child in arms

Editor’s note: This story was inspired by the true story of the birth of the first boy in a family. The father held a Shab-e-Shash—a celebration on the sixth night after the birth.

Khadicha has awakened early in the morning with labor pains. She sits up and leans on the brown pillow. She can hardly breathe from the pain. Putting her right hand on her big belly she closes her eyes and prays, “You have to be a baby boy, please.”

By late morning, Khadicha is crying from pain. Her three daughters are staring at her helplessly. Mozhda, the oldest, is five years old. When she saw her mother writhing like an injured snake and crying for help, she ran out to call their neighbor, Khala Maryam.

The other girls—Nargis and Mozhda—are three and two and they huddle in the corner of the small bedroom.

***

Nargis has been curious to know what was in her mother’s huge belly, so one morning she got up early and slowly moved her mother’s nightgown away while she was still sleeping, to see what was hidden there. With her little hands she touched her mother’s stomach and it felt very tight and hard. Her mother was awakened by the small cold hands and she pulled her nightgown back.

Khadicha’s husband, Fahim, had left for Kabul the previous day despite knowing that Khadicha was close to her delivery time. When the five of them were sitting around the dinner table, Fahim turned to Khadicha and said that he was leaving early in the morning. She was shocked because she expected him to be with her until she gave birth to their baby.

She was afraid to insist that he stay, but she needed his help until the baby was born. In a soft voice Khadicha started talking, staring at her plate because she was scared to see Fahim’s angry eyes flaring at her.

“When I gave birth to Mozhgan your mother was with me. God bless her, she took care of me for forty days, but this time there is no one, Fahim, and the children are too young to help me. I am a little worried, honestly… would you stay with me for a few days only and then go to
Kabul?”

Fahim was impatient listening to her and he carelessly replied, “You are right—my mother, God may bless her soul, was a kind woman. You know I have to go for work, not for fun. I have to go.”

He harshly put his spoon on his plate and got up to leave the table. He added with a bitter smile, “If you are going to deliver a boy I will stay with you…” and his bitter laughter filled the room. Even the children were silent.

“But I am sure you will not since you can only carry girls in your womb.” Then he pointed to the children who were playing with each other, and added, “Keep in mind what I told you before. I will. Do you understand?” And angrily he left the room.

***

Mozhda runs into the bedroom room with Khala Maryam. She is a skinny old woman. When she sees Khadicha she sighs and says, “Oh, my daughter, what is going on? We have to go the clinic.” She continues in an angry voice, “ Hmm, Fahim is gone, right? He left you again in your hardest time.”

Khadicha is suffering from pain and she can hardly breathe. When she hears Khala Maryam talking about Fahim, she wants to defend her husband, so she tries to get up and says, “No, he had to go. He has important work. Otherwise he would stay here with me and the children.”

She feels annoyed by what she said because she is lying. Before he left, Fahim threatened Khadicha that if she delivers another daughter, she would have to leave his house with her daughters. Fahim said he will remarry if this baby is a girl.

Khala Maryam helps Khadicha get up and tells Mozhda to get her mother’s burqa. Maryam puts Khadicha’s arm on her shoulder and slowly tries to walk with her. Khadicha looks back at her daughters, who have no idea what is going on. The youngest is crying but Mozhda is holding her to calm down.

Khadicha moans, “What about the children?”

“Don’t worry. I will tell Arzu to come here and take care of them.”

By the time they arrive at the clinic, the pain is much worse. The doctor says she will deliver soon. Maryam is in the waiting room. Besides the pain, Khadicha is scared. What if this baby is a girl ? Where will she go with four daughters? She is twenty-seven years old. How will she raise them without a father? She tries to think positively. “Maybe Fahim was joking. He will not kick us all out; they are his children, too.”

But negative ideas get the upper hand and she remembers Fahim’s behavior after each girl was born. He blamed Khadicha and he beat them all and shouted.

***

He had never held or kissed them. He told Khadicha that she only had enough capacity to bring weak-minded females. Khadicha was alone most of the time with the little girls. Fahim went to Kabul all the time because he didn’t like to spend time with his wife and the children. This is Khadicha’s last chance, she has to give birth to a baby boy. Otherwise, she can’t imagine her own and her children’s future.

These thoughts hurt her more than the pain. She starts to scream and the doctor comes to help Khadicha to deliver her fourth baby. Afterwards, she can hardly open her eyes. She feels nothing, then suddenly she remembers everything.

She remembers she was expecting a baby. She moves her head and sees the nurse standing by her and smiling. Khudicha’s heart pounds. She is afraid.

The nurse says, “Congratulations, you have a baby!” Khadicha doesn’t know what to say. She knew that she would have a baby. When she talks her voice shakes. “Is it a boy or a girl?”

The nurse almost shouts, “A boy! You have a son!”

Tears fall from Khadicha’s eyes. She laughs and cries at once and she thanks God for his mercy on her and her daughters. They can stay in Fahim’s house and will not be kicked out.

***

Fahim arrives home right away. He heard about his son in Kabul and came immediately back. Fahim names his son Navid, and he holds him all the time and calls him his only child. He is so excited he decides to celebrate his son’s birth by preparing a big party called a Shab-e-Shash.

Khadicha lies in her bed not feeling well at all. Her three daughters are sitting next to her. They are watching their father in bewilderment and shock when they see him show all that love to their little brother. Each of them wished to be in his place, in their father’s hugs.

By Shafiqa

Photo: Aref Karimi/GettyImages