Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: India (02/12/09)
TITLE: Moon-face in the Light
By Beth Muehlhausen
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On an appointed day, twenty-year-old Chitrita – whose name meant “beautiful” – delivered her second child on a dirty mat just inside the door of her thatched hut.
“Another girl? Girls mean trouble – how can I raise two? A second dowry would be impossible.” Her face fell as she choked back a sob. She instinctively held the whimpering newborn to her breast and peered into the child’s round little face to study its perfectly-developed eyes, nose, and pursed lips. “I will name you Indumukhi, because you have a moon-like face.”
Chitrita sighed deeply and handed the spindly, fragile form to her friend who had agreed to serve as a midwife. Purplish-red blood covered the mat and dripped to the floor, but she seemed oblivious to her own needs. “This baby will only suffer. Girls always suffer. So I will get rid of her.” She spoke quietly, as if to herself. Her friend nodded, recognizing female infanticide among Hindus in India to be a commonplace – if technically illegal - practice.
“Do what you must,” the friend-midwife replied, as she gently wiped Indumukhi’s body with a cloth and swaddled her. With a wistful look she added, “She is beautiful, like her mother.”
Chitrita moaned in reply. Her face grimaced with a depth of emotional pain defying words. She threw her head from side-to-side as if to shake off the reality. “If only this baby had been a boy who could WORK!” She choked back a sob and stared hauntingly into her friend’s face with eyes that mirrored the despair in her heart. “Someone would have fed him milk and eggs; someone would have given him medical care.” As it was, she and her young daughter ate the scraps from the table after the men were finished. Neither of them had ever seen a doctor.
She turned her face to the wall. “Put Indumukhi here beside me. You can leave whenever you want.”
On the day of Indumukhi’s birth, her mother never suckled her. Chitrita’s mothering instincts, as strong as they were, paled compared to her stiff resolve to choose death over life for her child. Periodically she whispered convincingly to the baby lying next to her. “No no, little moon-face, you must not eat – for you see, you are not meant to live. It would be a mistake to help you stay alive.”
As hours passed, Indumukhi wailed with the frantic insistence known to newborns. And yet her mother intermittently offered only the tip of her finger as a pacifier to quiet her screams. Each time this happened, Indumukhi sucked frantically with renewed hope, drawing the finger deep into her mouth. And each time her face wrinkled with mounting disappointment, and she yowled her message to the world: “HELP! I must have food!” Still, Chitrita never relented. She would starve her baby to death.
All through the night the man-in-the-moon looked down compassionately. Moonlight streamed in the door of the hut for several hours, exposing the mother and her castaway child, spotlighting their hopelessness. Chitrita stared back at the white orb, her only companion in the midst of her lonely travail. “Moon – you understand, don’t you? This has to happen. Perhaps somehow after she dies you will still look upon my little Indumukhi – my little moon-faced girl.”
The following day Chitrita continued to deny Indumukhi food or water. The baby’s face displayed terror interrupted only by short, tear-stained bouts of restless sleep.
By the third day, exhaustion, dehydration and weakness had taken their toll, and yet Indumukhi’s famished, hoarse cries continued. In a split second of panic, a single desperate moment in time, Chitrita decided to hurry the process. She offered Indumukhi a deadly potion: the milky sap of a toxic bush growing nearby. Indumukhi’s nose bled soon after, and she died later in the day.
Chitrita and a few female neighbors buried Indumukhi’s body in a shallow grave near Chitrita’s small hut. The women sympathized with her loss, but also confessed they would have acted similarly in the same situation.
Meanwhile, in another dimension, angels welcomed Indumukhi into eternity. “Come, beautiful moon-faced baby, come meet the Lord of life. You belong to Him, even though your mother and father never knew Him. This makes no difference; you are His!”
There in heavenly places, in a moment-beyond-earthly-time, Indumukhi experienced something much brighter than earthly moonlight. She basked in a Light that would never tolerate the darkness and evil that she’d experienced on earth: a Light called perfect love.
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