Mai Ling gently rubbed her hand over her swollen stomach, feeling the baby kick. “Soon, little one, soon. I can’t wait to hold you and see you,” she murmured, enjoying the feel of the baby’s foot – or was it a knee – pressed hard against her hand.
It had been a difficult pregnancy. Unlike previous pregnancies, this time she had felt sick from morning to night. Even now, with the time for the birth approaching, she still felt sick. She wondered when was the last time she had eaten properly. But the baby seemed to be growing: the rounded mound beneath her ribs attesting to that.
She sighed and tried to make herself comfortable. Life was good. Outside she could hear her older two children playing happily. Her husband had worked hard and this year they had good crops. This year they would sell at market.
Yes, life was good. And very soon, it would be even better. She smiled as the baby kicked vigorously. How wonderful it would be when this baby finally arrived!
Mai Ling struggled to understand the doctor’s words. The dialect was different to the one spoken by her village: harsh and jarring instead of light and musical.
She closed her eyes. She was tired. Oh so tired and all she wanted was to go home. The baby kicked, taking her by surprise. The baby had been quiet recently – so quiet that she knew it would soon be time.
Pulling her attention back to the doctor she tried to make out his words.
“China … population control. No space. No room for more people. Do you understand?”
Yes she understood, but what did that have to do with her? She was here because they had told her the mobile clinic would give her the health and care she and her baby needed. Why was he telling her all this?
The doctor moved onto another patient, and someone who looked like a government official thrust his face into hers. She trembled. They had heard about these officials. Occasionally one or two had come to the village and the villagers would try to hide. They never brought good news. What was one doing here now?
“You. You have two children already. No more. NO MORE. You cannot have this baby. You have broken the law. We deal with this. Now.”
Suddenly she understood. She’d heard stories, but no one really believed them. As the baby stirred within her she started to cry. No, they would not take her baby. It was hers. It was real. She loved it.
They had room for another baby. There was space where they lived – space in their village for many more children. She would not give this baby up.
The afternoon dragged on. Again and again the official returned demanding that she agree to the procedure. She struggled with sleepiness – afraid that if she fell asleep they would take her baby while she slept.
Where was her husband? Where were her other two children? How did they know she already had two children? Had one of her neighbors betrayed her?
The shadows lengthened and Mai Ling started to fret. She should be at home preparing the evening meal. She should be caring for her older children. Who was looking after them? Did anyone even know where she was?
It had been hours since she had first been brought here. The nurse had seemed so kind – there was no sign of her now. She hadn’t seen the doctor for a while. Just the official. She turned her head and realized with a start that she was the only woman left. Had they let all the other women go home?
“You are breaking the law. You are refusing to submit to our authority. You will be punished.”
Tears slid down Mai Ling’s cheeks as the official once again stood directly in front of her assaulting her with his words.
“There is no room for any more children. No room. You will consent.”
Mai Ling shook her head as the tears fell more heavily.
The doctor approached.
“Mai Ling, everyone else has gone home. You are being stubborn. What are we going to do?”
She closed her eyes in pain. “I just want to go home.”
Mai Ling missed the signal that passed between the doctor and the government official.
“Go home you shall. Are you ready now?”
“Yes,” Mai Ling whispered. “Yes, I’m ready now.”
And all heaven wept.
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