Laura sat down at Magonlia’s table in her one-room home. She pulled a pregnancy test out of her backpack and told Magnolia that if she wanted, she could take the test right now. Magnolia accepted and headed for the outhouse.
The woman’s three-year-old daughter was enjoying a persimmon that Laura had given her, and her 18-month-old son was wandering the room entertaining himself the way only a child can do. In a few minutes Magnolia returned, test in hand. Laura read the results. Magnolia wasn’t pregnant. Visible relief emanated from her face.
“Were you scared to give birth to your first daughter?” Laura asked, eyeing the three-year-old.
“Yeah, it was a really bad experience. But she’s not my first child.”
Half a memory of something Magnolia once said in passing played at the corners of Laura’s mind.
“My first child died.”
Laura began to remember.
“Was it born dead or was it born alive?”
“I don’t know. They said it was born dead, but I think it was born alive because I could feel it move all the way up to the delivery.”
“Did you see the baby when it was born?”
“No, they didn’t show it to me. When I went to the hospital to deliver, they said I had a problem, and they gave me some strong medication that made me really sleepy. When the baby was born, I asked to see it, but they wrapped it up and took it out of the room right away.”
“Did they show it to your husband?”
“No. They didn’t show it to anyone. They took it to the morgue. They said they couldn’t show it to me. The only thing they told me was that it was a girl, but I had had three ultrasounds—one of them in the third trimester—and all three said it was a boy.”
“Didn’t you write a complaint? Why didn’t they let you see the baby or show it to anyone?”
“Well, we didn’t have any money, so we couldn’t do anything.”
“Did the doctors know before you came to the hospital to deliver that you didn’t have any money?”
“Yes. We had visited the hospital a week before to register and to talk with the doctor.”
Sirens were sounding.
Wait, wait, wait, Laura thought. Between what Magnolia was telling her and what Laura already knew of life here, she was beginning to make some alarming connections. Here’s a poor woman giving birth in a village. The doctors knew she was poor. Even though she’s Kyrgyz, she was born in Tajikistan, and she thinks she faces discrimination because of that. Her three ultrasounds confirmed that she was having a boy. A boy in an ultrasound image is not hard to miss, especially in the third trimester. Not being able to have a child is more shameful than having an affair. Provincial hospitals have little oversight. Unless you want additional problems, in many cases it’s better not to get the police involved. If you take something to court, often times the person able to pay the highest bribe to the judge wins the case. If you want to have a successful delivery, it’s often necessary to tip the doctors and nurses. In cash. Nearly everyone else could out-pay Magnolia.
Something was amiss.
Laura asked the question.
“So, do you think your baby really died?”
“I don’t know. I don’t think so. When I went in to deliver, there was a lady sitting right outside the delivery room just waiting with some blankets. I think they gave my baby to her.”
“Did you ever get to see the baby?”
“We asked for the body so we could bury it. A few days later, they gave it to my mother-in-law. She’s the only one who ever saw it. When I finally saw it, the body was already wrapped in a white sheet, prepared for burial. My mother-in-law said she thought it was too big to have been a newborn. Also, it had small cuts on its chest and stomach.”
Laura had seen small children with such cuttings before at the clinic. Sometimes parents take their children to local healers, who make small cuts all over the child’s body in hopes that the child will stop crying so much. At least that was what she’d been told.
“With these two,” Magnolia said, motioning toward her children, “I just stayed home until I was about to give birth. And I didn’t let them give me any medicine.”
Is it really possible that, for a high enough price, the doctors plotted with another family to steal Magnolia’s baby? In the end, of course, we’re left with conjectures and speculations. However, the fact that we’re even asking the question is enough to make you lose all faith in humanity. Your head’s left spinning and you begin asking when you can get off this tilt-a-whirl called life. Except the ride isn’t slowing down.
Personally, we’ve placed our bets on a certain first-century Jewish carpenter. At this point, we’re all in. If he doesn’t come through, we’re damned. In every possible sense of the word. And yet, the more we strain our eyes to see through the sin-stained glass of this world and catch glimpses of the world that’s still to come, the surer we are our that hope is not unfounded. We really believe he’s the one. He’s the guy we’re all desperately longing for.
He’ll come and lift up the humble and strike down the haughty. He’s recorded every tear ever shed by every last injustice, and woe to those who find themselves guilty in his courtroom. His wrath will burn hotter than a thousand suns upon the stealers of babies and the abusers of his dear creation. Justice will be done. And it will be sweet. And it will be fearsome.
If not, we’d throw in the towel right now.
Magnolia and her husband will never know justice in this life. They don’t have enough money. However, we truly believe—we must believe or we’d go crazy—that to the extent that they’ve been unjustly treated, their oppressors will one day give a full account to a judge who won’t accept bribes.
We long for that day. Until then, we weep with women like Magnolia. And we don’t lose hope. Not even now.