnant lady into that boat and we would be under water in a month; how my degree was still two years away. And even when I did get it, it would hardly be useful since life tossed me a career people hardly cared about. I wanted to tell her how I had not, in my 22years of life, come up with a tangible business idea, nor was that going to happen then; how I barely had skills I could sell. I wanted to tell her how the little knowledge I had about this life was barely enough to get me by. What then would I pass onto a human being who knew nothing, who looked to me to teach her how to navigate the world? I wanted to tell her how our baby would not be “cute”, how our baby would be a human being with needs neither of us could meet, a human being who needed to be raised in ways we did not know how to; how we too were still kids. A baby girl would be a very, very bad idea.
“Would you like to talk about it right now?” I said instead.
“No, I’m not ready,” she whispered, “No yet.”
She lay on my chest the way she did when we’d talk for hours about nothing and everything simultaneously. On that day, the wind whistled to-and-fro in the room and carried with it all her words and mine so that we had nothing to say. A curtain flapped and danced about in intervals, tearing into the long hours of hush as if to remind me how alive I was, how real this was, my cue to breathe. I was breathing in fear and out confusion which clung onto the air and rolled it into rough pebbles. On the ceiling upon which my eyes had been fixed for hours was a play by play of how this conversation would play out with Mum.
I would sit on her bed and speak with my eyes planted to the floor while I fiddled my thumbs. I would say it quickly, slice the wound open with the precision of a surgeon, not giving her time to ponder, to wonder what it is I was going on about. I would take care to enunciate all the words the way she liked but maintain a contrite tone too. Then her countenance would fall. Through her eyes, I would see her heart break and fumes of rage would spew from the debris. Words would leak out of her mouth like water from a cracked cistern, shooting out retort which I duly deserved. She would ask me how I could do such a thing, what I was thinking, if I even realized what I had done. She would ask me how I could have been so reckless as to throw away a life that had so much promise. She would tell me how I ruined this girl’s life. She would tell me how ungrateful, how unsympathetic I was to her despite all the sacrifices she had made for me. She would ask me how I would take care of the baby, of its mother. She would ask me if I knew how I would be bringing her name into bad repute. She would ask me how I planned on paying damage. And I would offer no response save the three words that hardly offered any recompense in any situation, “I am sorry.” Then tears would roll down her cheeks and mine
The sun had just logged off for the day. A light darkness swept the room; it was a darkness that she liked, the one we let linger for a while – talking, cracking jokes and romanticizing life- before flipping the light switch. I could hear her heartbeat, quick, violent thuds against her ribs. She was lethargic, and I imagined even her blinks were few and far in between. I was afraid that she too could hear my heart, that she could hear my thoughts. Which one of the many times we had “gotten carried away” got us here? Was it the night we went out to dinner? Was it the day she came over to ours? Perhaps it was that day in her tiny dorm room, the day we hesitated but said, “screw it” and went for it anyway- it could very well be that day.
It seemed hypocritical then, fantastical even, the response I had given her when she asked me a couple of months before what my reaction would be were we to fall pregnant. “I mean, we’d figure it out,” I had said. It was one fetched from a pool of inexperience, of having not worn these shoes before; it made the assumption that life worked for me, that things would pan out well just because I willed them to, just because I was a “good person”. In truth, life did not adhere to will, nor was its reward to good people reciprocal kindness. It did not work for anyone, nor was I of the belief that it worked against anyone - although the latter was more likely judging by how things were going- it was just… life. And it was lifing, as she would say. Life was lifing. I never agreed with the notion that we only began to truly live when we were faced with and overcame adversity. In fact, I found the idea quite redundant because why did my having lived have to be gauged by how much suffering I surfed through? Would I have been any less alive just because Heaven had spared me suffering? But I got the feeling that day that my life, what it was meant to be, had only begun then.
“I’m ready now,” she said. She crossed her fingers and lay her chin on my chest, “I’m ready to talk about it. You go first.”
“Right,” I began, “Uhm, firstly, I’m sorry about -”
“Don’t say you are sorry. I don’t want any apologies. This isn’t just your -”
“Yes, it is. Now, let me finish,” I blurted. Even in the darkness of the room, I could feel how aback she was taken by the forcefulness in my voice.
“Okayy,” she sighed.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean for that- I’m sorry. It’s just- look, had my pull-out game been much stronger or were I at least impotent, perhaps we wouldn’t be here today,” I continued. She laughed her rich, “that’s really funny” laughter. And I immediately felt the need to make her laugh again.
“So yeah, I’m sorry. I really am. I didn’t want this for you.”
“I hear you,” she said, “but if you want sympathy, I won’t give it to you. You are an adult. You knew this could happen.” I had always liked that about her: her candor, how she refused to be anything but honest with me, how she refused to play pity parties.
“I am not looking for sympathy, especially not from you seeing that we are in this together. I just didn’t want this for you. I am afraid I might have ruined your life.”
“Oh, so I will die from being pregnant?”
“That’s not funny,” she barked.
“And I wasn’t trying to be funny. The point is, this isn’t a great situation. And I am sorry that you… we are here.”
“I hear you.”
“Right. As for what I think we should do from here… look, I can barely afford to feed and clothe myself, let alone feed and clothe you. I am still heavily dependent. Life is… sodomizing me right now. I can barely make my way through it with the little I know. What will I teach a baby then?”
“So, you want an abortion?”
“Will you let me finish”
“Like you finished in me?! No, sir. I will most definitely not let you do so” she cut in. “Why are you giving your long speech explanations, going through the corners? Say it directly. You want an abortion. You want to kill this baby. Tell me that,” her tone was flat and cold.
“If you let me finish, I’ll get there.” We had built our relationship on silence, on knowing the value of silence, knowing to keep quiet, knowing that it is okay to not have anything to say, on comfortable silences. But the silence that succeeded that was as a wall between us. A wall of anger, fear, and helplessness. It was impenetrable for the next 20 minutes and neither of us dared to climb over it even though her head still lay on my chest and my arms still around her.
“I’m sorry,” she finally said, “that was uncalled for. I’m sorry. You go on. Please.”
“That’s okay. I understand. Look it isn’t that I don’t want to have child. My 22year-old self is just incapable of handling one right. What will she eat? What will you eat? I do not want to bring a child into the cycle of poverty into which I was born. She deserves better. I do not think… forget thinking, I do not have the facilities to be a father right now. And I do not want to burden anyone with that responsibility for they will despise me, will hold it against. It is my responsibility. And I am not sure that I can assume it right now. I’d rather we don’t have this baby…”
“So, an abortion?” she retorted.
“That’s such an ugly… heavy word.”
“But that’s what it is. You want me to get an abortion. You want to kill this baby because you don’t have the balls to man up and take care of it. Or did I hear you wrong?
“Yes. Yes, I’d rather we did not have this baby. That’s what I said. But…”
“Oh, great, there’s more.”
“Yes, there is,” I said. “Just hear me out. You asked me to go first.”
“What more could you say? You’ve already told me where you stand.”
“It’s your body, okay?!” a wetness stung my cheek, “It’s your body. I am here, but all I can do is stand by your side because this is your body. I cannot make decisions for you or for it. Whichever way we go, it is your body that will take the hit. It is completely unfair, and I wish it were different, but that is what it is. If we go my way, it is your body that will be in excruciating pain. If we take the other route, it is you who has to carry the baby, take all the risks it comes with. It is your body. There is hardly a win for you. You lose either way, and it saddens me because I did not want to put you in this position,” I said, fully aware of the well on my face.
“So you are leaving this decision up to me? You want me to decide alone? Is that what you are saying?” she said, her voice thick.
“Oh, dear, God, no. That is not what I am saying at all. I have told you what I want. I’d rather we did not have a child right now. But I cannot get first pick on this because you have to do what is best for your body. I cannot dictate that. Whatever you want will be what you feel is best for you, and I will support you 100% regardless. If you want us to keep the baby, I will be here. I will do whatever I have to to provide, to be a father. I don’t know exactly how, but I will do what I must. I will be right here. That is all I am saying.”
“Okay? Is that it?”
“What do you want me to say?”
“Well, telling me what you want to do would be a great start.”
“I haven’t decided yet. I need time to think.”
“Okay,” she said, after a while. She had interlocked her fingers into mine as she often did. It was still her. She still felt like home, like serenity. And even in the midst of a storm such as this, her hand in mine still felt like peace. “What if it’s a boy?”
“The baby. What if it’s a boy?”
“Okay, now we really have to get rid of it. I can’t handle male toddlers,” I said. And she laughed again, her laughter filling the room, filling the pit in my stomach.
Yesterday was her birthday. She turned 8, which marks 8 years since her mother passed. As per our “thing”, I took Ayanda to Gourmet again, the first restaurant to which I took her mother to dinner. And every year, sitting across me on the chair on which her mother sat all those years ago, her legs draw closer to the floor and swing less. Ayanda looks more and more like her with each year. She did get my eyes, but she got her 1000 decibel laughter, her curiousness, her smile… her little beauty spot on her upper lip. Over the last 8 years, there have been moments in which I have been proud of the job I have done raising her, seeing how far she and I have come against all odds. I never dreamed, all those years ago, of raising my baby girl all on my own. But she is kind, respectful and sweet. She is incredibly smart and thoughtful for an 8-year-old – She often goes, “daddy, are you okay?” when I go quiet too long- and even more curious about the world than her mother was. I have raised her, raised her well thus far, a feat of which I should be proud. But there have been days on which I have loathed myself for her mother not being here, for my being alone, on which I remembered that her mother died because of me, because I gave her a child her body was not ready to carry, because I could not convince her to heed my pleas to not have the child. There have been days on which the hatred has outrang the love, days it has been hard to be here. But I look at my Ayanda and I know she needs me. Perhaps my greatest fear is that she grows up to blame me, to despise me as much as I do myself for her mother’s death. Or worse yet, that she grows to think that her mother died because of her. How will I shield my baby girl from all of that, from a battle I, myself, have not been able to win?
Every year, I write this story back. And every year, I forget one more little detail. Was it fear, excitement or relief I saw in her eyes the day her water broke? Had she worn a plain black or a polka dotted dress? Was it my brother who drove us to the hospital or did we take a Yango? Was it 5 or 10 minutes into the drive that I remembered to call her mother and her sister? Was it a male or female nurse who told me I could not be in the delivery room despite her appeals and mine? Was it the same nurse or a different one who came out to tell us that the baby was healthy and fine, but her mother had lost too much blood in the process? Was it pain or anger or numbness I had felt surge through my body? Was it a quick or slow and painful death her mother had wished me afterwards? What had they said of my Ayanda again? That she was a demon child? I do not remember.
I am here. My Ayanda is here. Perhaps that is all that matters?