The streets were pale in the light of dawn; vivid blues, greens and yellows faded to pastels, buildings washed in heavenly bleach. I followed Prakash to the auto rickshaw. “What time was the child born?” I asked.
“An hour ago.” He set his lips into firm lines and I sensed the subject was closed.
What can be wrong? I wondered as we wound our way through narrow lanes. The area was deserted but in a few hours, the bazaar would open; an extravagance of jewellery, beads and baskets, silks, saris and flowers. I came here every day, searching for the best fruits and vegetables for patients at the mission clinic.
I tried another topic. “Is Mala alright?”
“As well as can be expected.”
I gave up and watched as the outskirts of Mumbai merged into better areas. The streets were still tight but white-washed homes followed graceful curves and arches curled over patches of lawn and bursts of crimson flowers. Prakash took an abrupt right and pulled up in front of a rambling two-storey structure.
“Jump out here.”
His tone was harsh and I stared after him as he drove the rickshaw round the back of the property. As Mala’s elder brother, he had taken her into his home after her husband died a few months earlier.
I rearranged the parcel under my arm and started towards the front door. The sun was peeping over the horizon and humidity hung thick like a blanket, heavy with the scent of jasmine. “Thank you for new mercies, Lord. Thank you for wisdom.” My whispered prayer was interrupted by the emergence of a withered figure with a wispy grey plait.
“Go away,” she hissed, as she scurried past. “We have no use for your God here.”
I ignored her, guessing she was the midwife, and stepped into the house. “She’s in here.” Prakash’s wife ushered me into a tiny room where Mala lay against a pile of pillows.
“Jody.” Her voice was weak, frail.
“What’s wrong, Mala? Is the baby sick?” I laid the package down and pulled a chair up to her bedside. Her eyes were deep pools of sorrow.
“It’s a girl, Jody, and she’s deformed. Prakash wants her to die.”
A sick feeling gripped my gut. I’d heard of infanticide, of the age-old practice of allowing female babies to die by starvation or worse. A deformity would only intensify the situation.
“She’s all I have left of my husband.” she whispered. “I can’t do that to her.”
Show me what to do, Lord. Mala had adopted Jesus as one of her gods but hadn’t made a clean break from Hinduism.
“Where is she? Let me have a look.”
Mala indicated a bundle of rags lying in the corner. “The midwife wouldn’t clean her.”
I picked the bundle up, pulling soiled cloths back to reveal a wrinkled-nut face, topped with a mat of black hair. A deep surge of emotion swept through me. “She’s beautiful, Mala.” I peeled off another layer, not knowing what I’d find beneath the rags. “Her arms and hands are perfect... and her legs and...” I saw what the problem was. The infant had a club foot, bent inwards at a most unnatural angle. “We can correct this, Mala. The doctors at the clinic will put casts on and do surgery and in time she’ll be able to walk.”
A flicker of hope merged with the exhaustion in her eyes.
I cradled the child to my chest as she whimpered. “Can I clean her for you?”
I turned to Prakash’s wife who was hovering by the door. “Please bring me a basin of warm water and a towel.” She darted away, disapproval flashing in dark eyes.
“They won’t let me keep her here.”
“We’ll make a plan. Don’t worry.” I immersed the little girl in water, soaping her gently, tenderly washing the damaged foot. “Jesus loves this child more than we ever could, Mala.” I patted the infant dry and dressed her in tiny garments. All the while, an incredible love was building inside me. “Oh, Lord.” I held her against my chest again, dropping kisses on her head, praying out loud for her.
“Jody.” Mala was crying, tears streaming. “I understand. I understand what you’ve been telling me about Jesus’s love.”
I knelt down and placed the baby in her arms. The future was uncertain but God was right in the middle of it...and He’d already used this child to touch a shattered heart.
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