That lady from 'Ready Steady Cook' kept saying how her kids used food only as a fuel in spite of all the gourmet influences of their mom. Walking through the rain down Farquhar Road with the walkman blaring full blast in my head, I was trying very very hard not to think what was happening back in that clinic. The doctors were getting rid of something that was exactly half mine. Was it a boy or a girl, it just couldn’t be a fetus,
Could it?? I kept saying it is just a bundle of organic issue in my head, almost like chanting a mantra, but it just wasn’t working. Earlier I had gotten off the bus because all of a sudden I felt extremely claustrophobic and felt like choking. I kept saying it was just for the best, I didn’t love her anymore, I want a divorce eventually, I wanted an uncomplicated life, over and over again. Couple of years ago, when I found out that I was adopted, all I wanted was something really of my own. A baby seemed to be the only thing that would fill that need. Something, that without dispute, would be mine. Here was the chance, and it was being ripped out.
The clinic had the décor of a nice bed and breakfast. It had a garden courtyard, which in its previous reincarnation was probably the stable of a huge Edwardian estate, that were all over Edgbaston. The waiting room had well stocked men’s magazine on racing and sports. Not my forte. There were plenty of women’s rags as well, but nothing on news or current affairs. The ‘operation’ would last the entire morning. She would not be ready to go home till late afternoon, after waking up from general anesthesia and a cup of tea. Couple of weeks back, when she came back from the doctors and announced that she was pregnant, I felt very calm, yet elated. I knew the storm that was about to descent upon me. It was an accident and it was my fault, I was told. I also knew the topic of the upcoming conversation. I would be given the choice of either full time fatherhood at the expense of any job prospects, or she would be getting rid of it. She would not do both. She was not go through the motions of pregnancy and carry on with her full time PhD. She had worked too hard all her life to get to this stage, and she was not going to put it on hold. It was her body and she was the one who would have to go through all the discomforts for 10 months. There was no arguing. My fault, my callousness, and therefore my ‘burden’. I looked at her and I saw a face of ice cold steel. I was boiling inside. Ever since getting married, I was making the compromises. Now my career would be on hold again. Could we do both? No, she said, yes, said I. I asked her to make an appointment with her GP asap.
The doctor smiled and congratulated us. I said she wanted a termination. She had hesitated. The doctor’s face became stern and asked her what SHE wanted, as if I was the typical bully husband who did not want to cramp up our swinging lifestyle. I wanted to scream and almost said that wasn’t fair, but I didn’t. She opened her mouth finally and explained the crucial nature of her Ph.D. The doctor, a female, avoided looking at me altogether, after giving me an accusing look with flared nostrils and raised eyebrows . There was a bit of a queue for terminations in the NHS. However this private clinic was just around the corner….
We met for lunch on campus and decided to call the clinic. A big deal, this eating of lunch outside, she was quite parsimonious. We needed to go in for further tests to confirm etc….she did that all by herself without even letting me know. Over dinner that night, it was a very casual statement…’This old doctor had to put his finger inside …….’. Apparently the date had already been set. Exactly a week after from that day….
We went early in the morning. We paid the money and she was taken upstairs. Pink walls with Laura Ashley trimmings all over…
There was this conference in France sometime back on human rights. I found myself supporting the groups in favour of abortion but against the ones who asked for termination on demand under public health care. My argument was, it was the women’s body which went through the process of procreation. Men’s contribution in that whole process was rather very short term and therefore ‘they’ had the ultimate authority for choice. That was 10 years ago. I still believed in this thing called ‘choice’. Yet here I am, staring at the ceiling with the Tudor beams, thinking that I must have failed as a husband in the conventional sense since I could not ‘make’ her keep the baby.
The baby would have been playing with me now on the couch if it was…
She and I, we made a decision never to talk about it. Before that, after the ‘decision’ was made, I made up my mind as well that things would be treated as normal. Then she started having nausea and morning sickness and the whole bit. She wanted me to be sympathetic and wait on her. She had to have chicken soup, right NOW. Her feet felt funny; could I prop it up on a pillow and scratch it, please???? I made some chicken soup with lemon grass, ginger, and shaved carrots the next day. But she wanted it yesterday. She would not eat it. She would not even talk to me. She kept screaming it was all my fault. It must have been. After all, it did take two to tango. The after-effects of this particular tango were driving me nuts.
Two days later we went to her favourite Balti joint on Bristol Road. She was in an exceptionally good mood. So was I, but I was pretending and so was she. Here we were celebrating a ‘termination’, the opposite result of which would have been someone calling me Dad. She ordered some kind of tandoori dish for both of us. Couple of days back, there was some kind of protest in front of the clinic, with the picture of an aborted fetus all blown up and spread all over the entry of the clinic. The food just would not go down the throat. I asked for some ice-cream instead. I did not even want to look at her face, the face of the future Professor Nobel Laurate… I wanted to go home. I wanted to go the toilet and have a cry, I wanted to finish a bottle of gin all by myself, I wanted to go for a swim. I did not want to sit there eating tandoori with that woman, my wife, I did not want go back to the same room with her and share a bed that night, I did not want to look at her face and see her Dale Carnegie smile while she talked about the latest gossip about her colleagues. I wanted to puke. The whole ‘post termination feel good dinner’ was a bit too surreal for me….I wanted to go home, but she lived in that place as well, I just wanted to run down by the canals and keep walking till I came across some open meadow or something of that sort. All that walled enclosure with the tacky Bengal décor was very suffocating, food would not go down the throat…. at that moment I really wished I could fly….fly above the Birmingham skylines of steeples and red brick chimneys and far into the permanent grey skies over the British Isles till I found the sun somewhere burning bright….