The doctor spread a blanket over Azar's legs and leaned forward in front of her. "Here we go."
After tying her down, the midwives interlaced their fingers and placed their hands somewhere close to Azar's breasts. Azar watched them, helpless with pain, as her heart pounded wildly in her chest. She was frightened of them, of what they would do to her, to her child. Was this even a proper hospital? Who were these women, and where had they come from? Did they know what they were doing?
She heard herself groan. The women took deep breaths to prepare themselves, like boxers gathering their strength before a fight. Then, wide-eyed and prim-lipped, with those hands that perhaps had squeezed the swollen belly of a cow or tugged at the trembling legs of a lamb, they gave the lump, her child, a hard shove. For a moment, Azar froze with the excruciating violence of that shove. Then a scream, wild and unknown, burst from her throat. A scream so forceful her entire body shook with its echo. She lurched forward, struggling to push the women away from her stomach, her child. Would they squeeze the child dead? Strangle it? Azar couldn't move her hands but tried to thrust her neck forward to bite them as another lurch of pain dragged her back to the bed.
"Push!" the doctor demanded.
The lump was resistant. The women rammed their hands against it, their faces flushed with the pressure of those rough, interlaced fingers. Sweat glistened on their brows, along the lines of their noses. Their mouths twitched as they pressed. Azar felt her body grow cold as another wail erupted through her. For a moment, she saw nothing. When her eyes cleared, she saw that one of the women was standing next to her. She was younger than the other, probably Azar's age, in her early twenties. Her almond-shaped black eyes shone gently. "It's okay," she whispered encouragingly, placing her cold hand on Azar's burning forehead. "We got the baby's head down; now you just have to push." As a fresh pain came, she said, "Your baby's almost here." The woman smiled, but Azar looked at her with wild eyes. She didn't know what it all meant, what the girl was telling her. There was something inside her that was pushing ahead, out of her control. She tensed and released another scream.
"That's it, push. Another one."
Sister grabbed Azar's hand. "Scream! Call God! Call Imam Ali! Call them now, at least!"
The pain soared through Azar, cold and dark. She screamed and clasped the girl's arm. She didn't call anyone.
"It's coming," the doctor shouted. "Good girl, one more push!"
Something was being torn inside her. Torn open and apart.
With her last vestiges of strength, Azar gave one last push. Everything went black. From afar, she heard the weak cries of a baby fill the room.
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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