The body of the Mother carried on growing. She became less comfortable. The shine went from her hair. The tremendous energy had begun to wane, as she found her now huge form harder and harder to move.
She could feel the baby moving almost all of the time now. What before had seemed a neat trick, a sweet moment, now became an annoyance. The outline of the foot appearing on the belly now meant a kick in the stomach, heartburn or an uncomfortable feeling under the ribs.
She found it difficult to eat. There was no room for her food. The baby was taking up all of the space inside.
She moved less, and when she did move, she felt heavy and ugly.
I’m glad he went, she told herself. I’m glad he can’t see me like this.
‘The head is engaged,’ said the old woman, one day as she felt the Mother’s belly. ‘The baby will be here soon.’
At times she would walk around their cave home. She had to walk, even though she did not feel like it, because if she didn’t her legs would cramp up and she would have excruciating pains travelling through the whole of her body.
As she walked, she could feel the head of the life inside her bouncing on top of its exit. She was sure that at any second it would just fall out.
I wish the baby would hurry up and come, she thought to herself. I would like my body back.
But then she would feel sick with fear. The old midwife had told her what to expect of the birth. The baby would not just fall out. There were likely to be hours of pain, fluids dripping from her body, blood flowing between her legs, and high temperatures. The baby would not be cute and clean when it appeared. It would be covered in blood, and wrinkled, most likely and with a thick fleshy cord coming from its belly. But the worst thought of all was of that great head, which she could already feel so keenly, forcing its way through that gap so much too small.
There was going to be very little help in the Z Zone. If they had still had all the technology available in the normal zones, it would have been of little use here. Even the Z Zoners, with the exception of Narisja, had forgotten about birthing and she had not practiced it for many years.
The older woman put the Mother through her lessons. She told her how to breathe - shallow for when the pains were sharp and she wanted to push, deep for when she needed to relax. She showed her how to push, how not to put the energy into her throat but to direct it downwards, and so help the baby on its way.
‘Then we will put Him on your breast and give Him His first milk. That is the milk which is rich in nutrients and fights disease,’ she said. She ignored the Mother’s grimace at the word ‘disease’. ‘You have fine breasts,’ she continued. ‘The Child will be well nurtured from these breasts.’
The Mother shivered. She did not like to think of the child sucking at her nipples. It was animal-like. It was barbaric. It was just not done these days.
They still looked at the book. The Mother slowly found herself absorbed by the story. She imagined the people planning their great city and building the tall tower, which would lead them up to God. She saw them as flesh and blood, not just as the paper cut-outs here, though they did look fine in their silver and gold clothing.
‘Read it to me,’ said the old woman. And the Mother read it, from beginning to end. Her eyes skimmed across the Wordtext sections. She did not need to read them. She knew them so well.
She felt more and more uneasy as she came to the part where the tower began to tumble. It looked almost nothing in the pictures, but she could imagine the people screaming, and the children falling then searching in vain for their mothers and fathers in the debris on the ground.
‘Those poor children,’ she said to Narisja
‘You are bound to think of the children,’ said Narisja, ‘in your condition.’
At least they had mothers and fathers, thought the Mother, rubbing her huge belly, unlike you, my poor little one. She tried to stop the tears as she thought of how it might have been if Gabrizan could have been there with her.
‘It is so good that you are here,’ said the older woman. ‘It is so good that you came to the Zone, carrying the Babel book.’ She spoke as if she had not seen the Mother’s tears. But the Mother knew that her old friend understood her pain.
She could move less now, and the dancing had stopped. She had time to think. And she thought of what might happen after the birth. Would Narisja still keep her prisoner here? One day she dared to ask.
‘Narisja,’ she said, ‘what should happen to me and the child after he is born? Should we stay here?’
The older woman stared at her for several minutes. Then she looked away. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. She turned back to the Mother and looked deep into her eyes.
‘The Child will know what is best to do,’ she said. the old woman. ‘We must trust in Him.’
Now it was the turn of the younger woman to look away.
This is nonsense, she told herself. It was just a mistake. They are hiding me behind a prophecy. Then she shuddered again as she remembered that the Stopes programmes had failed, though the Stopes programmes never failed. It was the book, the simple story in which Narisja had so much faith, which had saved her. Nevertheless, she asked herself what sort of life she and the Child would lead here, in the Z Zone.
The days followed the usual pattern. The Mother rested more and more. The older woman completed the chores. One day the Mother woke up, full of energy again.
‘I want to help you to beat the rugs,’ she said to Narisja ‘I want to boil the bean soup and want to move all the dust out of the cave. It must be clean for the sake of the child.’
And she set to, broom in hand. She sang as she worked. She swept and scrubbed, she peeled and scraped. She felt strong. She felt brave. She felt happy. She was reluctant to lie on her bed for the midwife to examine her.
‘I must get on. I must get everything ready for the baby,’ she said.
Eventually she had to let the older woman look at her. There was a fire in the eyes of the midwife as she gently felt around the contours of the swollen belly. The old woman put the listening tube to the lump.
‘Good,’ she murmured. ‘Very good indeed.’
‘May I go now?’ said the Mother and rushed from the bed. She took the feather duster and started to flick it high up the cave walls. Nothing was going to beat her.
Suddenly there was a sharp pain in the small of her back. She dropped the duster and held her breath, trying to count the pain away. Something warm trickled from the space between her legs. She saw the blood dripping to the floor. A gush of water, warm and steaming, which she could not control splashed around her feet. Then came the second pain.
The old woman smiled.
‘Good,’ she said. ‘It is time.’