But the outside world was quickly fading away as Azar's pain grew worse. She could no longer hear anything, nor was she aware of what was around her. The waves of pain had hurled her into a space where nothing else existed, nothing except an agony so acute and unbelievable that it felt no longer part of her but a condition of life, a state of being. She was no longer a body; she was a space where everything writhed and wriggled, where pain, pure and infinite, held sway.
She didn't know how long the man waited for her answer about the leaflets; it never came. She was only half conscious when she heard him close what sounded like a notebook. She knew the interrogation was over. The sense of relief was almost dizzying. She didn't hear the man get up but did recognize his slip-slapping away. Soon she heard Sister's voice telling her to get up. Azar stumbled out of the room, down the corridor, flanked by Sister and someone who felt like a nurse. She could barely keep their pace. She lumbered along, bent almost double, breathing quickly. The handcuffs felt unbearably heavy on her wrists. They went down the flight of stairs. The sound of women's wails once again filled Azar's ears.
"Here we are," the nurse said as they came to a stop.
Sister unfastened the handcuffs and took off Azar's blindfold.
She climbed on a narrow bed in a roomful of nurses and a doctor. The wall on her right side was dazzled by the afternoon sun. In a lull between contractions, Azar sank heavily in her exhaustion, her arms lying slack on the bed, watching the smooth skin of sunlight as she submitted herself to the hands of the doctor checking her.
Sister stood next to the doctor, looking on in silence. Azar refused to look at her. She refused to acknowledge Sister's presence there, wished to forget it completely. Not only Sister but everything Sister's presence meant: Azar's captivity, her solitude, her fear, giving birth in a prison. She was now a foreigner, surrounded by people who saw her as an enemy to be tamed and defeated, who saw her very being as an obstacle to their power, to their own understanding of right and wrong, moral and immoral. People who loathed her because she refused to take what they offered as what she had fought for; people who saw her as their foe because she refused to accept that their God had all the answers.
Azar wanted to close her eyes and pretend she was somewhere else, in another time, another place, another hospital room, where Ismael was standing next to her, caressing her face, looking at her with concern, holding her hand and not letting go, and her parents were outside, waiting, her father pacing up and down the corridor, her mother clasping her hospital bag between tense fingers, sitting on the edge of the chair, ready to careen into the room when needed.
Here, she could thrust her hand out and it would come back with nothing. Emptiness. She was completely alone.
"The baby's turned." She heard the doctor's voice and looked down at her stomach. The taut lump that had appeared somewhere close to her belly button now looked as if it had climbed up to the space between her breasts.
The doctor turned to the two women behind her. "We have to push it down."
Azar's mouth went dry. Push it down? How? The women, who appeared to be midwives, moved closer, their wrinkled faces and hands reeking of the province, of remote villages at the bend of narrow muddy roads. They were holding torn pieces of cloth in their hands. Azar almost gasped with fright. What did they want with those torn pieces? What were they going to do? Gag her to keep her screams from reaching outside? The women looked at Sister, who grabbed one of the torn pieces of cloth and showed them how to tie Azar's leg. Azar winced at the touch of those moist, calloused fingers tethering her to the bed railings. The women looked hesitant but eventually went ahead with the job. One of them grabbed Azar's legs, the other her arms. Azar jolted with a fierce thrust inside her. The lull was over; the pain had returned.
Excerpted from Children of the Jacaranda Tree by Sahar Delijani. Copyright © 2013 by Sahar Delijani. Excerpted by permission of Atria Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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