Authors: Nuria Solano
The church, which originally had maintained a skeptical attitude, when it saw that couples were stabilized and created families, wisely stopped and turned to consecrate marriages right and left.
In a talk show a philosopher argued: since man lost his faith in God to find it in science, marriages are again what they were hundreds of years ago, an unbreakable bond. Before they were arrangements between families, now it's decided by a dumb machine.
When the subway car doors opened, Rafa stepped out pushed by the maelstrom of squashed people, usual these early hours. A few meters he got to the bottleneck formed before the escalators. Despite the neat and pleasant appearance of all those people who were going to work in the business area of the city, their behavior resembled rather to savages.
Suddenly he saw his friend Antonia standing still against the wall. The strength of the human stream had pushed her to a corner from which it was impossible to access the escalator. With dozens of people flowing against him, Rafa fought against the tide trying to approach her. Antonia's eyes were wide open, showing her terror, and as they met Rafa's eyes, they were filled in tears.
When he finally arrived, they hugged each other without saying a word. Rafa embraced her with his arm, made his way through the crowd and finally got to the stairs. Antonia wore her sunglasses to hide her tears.
“What were you doing there?”, Rafa said. “Didn't we arrange to meet upstairs?”
“I do not know”, said Antonia still confused. “People started coming and I stayed there.”
“You didn't have breakfast, right?”
“Of course not.”
“And how your stomach?”
“Awful, but is my least concern now.”
Once outside, they walked slowly and Rafa kept talking.
“I'm sure you didn't sleep at all.”
“Very little, but I wish I wouldn't sleep at all, I had horrible nightmares.”
“I can imagine...”
Antonia knew that Rafa wanted to talk to ease the situation up, and she answered him knowing that it was useless. She felt that she could lose her temper again at any moment, as it had happened in the subway.
At last they arrived, somehow reluctant, to the lobby of a building. Above the door, a discreet sign said simply: Clinic
They gave her name to the receptionist and they were shown into an empty waiting room. It was very early.
They sat down, and after about ten minutes a woman with downcast eyes arrived. She muttered a "good morning" without raising his eyes and sat across the room. Soon came a man carrying some papers and sat with her. All were silent. A few minutes later a nurse came and called Antonia by her name and last name. With a shift in her heart she stood up to follow the nurse, but suddenly she became terrified and looked at Rafa. Then she looked at the nurse, and back to Rafa.
“Don't worry”, said the nurse. “Now we'll just do some tests.
While Antonia was away, more women in panic kept arriving with poorly disguised expressions, accompanied by men, and sometimes, other women. When Antonia came back, the room was almost packed.
“What happened?”, Rafa said.
“I have been asked a couple of things and I had a sample blood taken to analyze. I have been told that they'll perform on me an ultrasound to confirm ...
Antonia was suddenly surprised seeing so many people around. Women from any social class were gathered there. Despite having more than fifty people in the room, there was a deathly silence. After the woman who came after them, the rest of the people had entered the room without greeting or looking, as if this situation was more common for those who were already waiting, as for those who entered. The silence of the room with open windows was interrupted now and then with the chirping of morning sparrows and the sound of people passing by the street. They were on the first floor, and they could hear everything going on outside. Nearby, there was the sound of some women chatting. The peculiar sound of small plastic wheels on the sidewalk revealed the baby stroller pushed by one of them, and suddenly, the cry of a baby came sharp and clear in the room. The faces of women in the room twisted in a more horrible grimace of pain and guilt (if that was even possible).
After a while they called Antonia. But this time she went a little calmer, knowing it would be only for the ultrasound.
Women started watching Antonia when they realized she was the first, and everything she was doing, it would come about to the others later.
Rafa was too nervous to read boring magazines so he observed discreetly people around. There was a mulatto woman very attractive, stunning. She was by herself. Rafa ventured to think she was a prostitute. A young Chinese woman was accompanied by her mother. There was another girl, very discreet, who was unable to conceal her origin; everything from the pose to the clothes, or the high ponytail, gave away her upper status. Beside, her boyfriend was well dressed, as if he had escaped the law firm to go be with her.
There were three people of Romanian origin. A couple that would be about forty, and a another woman who seemed the wife's friend or relative. No one would understand what they were saing in Romanian, but still they talked to their ear very quickly in a low voice. The husband was wearing a track-suit and had overweight. She was also obese, dressing in gray and black, with no makeup and her hands were spoiled from hard work. Suddenly, the other woman whispered urgently in her ear, and the wife was slightly altered. She glanced furtively around at her and, with some effort, pulled the wedding ring finger. When she put it in the bag her face showed a sigh of relief.
There were also South American women ,and girls who were quite young, accompanied by friends. Antonia returned.
“What happened?”, Rafa asked.
“Nothing, after the ultrasound they confirmed I'm... Next they'll call me to see a psychologist.”
“And what are you gonna say? You're supposed to explain your reasons or something. Right?”
“I don't know, I will say I can't have it and that's it. I'm not ready and could not keep it economically. Anything ... I'll say anything...”
Antonia was feeling thick headed. She had had very little sleep during the last week and too many thoughts collapsing her. It was more than anyone could take. Even there, in the clinic, in the process, she kept asking herself how was it possible that she had become pregnant. It could only have been that night, nearly three months ago, with a man she met at a nightclub. She didn't answered his phone calls in the following days. She was thirty-three, she had had many intercourses during her life, and she had always been very careful. However it had happened, and many ghosts have emerged asking questions to which she did not want to answer. One of her biggest concerns was the moment when it was happening. At her age, this might be the first and last time she'd get pregnant. Maybe she was throwing away her only chance to have a child. She knew it wasn't. It was not possible tho have a child now, but despite that rational certainty, she could not remove some doubts from her mind. Maybe everything was part of an ancestral instinct, fighting at all costs to enforce the rules of procreation. But rational thought and the reality of her life were stronger.
Antonia noticed a young girl who was accompanied by a friend. She was very big one and moved like a self-important lady. It was strange to see her acting like she was proud of what she was doing, or as if she had done it many times. Her attitude puzzled Antonia. Suddenly three people came in a big scandal with voices and laughter. They were two women and a man. They sat in one of the few seats that were available and, ignoring everyone, they talked loudly, as if they were in a bar drinking beer. Their language and behavior were filthy. The man and one woman wore track-suits and sneakers, but it didn't seem they would exercise a lot. Everyone looked at them askance, horrified. Rafa was really upset with their attitude. He knew right away that the patient was the woman in the tracksuit, and that she and the man's tracksuit were heroin addicts. As they ran out of jokes, they took some gossip magazines and began to discuss, aloud with laughter, the adventures of pseudo-celebrities. Fortunately, after a while they began to shut up, and made only sporadic comments. Everyone seemed grateful.
Many women had passed the first test, and tension in the air was obvious. In front of them there was a very thin woman sitting with her husband. The woman looked very delicate, and took advantage of its proximity to Antonia and Rafa to find out more accurately about the process she would have to go through later on. Antonia was called again. She was annoyed every time she heard her name called out. She wondered if he could have used a false name. Everyone watched every time her name was pronounced.
When Antonia left, Rafa could see that there was another waiting room adjoining, which also was filling up. Suddenly he thought it was amazing the number of abortions that were performed in one single day, in one clinic. All that was happening was beyond his imagination, and he knew that if he wasn't seeing with his own eyes, he would never have believed the magnitude of that daily drama. It was one of those times when reality surpasses imagination. He knew that if he ever told his friends what he was living (which would not for Antonia's privacy), they'd believe that he was exaggerating everything. Being there and seeing it was the only way to believe it. Although to really understand it, Rafa knew that it was not enough to be there, as he was, because only a woman could.
Antonia came back after a few minutes. She brought several forms in her hand. Now the whole room looked at the documents and watched Antonia and Rafa. Every movement, every gesture, was scrutinized by many eyes, and although they were vaguely aware of it, Antonia and Rafa were too busy to care about the people around, reading the forms that Antonia had to sign agreeing to proceed with the intervention.
The form indicated broadly that, as with any surgical procedure, the risks involved process that could come from the anesthesia or having to delve into your body. It specified that these risks were minimized, but in a very low percentage could cause irreversible damage, and even death of the patient. When Antonia read the word "death," her cry broke the silence of the room and went like a knife into all women's minds. Rafa tried to reassure Antonia but saw that it was too late. The damage was done, and all women badly repressed their altered state. He said that it was binding in any surgical procedure and that she already had to know, it was a mere formality and there was no danger. The whispers of Rafa's answers and Antonia were almost inaudible, but everyone was silent like a grave trying to figure out what was so shocking that it made her cry, and that would happen to the other in minutes. Antonia was called again, she signed the forms and left half quiet half stunned. Rafa had pressed his hands against hers and kissed her.
When Antonia left, Rafa could see the devastating effect of Antonia cry in every sense. The posh girl was cross-legged, moving them nervously nonstop, arms tight against the her belly and shoulders hunched. The Romanian woman had put her hands on her face and had lowered her head. The girl who looked like a self-important lady had suddenly become serious and still as a statue, staring into space. The frail-looking lady who stood before them was also still looking at the ground, but the tears flowed in torrents gushing down her face.
Rafa's compassion had spread from Antonia to all women in the room, and the ones that had been the day before, and the previous one, and that would go the next day and the next, and were going to other clinics, and other cities and other countries ...
He was glad to be able to accompany Antonia. If he hadn't done so, she would have gone alone, because hadn't said she was pregnant to anyone, not even the guy who was supposed to be the father, whom, at the end of the day, was just a casual flirt. Only Rafa knew; her lifelong friend.
Time passed and many women were appointed, in and out, everyone nervous, everyone undecided, all of them scared. After an hour and a half, the nurse called Rafa apart to tell him that everything had gone well and that Antonia was in a recovery room, waiting until the anesthesia wears off.
Rafa finally saw the other side of the tunnel, everything that distressed him so much from the time Antonia told him she was pregnant, had passed. For him, it was very simple. Did he have to feel guilty about it? He wondered how Antonia would feel. Maybe some remorse?
A few minutes later he was told that he could go to the recovery room. Antonia was in a chair tilted back and with footrest. She said she was a bit sleepy but she was fine physically. Rafa did not need to ask how she was emotionally. The anxiety was gone from her face, but her eyes seemed to be watching something that was not in the room. No one could say that she was repented about what she had done, but what was clear is that she was not proud of it either.
They were silent for a while. A couple of minutes later Antonia spoke.
“Do you remember the girl who looked like a self-important lady who was in the waiting room?”
“Yes, of course.”
She was with me in the living room where we had to undress and where we were asked to lay down on a stretcher to prepare us. We were both lying waiting, and suddenly she began to mourn inconsolably. Then I realized how young she was. She said she was terrified and that her mother didn't know. She had gotten a friend to accompany her, but she did it reluctantly. Never anything like this had happened to her. She was very afraid.
“Poor thing, she seemed the opposite. But I guess it wasn't good for you that she collapsed while you were about to enter, right?”
“I don't know, I think I forgot about myself when I saw her like that. There we were the two of us, each one lying on her stretcher, waiting. I reached out and we held hands. I told her not to worry, I said everything would be fine, and then they got me in and I left her a little quieter.”
A nurse came in, and after asking a few questions and checking that Antonia was already recovered, she instructed her to visit her gynecologist in ten days. She also gave her some pills in case she'd feel any discomfort.