The first time Lana’s baby kicked, Mark had just returned from work. It was almost 6 p.m. Usually at that hour, dinner would be prepared and ready on the table. Yet, ever since Lana’s pregnancy, the food department had been a little disturbed. For starters, Lana was never a kitchen lover as a girl, so getting her to cook without any help was a miracle that only Mark could pull off. Yet, when the nausea started hitting off and the belly burns became as frequent as the headaches, Mark was very likely to come home after a long, tiring day at work with an empty stomach and find no decent food to fill up this stomach.
For the first few days they ordered take out. Then, Leila got in the habit of coming over twice a week to cook for them. Some days, Lana would be so sick that she wouldn’t be able to even heat up the already prepared food. This was one of those days.
On the big, comfy bed, Lana lay uncomfortably on her right side. It was a fiery summer day with a blazing heat which the A/C couldn’t quite conquer. She didn’t move a finger when Mark walked into the room even though she was conscious. He took off his striped shirt – soaked up in sweat as it was – put it in the bathroom and threw himself on the bed. He then untied his shoelaces and tossed the shoes on the floor. Adjusting himself in bed, he also lay on his right side with Lana’s back facing him. He slowly moved up and gave her a kiss on the neck, with his hands moving around her waist.
“I missed you.” He said with his eyes closed.
“Me too.” She muttered almost inaudibly. He could tell she needed some rest, and so did he. Therefore, he thought it best for the both of them to stay like that for a while. Just when his eyes were closed long enough for him to catch a tiny nap, the bed suddenly shook so strongly that for an instant, Mark could’ve sworn it was an earthquake.
He quickly opened his eyes to find Lana on her knees on the bed, with her large, uncombed hair flying around and her arms wrapped around her belly.
“It kicked, Mark.” She joyfully screamed. “The baby; it’s kicking, right now.”
Mark stared at her with dropped jaws and eyes wide open. He was clearly oblivious to what he should do, struck by the magnitude of the event. Lana grabbed his hand and placed it on her moving belly. That was when some sense started coming to the whole thing. His once so strong and muscular hand couldn’t help but melt at touching this weird creature. He started laughing hysterically, while Lana picked up the phone beside her to tell her mother of the latest news.
THE FIRST TIME Tonya’s baby kicked, she was breathlessly running on the treadmill in the gym-room at her house. Her breathing was heavy and the sweat went dripping off her face, still she had half an hour to go. The Rihanna song playing in the background pumped her body up with adrenaline and gave her the power to continue. She knew she couldn’t possibly lose weight while nurturing a baby inside of her, but she hoped she wouldn’t gain any more weight, apart from the weight of her baby. It wasn’t for her love of a slim physique, as that was something Tonya never had and never planned on having; however, it was because she didn’t want to look fat on Nadia’s wedding night, which was to take place during the last month of her pregnancy.
As much as Tonya tried to fight this, Marawan, Nadia’s fiancé, was starting his new job in Dubai in the beginning of December, so they had to have the wedding by September maximum to have enough time for the honeymoon and for the pre-immigration procedures. This was a shock to everybody. When Tonya asked her what she would do about her work, for by now Nadia had become one of the most important wedding planners in Cairo, Nadia simply replied:
“They do have weddings in Dubai. I’m sure I’m gonna do even better there.”
Thus, Tonya was faced with the bitter reality of having to choose a maternity evening dress that would make her belly look less swollen than it would definitely be. But that wasn’t enough; Tonya knew that this was to be Nadia’s night – one of the hundreds of nights when Nadia and only Nadia would shine brightly like a star. Still, Tonya wouldn’t be the grocery bag crowding up the ceremony. This was simply the reason why she dedicated a full hour daily to running on the treadmill.
By the beginning of the remaining ten minutes, Tonya felt a strange movement near her belly. She immediately stopped, fearing that she had done something wrong to her baby. That was when she realized that this feeling was more like a tickling than it was pain. With the hand supporting her belly, she could feel the little guy moving around as if he was the one on the treadmill. She satisfactorily smiled to herself and started accurately recording every flicker of sensation she felt at that moment.
Later that night, she stayed impatiently waiting for Mohammad’s return, thinking of all the possible scenarios she could use to tell him of something that could have possibly been the highlight of her entire life. After a full hour of waiting in utmost preparation, the door opened and Mohammad came in. Forgetting all about the speech she had prepared and the scenarios she had painted, the words went rushing out of her mouth, and for a second, she could feel her old, talkative self back. That was the first time they had something to talk about other than Lana and Mark.
IF LITTLE KIDS were most frightened by ghost stories, then aunt Roukaia was Tonya and Nadia’s scariest ghost story of all time. As little girls, they vividly remembered being bizarrely attached to her. They would beg their parents to sleep over at her house, or travel with her to Hurghada during their summer vacation. And she would never mind since she lived all alone in an apartment near Grandma Dodda’s in Manial. Yet, as they grew wiser, and she grew older, they started gradually realizing why their mother was never welcome of this strong bond. Progressively, Roukaia was transformed into their spinster aunt. At some point, they feared that spending time with her might force them to become like her.
As a result, when Nadia turned twenty-seven without yet being married, everybody was worried that she might end up a spinster like her old, unfortunate aunt. Especially when Tonya, who was four years younger, was the first to get married, Ameena became quite hysterical about her elder daughter’s marital status. So the news about Nadia’s wedding was some kind of victory; en event all of them looked forward to and at the same time frightfully dreaded to jinx. Even Dodda, who was probably the one who sympathized with her spinster daughter the most, was deeply grateful that her granddaughter wasn’t doomed to repeat the same scenario.
On the wedding night, and just two weeks before her due date, Tonya remained with her sister in the hotel room where she was dressing up. As the hair dresser was adjusting Nadia’s white, chiffon veil, Tonya stood in front of the mirror to check herself out. Her dress was black, but still she looked fat in it. Her face was swollen and her once so tiny nose was now almost twice its original size. This was not the way she would have wanted to look like at Nadia’s wedding day, she thought to herself. Her only consolation was that Lana, too, was in her third trimester, with a giant stomach and bulging features. However, Lana seemed to be half her (Tonya’s) size, even in that rosy, sleeveless dress she wore.
“Are you ready, sweetheart?” Ameena asked Nadia as she stepped into the room. Tonya quickly turned her face to her mother. She was wearing a purple, studded dress with a taffeta headscarf of a matching color. The dress was cut in a manipulative way which made her plump, short body look both slimmer and longer.
“Yes, how do I look?”
“Like an angel, darling.” Replied her mother with her hand on her chest.
“The dress is perfect, but it would’ve never looked so beautiful if you weren’t so mesmerizing.” Dodda added. She was in a black, glittery dress with a white headscarf. Even though her outfit was very elegant, it failed at hiding her aging features, her wrinkled face, her bent body and her really slow steps. At first, she thought it was best if she didn’t go to the wedding.
Why would I go? So that people would make fun of me? She had said.
But when Nadia begged and begged and blamed her for attending Tonya’s wedding, no questions asked, and refusing to attend hers, she finally changed her mind.
“Now, come on, everybody’s waiting downstairs.” Ameena said as she held her daughter’s veil.
The Zaffa was made up of men drumming and singing and women belly-dancing in Bikini-like suits filled with beads and colorful strips. This large group preceded the couple into the hall where the wedding would take place. Since the Quatb Kitab, which was basically the religious and legal part of the marriage, had taken place almost a week before that night, all they had left was to celebrate their marriage with all their guests. As the men’s strong palms dropped noisily on the oriental drums, Tonya could feel a contraction. She put her hand on her stomach and decided not to tell anybody. By the time the Zaffa was over and the happy couple was on the dance floor performing their first dance, Tonya sensed another contraction. This time Lana noticed her change of face.
“Tonya, are you alright?” she asked loudly to get her voice across all that noise.
She remained silent, patiently holding her stomach and trying to conceal the pain.
“Tonya.” Repeated Lana, this time softly touching her shoulder.
“I’m having contractions.” Said Tonya, in a low voice.
“What? I can’t hear you. The music is so …”
“I’m having contractions.” Repeated Tonya in a voice loud enough to be heard by Baher and Mark who were both sitting on another table. For a moment Tonya thought everybody had heard her, she could sense several eyes looking at her with pity and fear. But when she looked up, she found out that her words only reached Baher, Mark and Lana’s ears.
“My God,” muttered Mohammad, immediately slipping an arm behind her back and using the other to hold her trembling hand. Before he could make any decisions, he felt some water drops splashing on his L.E 1000 shoes. He looked at the drenched shoes, then at her face.
“Yep,” she nodded with tears in her eyes, “my water just broke.”
“Come on,” said Lana motioning for all of them to follow her. “We gotta get to a hospital a.s.a.p.”
“Wait.” Cried Tonya stopping everybody’s movement. “We can’t tell anybody. We’ll just spoil the wedding if we do so.”
“How about we tell your mother that you’re feeling a bit dizzy from the noise and the spotlight, and that you’re gonna rest in your room upstairs?” Proposed Mark referring to Tonya and Lana. “That way nobody would worry.”
It seemed like an agreeable plan. And thus, it was set for execution. In less than five minutes, the four of them were in the entrance of the hotel waiting for the valet to bring Mark’s car. Mohammad was already on the phone with Tonya’s O.B doctor. He hung up just as Mark sped away.
“He said he’s on his way to the hospital.” He informed them. “He also wanted us to time the contractions.”
“They’re less than three minutes apart.” Said Tonya with difficulty.
“Good. He said you won’t be ready for delivery till they’re a minute apart.”
“Oh,” Tonya rubbed her hand against her stomach, with her body bent so that her head rested on the back of Lana’s front seat, “there’s another one.”
Mohammad kept patting her worriedly. “Let’s see how long it would take the following one to come.”
During the trip, Lana, whose seatbelt remained unfastened, turned around to be able to see them. She did nothing but utter some encouraging words to Tonya. Mark, on the other hand, was totally occupied with trying to get to the hospital as soon as possible.
It wasn’t long before they said their goodbyes to Tonya, and waited for her in front of the O.R. She had spent less than an hour in her room before the doctor pronounced it was time to deliver the baby. When asked if he would like to accompany her, Mohammad remained silent.
“Mohammad,” said Lana, “she needs you in there. It’s bad enough that her mother couldn’t make it.”
“I don’t think I’ll handle it.”
“Mohammad, she’s really weak and helpless. You’ll manage.” She waited for him to take action. Nevertheless, he just stood there like a statue.
“Fine.” She turned around quite crossed, “I’ll go in.”
Going away, Mohammad slowly slid over a chair. Mark took the seat by his side and put his arm around Baher’s shoulder.
“Don’t worry, man. She’s gonna be alright.” He said calmly.
Mohammad looked at him. He tried to delve deep into his face; see if he had the slightest expression of worry or distress. Tonya would always tell him that there remained a part of Mark, small as it might have been, which still loved her and cared about her. He had already done his best in search of this microscopic part on his own wedding day. And there he was, looking for it again. And there he was, admitting his failure, again.
As he looked away, he felt a vibration in his jacket pocket. He picked up his cell phone and glanced at the screen.
“It’s dad.” He sighed, looking at the ceiling with the phone in his hand.
“I’ll take the call.” Offered Mark grabbing the phone.
Just as he was about to answer it, Mohammad advised him against telling Mr. Baher about Tonya’s delivery.
“He’s gonna find out anyway. And then he would blame you for not allowing him to come.” Reasoned Mark. “I’ll tell him not to tell her mother. But I can’t not tell him that his grandson’s about to come to life.”
Mohammad made a careless gesture with his hand and left Mark’s side. He stood by the O.R door regretting not going in. He knew that Lana’s words were right; that deep down, she would’ve wanted him with her. He remembered her trebling hands, her tearful eyes, but her freaked out voice was what he remembered best. He could almost hear it ringing in his ears; deafening him.
For some unknown reason, he didn’t feel like a husband expecting his newborn, but rather as a teenager who had messed up and was now waiting for the punishment of his mistake. Never before had he thought about having this baby for real; raising it, taking care of it, watching it grow and providing for it. For the first time it struck him; he was going to be a dad and he wasn’t yet ready.
Suddenly, flashes of all his fights with his father played in front of his eyes. His mother’s image was still fresh in his mind: dead in the bathtub after a fight with his father; a fight which he overheard from his room even though it was at the other side of the house. He still heard her voice screaming and his father’s voice shouting, he had envisioned the slaps he overheard as they struck his mother’s face. The sound of the glass breaking was louder and stronger than the sound of the thunder coming from his bedroom window. It was a night he spent his entire life trying to get over, yet constantly seeming to relive.
He remembered this one time when he was a little boy, probably four or five years old, when his mother told him of the love saga that took place between her and his father.
If they had loved each other so, yet he wasn’t capable of becoming a good husband and father, how could I ever turn out any better? He wondered.
“Speaking of the devil.” He muttered to himself as he saw his father approaching them. Before he could greet him, the door of the O.R. swung open and out came the doctor followed by Lana.
“Are they ok?” he asked rushing towards them.
“Congratulations.” Said the doctor smilingly as he patted him on the shoulder. “She just delivered you a beautiful, healthy boy.”
His eyes turned to Lana, who was wearing scrubs. The cap covered up her tied hair and her wide smile revealed her large, bunny-like front teeth. “She’s waiting for you inside.” She said with extreme happiness. “And he looks just like you.” She added laughing.
“That’s a blunt lie.” He said smiling back as he moved quickly to Tonya.
An air of fervor overtook him. His eyes moved straight towards the little piece of flesh wrapped in a white sheet in Tonya’s arms. The nurse was helping her hold him.
“Are you the father?” the nurse asked him.
“He is.” Said Tonya slowly, yet joyously. She looked very different from the way she had just looked the last time he saw her. Her make up was now totally wiped off her face; her hair was curling – due to being wetted by sweat – near her hairline. A captivating, vibrant smile was drawn upon her exhausted face. It was a smile he could hardly recall; one of satisfaction, gratitude and clarity.
Some strange feeling was caught creeping to his heart, a feeling towards her which he had never felt before. Perhaps it could have been passion, or maybe acceptance. Ever since she got pregnant, he stopped seeing her as only a partner in his vengeance and began seeing her as an incubator, merely an incubator to his unborn child. But now, she was the mother of his baby, the baby who – as much as he hated to admit it and tended to disbelieve it – resembled him in many ways. And that made all the difference to him.
THE NEXT COUPLE of weeks were probably the best weeks Mohammad had lived. Except for the little incident with the baby’s name, (since Tonya announced in front of his father that she wanted to call the baby Ali after his grandpa – something which Mohammad was definitely opposed to and at the same time powerless to take back) he couldn’t have wished for better times. He didn’t care about the number of times he was awakened in the middle of the night by little Ali’s loud cries. Even though they had a nursery right next to their bedroom which had been prepared especially for him, they both couldn’t let him off their sight for one moment. Therefore, they got him an extra bed in their room and he got into the habit of sleeping in it.
By his second week, his features became a bit clearer. He had his father’s small, hazel eyes and his mother’s rather thin-lipped mouth. His nose was a combination of both of their noses, for they had almost similar button noses. As for his hair, it was way too early to tell, as they both knew that the hair develops to various styles till it sticks to its permanent shape.
From day one, Mohammad began thinking of all the nice things he wanted to get him; all the moonshine dreams he had for him. He began playing music for him with the purpose of developing further his natural-born musical ear. He decided he would teach him playing the guitar as soon as he was able to properly use his hands. He even started choosing all the songs he would teach him to play. In his eyes, his cherished son was all he wanted from life; he was the most beautiful baby in the entire universe, and no other baby, even if it had been Lana’s baby, would be able to take this title away for him. Many days passed without him thinking about Lana, without talking about her and Mark with Tonya, without craving his revenge so fiercely. The fire within him had cooled down, for a while he even thought it was extinguished, all until the day baby Dana was born.
Again he was standing in front of the O.R door, but this time he was accompanied by Tonya instead of Mark. He still couldn’t get the image of Mark crying as he was holding Lana’s hand and leading her to the O.R out of his mind. It was the first time he had ever seen Mark cry. He didn’t cry even at his father’s funeral. This scene triggered some old feelings inside him, some ideas about an unfinished business which still needed to be taken care of. He tried to bury those feelings deep inside.
But they all came afloat when he saw Lana’s little girl. If Ali resembled him, then Dana was a spitting image of her mother. She took after her in her bright, brown eyes, her large nose and defined jaws. Even her hair was of the same color. Tonya said she looked more like Mark. Probably so, for Mark and Lana looked more like they were brother and sister. But no, Dana’s face was small and oval like Lana’s, not square-shaped like Mark’s.
As Tonya tenderly held the baby, Mark stood beside her and kissed his daughter’s tiny hand. This moment brought Mohammad five years backwards, back to the day he was introduced to Mark’s new girlfriend; Tonya. He tried to remember Ali’s warm smile, the one he would put on his face when being tickled. Mohammad always said that this was Ali’s best look ever. Yet, Dana looked more appealing to him.
She should’ve been my daughter. He heard the words loudly bellow in the back of his mind.
“Excuse me. I need to use the restroom.” He said rushing hastily towards the restroom and locking the door behind him. He opened the tap to its full, took a handful of the running water and splashed his face with it. He then looked up. The Dorian Grey reflection stared him back in the face. He hadn’t seen this one in a while; for a moment there he thought it was gone forever. But there it was again, telling him it’s not over.