YEAR 1996 CE
Udia was destined to give birth to the girl who would end the world.
Her screams, intense and ear splitting as the shrill call of a banshee, reverberated through the corridors of the hospital. She flailed with impotent rage at the professional hands that guided the gurney down the length of the corridor.
Spitting crisp commands, a team of doctors and nurses trundled the gurney toward the labour ward. Another group of professionals was present to witness the delivery. It was overdue by a month and three weeks. Their dog collars distinguished them from the doctors, as people who made their professions in Christendom. They all hovered around the doctors, leaving them just enough space to tend the shrieking pregnant woman. Their suits had been covered beneath hospital-issue garments when they had entered the ward.
Udia was still screaming. Their presence did not abate the rawness of the puerperal pains tearing at her abdomen like steel fingers. Her hand held onto Xian’s hand. He stood by the bed trying to offer as much comfort as he could with his tender touch and reassuring hold.
Sweat beaded on her brow as she began to push on the commands of the doctors. Her muscles tensed painfully with each spasm. She obeyed the commands. In just a matter of minutes, the baby’s round crown came through into the light of the world.
A girl. Her softly rounded head was covered with goo. She was carefully transferred from the comfort of her canal into the world to the sterility of a baby pan. A nurse immediately commenced cleaning up the child prior to giving her a first bath.
She passed the fluffy flannel over the delicate skin with care, more care than would have been shown if she were made of porcelain. She wiped the little ruddy face clean of goo, allowing her a rush of air for the first time without the aid of diffusion in the precious liquid comfort of her mother’s womb.
The nurse turned the baby over, then stood stock-still, staring, dumbfounded. One doctor peered over the nurse’s shoulder down at the baby in the pan, then lifted his head and his eyes went straight into those of the obvious leader of the clerical contingents. A message flitted across the sterile space between them.
The contingent from Christendom came over to the pan and looked at the child carefully, with solemn reverence for a full second. The leader turned the baby onto her side. His eyes went straight to the back of her left ear.
And right there was the mark they had been seeking.
It was an intricate pattern in green, barely discernible beside the thin greenish veins fanning out beneath the near-translucent skin. It began with an angular line that rode up into an x mark, the kind of x that served as mathematical variable. The lower right end of the x curved downward, running low and parallel to the first angular line before looping once over itself.
Right beneath that was another mark. One half of the caudal fin of a fish.
For the first time the baby gave out a cry. It was time to act. The leader swaddled the baby up in a flannel. Passing from one hand to the other, the baby made her obscure exit from the ward, down dark corridors that morphed into a grotto. Giant torches lit the dark gloomy interiors. Their refulgence fell on a high table that dominated the middle of the grotto.
She was placed there, helpless and blind to the world. Three blue candles burned at her feet. The contingent collected around the table. Their suits and hospital garments had been replaced now with huge black gowns. Stifling fumes from incense holders rose into the air around the baby’s head. Her cries ceased as though she were a willing party to the ritual.
In a nearby dish was a pigeon, its tiny feet bound in blue string. One of the men quickly killed it by deftly twisting its neck through 360 degrees. With a knife, he nicked the breast of the pigeon, drawing blood. The leader dipped his little finger into the bird’s open breast, removed it with the blood it held and thrust it into the baby’s mouth. The baby needed sustenance like she needed air. Instinctively, she licked blindly.
Reaching again into the bird’s chest, he pulled the heart of the pigeon out of its position in the rib cage and placed it on the baby’s brow. The frothy blood settled on the pink delicate skin, flowed down the baby’s face and began to collect on the flannel that wrapped her.
A chant rose in murmurs as the blood coursed a rivulet of red over the edge of the table. The rivulet dropped sparingly to the floor, then thickened in little time.
The chant rose higher in thick guttural decibels. The ritual was complete.