“Where’s your husband?” The doctor asked as Anna lay on the birthing chair, her hands wrapped tightly around the metal armrest in an effort to calm herself. Anna wasn’t anxious about the procedure, for she had heard all about it from the village midwife, nor was she fearful of the pain, but rather her vexation came from the dreaded phone call the doctor was entitled, in fact obligated to make. “Please!” Anna implored. The nurses cocked their heads aside as if desperate to hear the secrets to be revealed. “Don’t call my husband. He’s not a good man.” Her voice trembled inside the silent delivery room, suddenly accentuating its sullen tension. The doctor glanced at the nurses who averted their gazes, busying themselves with meaningless tasks. He looked at Anna, the young, mid-20’s woman who sat before him, her large brown eyes glistening with tears “Doctor,” she muttered, “these scars are from beatings at home.”
With a gingerly apprehension, the doctor pulled up the hem of the robe, unsure of what to expect. Atop her tan skin were a series of browning bruises, many aligning with fading scars. In the center of this troubling mosaic was a spot that was exceptionally dark in colour and round in shape, almost resembling a hard-boiled egg. The doctor grimaced: this was not the worst he had seen, but it was definitely not a pretty sight. Anna explained, “He pointed his hunting gun at me and hit me with shoes!” Unable to keep up a facade of apathy, the nurses turned to look at the woman in the birthing chair. Some wore an expression of curious sympathy, others that of a weariness that came with a hint of resignation. Perhaps they wondered what atrocities Anna had committed to deserve such a punishment from her husband. “He wants to kill me.” Anna’s voice sliced through the stillness of the room with fragile coldness.
Without a sign of acknowledgement, the doctor signaled to the nurses, washed his hands, put on protective gear, and readied to deliver Anna’s baby. For the first two months, with her newborn baby girl, Anna hid from her husband. She lived in constant fear, staying only within the boundaries of her parents’ house, not daring to interact with anyone but direct family. However, the longer she stayed hidden, the more desperate her husband grew to find her. It was one thing for a woman to disobey her husband, quite another to give birth in secret, running away and hiding their child from him. It was an unspeakable wrongdoing in their traditional community. Anna did not know what would happen if he ever found her and their daughter. She certainly did not wish to find out.
“Mama,” Anna whispered, her supple hands wrapped around her mother’s wrinkly hands. “I can’t live like this.” Her mother’s trusting gaze met Anna’s with a dreaded sense of understanding. “And I won’t let my daughter grow up like this.” Anna felt her mother’s hands tighten around hers before longingly reaching for the warm bundle of a baby that slept in her lap. Without the comfort of the baby in her lap, Anna felt vulnerable and empty. In an attempt to quench the perturbation within, she pushed her clenched fists hard down onto her knees. “I know. You have to go,” her mother whispered, her fingers caressing the baby’s face with a gentleness unique to mothers. “You have my blessing.” Unconsciously, Anna’s hands relaxed and mirrored the soft strokes of her mother’s. Up. Down. Up. Down. After all, Anna was still just a woman of twenty, faced with a situation that would make more experienced women crumble.
Anna’s mind drew a perplexed blank. Before she knew it, she stood at the door of the hut, one hand on its worn bamboo handle, the other clutching her travel documents. She couldn’t take her eyes off the elderly woman and the precious bundle in her arms. Her mother and her daughter meant the world to Anna. They were the two people in her life that she would be willing to sacrifice everything for, whom she loved and trusted unconditionally. Yet there she stood, about to abandon them at their most fragile, when they depended on her the most. Almost in a guilty attempt of self-justification, Anna tried to reason with herself. If she stayed, her husband would eventually find her, and if that nightmare came true, there would be no saying what would happen next …
With that thought, Anna took a deep breath, savouring the familiar smell of boiling milk in the kitchen. She looked around for the last time at the only home she knew, then stepped out the door. As the saying goes, “when one door closes, another one opens”, and for Anna, this was the gateway to Hong Kong. Today, Anna has started her own family in Hong Kong and is the mother to two children.
Submitted By Vania Chow