It was this that broke the trance. My name being called by the head of the pediatrician department of the house of healers in a rural town on the planet, Gobindu. I blinked, ripping my gaze from a new born girl that floated in front of me in a holographic projection, I turned to my colleague and friend, Dr. K’nasa Benu. His likeness displayed on the far wall of my office.
Wiping a tear away, I tried to smile but my lips refused the directive. “The mother?”
Dr. Benu looked down, one would think he was consulting his notes, but we both knew he knew the information by heart. He knew the information on all the babies born in his corner of the system with extensive disfiguration. He sighed, and another tear spilled, streaking down my cheek and I let it reach its final destination on the fabric covering my unborn child.
“She left as soon as she was allowed to leave,” he pinched the bridge of his nose. “She made it pulicid that we are not to return the ….. gragou to her. Her baby was stolen by a dancka.” The words were heavy and he strained to deliver them.
“The father?” I rested my hand on my distended belly.
Benu shook his head, slowly. “She said there is none.”
I clenched my hand into a fist, my mood, at this point of the pregnancy, swung like a trabit through the deep woods. Sadness, anger, fear. I turned away from the wall. “So the baby will be…” I couldn’t even say it.
“It will be sent to the home for abandoned children,” he said it for me. The baby will never have its mother’s nourishing, protective milk, it will never feel its father’s gentle touch. It will not survive.
I wanted to scream, I wanted to crumble to the floor and weep, but this is not why Benu contacted me. He reached across the emptiness of space for hope from the doctor who was searching for a way to bring an end to the touches, the disfigurements that were increasing year after year. What he was not seeking was a woman breaking down because she had seen too much.
“The research doesn’t look good, friend,” I said with a sniff. “The last trial of an experimental treatment proved to worsen the… disfiguration in the child. It did not survive. This is far from becoming solved.”
“And still you have become pregnant?” he met my gaze. “That baby has at least a sixty percent chance of becoming disfigured. That’s the last figure I’ve seen for your planet.”
“That’s still a forty percent chance,” I looked down at my stomach, then looked up at the doctor. “But I’m feeling…. lucky.” More like favor was stacked on my side, but only a handful of people knew of this and Dr. Benu of Gobindu was not one of them.
I watched as he did away with the presence of a professional and become a man who had grown tired, so tired. “What is there for us to do, Selassie? How can we stop it and by extension stop the slow death of our people?” When I gave him no answers, he said, “I’m… sorry but it has been a long year.” It was only half way through their cycle around the Zaiu star.
There was a chirp and the doctor looked to the side, his eyes moving side to side. Then I watched him put back on his position of head pediatrician as though putting on work clothes. It was only after he adjusted the tie of his metaphorical suit that he looked up at me.
“If you will excuse me, doctor,” the fatigue that stretched his words was now replaced by a clipped tone of a head of department. “There has been a development that I must attend to. We will continue this conversation at a later date. Will you be at the gathering on Chungra?”
I nodded, I would be attending the gathering of medical practitioners and researchers on the mid planet. I was asked to give a talk on the touch in our collective futures. It was a talk I did not want to give.
“Til then, Dr. Benu,” I said my farewell. “May your day be well.”
“They never are, Dr. Ousab,” The genuineness of his words, held no hope, not even a fine trace. “Til then,” he said before the wall went dark.
“What are you going to do, Selassie?”
I turned to see my mother standing in the doorway to the rest of my apartment. She must have used her key to get in.
“Didn’t you get the communique, Mrs. Ousab,” I snapped off the projector. “My family shall not speak to me as per the directive of Ambassador Ousab.”
Crossing her arms, My mother leaned against the door frame, “When have you ever known me to follow all the ridiculous directives of your father.” Her eyes crinkled at the edges with the mischief I loved in my mother. “Come a healthy woman is a fed woman,” she began to turn.
“I ate already.” To my ears, I sounded like a rebellious pubescent.
“Not enough,” she threw over her shoulder. And like a piece of debris caught in the wake of a comet, I followed her into my tiny kitchen. “Not enough,” my mother muttered as she inspected my offerings in the way of food.
“I’m still alive, aren’t I?” I crossed my arms and fell into one of the chairs around the even smaller dining table.
Looking across at me, Chan’anna Ousab clucked, “Barely, and you didn’t answer my question.”
“There is nothing I can do apart from what I’m doing already,” I watched my mother excavate barely edible vegetables from my cooling box and an ancient slab of funtan meat. She clucked and began to defrost the meat in the orno, an act that she made look easy and common place, but for me, it felt like a chore.
Watching my mother bustle about my kitchen unearthed a memory of Olha Drigo, the care taker of my forbidden lover’s home. In a stolen moment of time, I was loved, I was made to laugh, and I was embraced by a family that was not my own. I could smell the food, hear their banter, feel everything and anything that was to be felt.
In an instant, I was snapped back to my reality, loneliness and frustration living in the crevices of my domicile. My mother continued to prepare the vegetables for a metami, a thin soup with almost raw vegetables once she accepted that my attention was within the four walls of the apartment.
“There is something you can do, my daughter,” she glanced up at me, then looked down at the okar glac which in no time would be sliced into fine strips.
“There is,” my mother said, she was going into educator mode. “As you know, the Jensu’nan are on-”
My mother’s hands stilled, but she didn’t look up. “Why not?”
Where do I begin? The list was extensive so I pulled out reasons at random. They are aliens and we don’t know how their presence would affect a woman with child. It was not advised that I travel unnecessarily in my condition. My father.
“Isn’t saving a dying species reason enough to travel,” she looked up at me. “You are the perfect person to bring to an end this ridiculous way of being.”
There was a steeliness in her voice, the words escaped violently like air escaping through a breached hull of a starship. I peered at the woman I called mother with new eyes.
Putting aside the tools of the kitchen, she washed her hands and sat down across from me with a sigh. Taking my hand, she looked at our hands loosely linked together. “This is going to keep happening until someone can shift the waters.”
“What are you talking about, mother?”
“When I was at the age between pubescent and adulthood, a man with red skin came to our village. He was touring the planet as a performer and he had all the intergalactic documentation. We would find out later that they were all forged. He was welcomed and a friendship developed between us. More than a friendship,” she looked up at me, “I soon was with child.” My mother’s hand gripped mine, “He wanted the child, I wanted the child, my family…. My father beat me so severely that I lost the child.”
My tongue was heavy, too heavy to form words, to ask questions.
“The authorities turned a blind eye, the doctors without uttering a word returned my virginity as per my father’s instructions and as soon as he could, the chief of our village, your grandfather, arranged my marriage to your father.”
I knew it was an unusual match, but who was I to question it. If they had not gotten married there would be no me.
After a pause, her words sinking deeper into the soft tissue of my understanding, I asked, “Even if I went to Ondu, what can I do?”
“You can convince them that integration is necessary,” My mother leaned forward. “It is meant to happen, over the years, the centuries, people have coupled despite their differences and their punishment has been severe. Lives have been lost in the name of a segregated galaxy. And…and we are slowly dying. How many generations before there will be no Zaiu?”
“Seven… by last projections,” I replied. “Some say less than that.”
“I love my grand babies, each and every one of them, but they are proof that no one is immune. Chiefs and outcasts are dealt the same set of ornox, luck fancies none.”
“But the upper classes have seen less deformities,” I pointed out.
My mother shook her head, sadness swam in her eyes, “Less babies enter this world without the touch.”
“They wouldn’t,” I hissed.
“They do,” she released my hand and sat back, our connection broken. I felt like a star walker released into the emptiness, left to grapple through the nothingness for survival.
Under my mother’s gaze, I digested all she said. Once the memory of the discarded fetus stopped flashing across my mind, a plan was conceived, it grew behind my unseeing eyes. I know what I was going to do.
“I will go,” I said at last.
“I will arrange your travel,” my mother got to her feet. “But for now, I’m going to put some food into my pregnant daughter.”
For the first time that day, I smiled. For the first time in a long time, I felt hope.