The child was so unbelievably small, a delicate scrap of human, so small in fact, that the fingers were topped with nubs of flesh instead of slivers of nail. The mother had never seen such a small child, despite it being her fourth, and the nurses; well, they, in their starched uniforms had drawn, long faces that spoke volumes of the future the child would endure. Their thin lips spoke also, “She won’t live long outside the incubator. Sign here, here and here. She must remain for at least a year.” The diminutive peasant-woman nodded gravely and signed her daughter away, signed her daughter’s life sentence on that cold October morning. The nurses intoned to the mother “The child will not live. Take her to the priest, baptise her, and give her the last rites so that she may have a proper burial." So she did. Despite having never set foot in a Catholic chapel before, she made that last desperate dash for her daughter. The road back home to the village was long and lonely, made longer by the knowledge her child had never touched her skin, never felt a mother’s embrace.
The father kept a vigil, with tall glasses of hot water placed in a ring around the incubator, a feeble attempt to feel useful, in control. His ocean eyes pleading with God to keep his child alive, save her, keep her.
One routine visit, months later, as she neared the door of the stark room, the mother glanced back to see her daughter’s ice-blue eyes turn towards the window, the sun sparkling through. Her daughter’s eyes followed the light, the warmth, but it was not her eyes that alerted the mother. As the child craned her neck, the shadow of an indentation on her crown caught her eye and she caught her breath. Rushing over, her fingers gently searching the back of the child’s head, her eyes became steel and her heart was resolute. “I am taking my child home now.” The nurses were adamant, “She must stay for another 5 months, you cannot have her yet, it is too soon.” The mother’s brows were knitted, drawn over her dark eyes, “She either comes home with me now, or you can keep her. I will not come back for her.” She drew her headscarf tighter and with a swift movement, re-tied the knot under her chin. “I mean it. I will not come back and she can stay here unless I take her home today.”
With great reluctance, they complied, but not without imposing other, more stringent rules on the young mother. “You go ahead home and we will bring your child to you tomorrow. If we are satisfied that she will have a sanitary environment, then we will leave her with you.” The matron had images of dust-piled floors, unwashed linen, cramped sleeping quarters rush through her mind, knowing exactly what conditions most peasants lived in outside of the city.
The mother washed, wiped, disinfected, changed, and cleaned with the intensity of a woman possessed. Not a word she spoke, and then the crowing of the rooster and the grunting of the pig announced the nurses’ arrival. They swept in, all three like the wise men, and proceeded to make no secret of their inspection. The child was nestled quietly in the bundle they carried, swaddled tightly with only a pink rose of a face peeking out. The mother brought offerings of placinte, hot tea and woven tapestries, hoping to soften their hearts. Satisfied, about to hand the child to the mother, they were stopped by the woman’s demand “Unwrap her and let me see that she is truly my daughter.” There had been a barren woman a few months back, a wealthy doctor at the hospital, who had fallen in love with the tiny child and would not have hesitated in claiming her as her daughter. The mother was thinking of this woman as she questioned their offering, her offspring.
The insinuation incensed them, their noses turning red and nostrils flaring. “How dare you!? Who are you to question us? Be grateful we have allowed her home so soon, take her and be satisfied.” The mother’s face was stone, knowing that such deceptions were not uncommon in Communist-run hospitals “Unwrap her now, show me her birthmark.” Their refusal apparent, she deftly unfolded the swaddling clothes, and, seeing the pinprick of discoloration on her daughter’s thigh, was relieved. The girl grew to be the apple of her father’s eye, sitting often with him as he peeled the sweet fruit; him holding out the coils for her to gnaw on and listen to his gravelly voice intone tales of the old days.
The little girl was destined to be less than ladylike, what with three rambunctious and boisterous boys as brothers. She was nevertheless a cherished child, whose long flaxen hair was brushed every night by her mother’s calloused hands in their small hut in the hills of Parva. But who was to know, that fateful day, on the lonely hillside with just the bleating of sheep for company, that she would breathe her last? That the maiden would be struck down, struck dead by that bolt of electricity from the heavens. Her name meant resurrection. Her youngest brother, the adventurous Nelu, endured a train ride home for her funeral, the window pane streaked with winter rain and his tears. The mother’s hands became idle over time, the father’s voice cut short by the loss of his only daughter.