The bus ride back to campus was a quiet one. It was six in the evening, but the sky had already darkened, glowing deep red through the pregnant clouds, till it seemed to be almost nightfall.
Yi Xin looked away from the window to the sleeping figure beside her. Ming Shern sat slouched in his seat, his head falling forward. His faint snore was barely audible over the grumbling overcast outside; it was only when she felt his tensed muscles relax that she knew he was asleep.
After the suspenseful visit to his hometown with two long-haul bus trips, she knew that the last two days had worn him out. She felt the tiredness too, although she could not fall asleep. Memories of recent affairs still played in her mind, starting from that single line from her that sparked this chain of events.
“I think I’m pregnant.”
The long silence over the phone reflected the quietness of her room. Kai Li, her roommate and best friend, was out on a night shift at her part-time job. Sitting upright on her bed, Yi Xin stared into empty walls and pressed the phone against her ears.
“What do you think?”
“How are you feeling?”
“I’m okay.” She relaxed, her smile returning, and got off the bed. “Just that I missed my period.” She stood in front of the full-length mirror beside her bed, touching her belly with wonder.
“You haven’t gotten it checked out?”
“Not yet,” she said, looking at her reflection.
Another pause. “Sorry, can I call you back?”
The call ended. Yi Xin returned to her bed and lay down, holding on to her phone, as she waited. Half an hour passed before he called again.
“My mum wants to see you. She wants us all to go to the hospital together and get you tested.”
“Sure.” She sat up. “My classes are done for the week. We can leave tomorrow if you want.”
“I’ll buy the bus tickets,” he said.
“I’ll see you soon.”
She remembered how nervous and excitable Ming Shern seemed when they met after the phone call. Although his words were spare as usual, he wouldn’t stop looking at her. His eyes would dart to her stomach every now and then, even during the bus trip back to his hometown, only turning away sheepishly whenever she caught him staring. Looking at him now as he slept beside her, Yi Xin smiled at how peacefully at rest he was.
A sudden flash of lightning, followed by a sharp bang of thunder, woke her from her reverie and Ming Shern from his sleep. At that moment, the bus slowed to a stop at its destination.
It had started to rain when they got off the bus, and they quickly gathered their bags and belongings before running for shelter at the bus stop, which had covered walkways connecting to their campus accommodation halls. Ming Shern had offered to walk her to her hall, so they walked together, hand-in-hand, in silence. Yi Xin noticed that there was no wind at all, not even a breeze. Only the sound of rain and distant thunders could be heard.
When they reached her hall, he stopped at the front door, hesitating before pulling her into a hug. “I love you so much.”
Although startled by his sudden display of affection, she smiled and melted into his embrace. “I love you too.”
When he released her, she noticed that his calm had been replaced by a sense of disturbance. She waited for him to speak; he did not.
“What’s wrong?” Yi Xin asked.
Ming Shern’s voice was barely a whisper. “I’m sorry. This is all my fault.”
“Look, I don’t care what people think or say,” she said, “and neither should you. I don’t care how hard this is going to be, because this is our child. It’ll be worth it.” She took his hands and squeezed them. “Like you said, we’ll face this together, okay?”
“Together,” he echoed, nodding, but his torn look did not fade. Sighing, he touched his lips to her forehead, and they said their goodbyes before parting.
The conflicted look on his face lingered on her mind when she returned to her room, but was soon dismissed when her roommate pounced on her with questions about her visit to his hometown.
“It went well.” Yi Xin managed to say when Kai Li paused to catch her breath. “Turns out we were both worried for nothing.” She shrugged as she put her bags down near her nightstand.
“So they’re fine with the baby?” Kai Li asked, her eyes wide with a mixture of hope and disbelief.
“Well, their excitement was beyond what I expected.” She smiled, rifling through one of her bags. “His mother brought us to the hospital as soon as we arrived at his house, and after confirming the pregnancy, she was preparing all sorts of Chinese herbal soup for me to drink, checking on me every hour or two to make sure I was fine.”
“Are you feeling fine then?”
“Yeah,” Yi Xin replied, “just a little light-headed right now, probably from the long journey and all the excitement.” She found what she was looking for, and set the bag aside with the rest. Then she showed her best friend the sonogram picture that she’d brought back from the hospital. “Here, take a look.”
Upon seeing the picture, Kai Li’s sceptical expression dissolved into a gentle look of adoration. “He’s beautiful,” she gushed.
Yi Xin beamed. “Kai Li, it’s still too early to tell if it’s a boy or a girl.”
“It’s just a feeling.” Kai Li shrugged. Then she went back to examining the picture, grinning from ear to ear.
Laughing to herself, Yi Xin gathered her towel and a change of clothes. “I’m going to take a shower,” she announced and entered the adjoining bathroom.
Yi Xin sighed as hot water fell upon her head, flowing down her hair and warming her bare skin. She felt her muscles relaxing. Thunder rumbled outside, and a shiver ran down her spine at the sound of the pelting rain. Then a pang struck her in the abdomen, knocking the breath out of her. As she stood hunched over from the impact, her eyes were drawn to streams of blood running down from her thighs to her ankles to the bathroom floor, spreading out into flowing water.
She was silent for a moment, confused. Then she reached for the bathroom door, slammed it open, and staggered out, naked.
“What on earth…” Kai Li was sitting on her bed, jaw-dropped, staring wide-eyed at the dripping wet figure before her. A second later, as her gaze lowered to the wet, stained red floor, comprehension set in. “What happened?” she asked, approaching Yi Xin to examine her.
“I don’t know.” Yi Xin’s voice trembled as the cold air in the bedroom clinged to her glistening bare body. “I was just showering. Then suddenly, I felt a cramp, and the next thing I knew, I was bleeding.”
“Did the doctor warn you of anything like this after the test?” Kai Li pressed.
Yi Xin shook her head. “No, he didn’t say anything at all. He just smiled and had me brought to another room to rest.”
“Another room?” Kai Li repeated.
Yi Xin nodded, confused. “Why?”
Kai Li’s expression had changed. When she spoke again, her voice was lowered to a whisper. “Yi Xin,” she said, “are you sure it was just a test you were getting?”
Yi Xin frowned at her friend’s absurd question. “What, yes, of course. We were doing ultrasound scans. See, I even have the sonogram here.”
She found the picture from her nightstand and retrieved it to show Kai Li again, but her roommate ignored the gesture.
“Is there anything else you can recall?” Kai Li asked again.
“Well-” She stopped in mid-sentence, remembering something which she hadn’t noticed before. “Oh my god…” A wave of nausea welled in her stomach.
“What is it?” Placing a hand on Yi Xin’s shoulder, Kai Li leaned in, looking concerned. “What happened?”
“The doctor…” Yi Xin started, but couldn’t finish the sentence. Her breath felt strangled. She forced herself to inhale deeply before speaking again, “After the ultrasound, the doctor told me to remain lying on my back,” she took another breath, “and he inserted something into me…” she paused as realisation hit her, “through my vagina. And I felt a slight sting.”
“Like an injection sting?” Kai Li asked.
“I’m not sure. I can’t remember clearly.”
“What about afterwards?”
“Nothing,” she murmured. “I felt nothing else. Ming was holding my hand and talking to me. His mother was smiling at us. Everything seemed fine – normal – and it all happened so fast. I thought it was just some routine procedure for a pregnancy test, so I didn’t ask.”
Yi Xin recalled the way the doctor smiled at her after the procedure, praising her for being brave. She remembered smiling back. She shut her eyes to block out the rest of their smiles, but their cheery voices continued to echo in her ears.
When she opened her eyes to meet Kai Li’s again, her vision blurred. “I didn’t feel a thing.” At that moment, she became acutely aware of the tingling feeling of blood trailing down her legs, forming a small pool underneath her feet.
“I’m gonna kill that bastard.” Her friend’s words reclaimed her attention.
“No!” Yi Xin protested instinctively.
Kai Li looked incredulous. “He kil-” her voice broke, “he killed your child. His own child.”
“What if it’s not him? What if it’s his mother? Or the doctor’s mistake?” She paused to think, and then became convinced of her own speculations. “I need to tell Ming. He needs to know.” She looked around the room. “Where’s my phone?”
It was on her bed. Kai Li passed it to her. She dialled his number and waited. He answered after the first ring.
“I’m bleeding,” she blurted.
“What?” he said.
“I’m bleeding, Ming.” Her voice became strained. “I’m not supposed to bleed. I’m pregnant.”
“Yi Xin,” his tone softened, “darling, listen to me-”
“Ming, what if our baby-”
“Shh… It’s okay.” He soothed. “It’s okay. Everything’s going to be fine.”
She fell silent at the calmness of his voice.
“Yi Xin, are you there?”
She felt her breath leaving her as blood continued running down her legs in cold, wet trails.
“Listen,” he spoke again, his voice now thick with torment. “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you earlier.”
“Yi Xin, are you okay?” entered Kai Li’s voice, though Yi Xin barely noticed it. “You’re turning pale.”
“Mum said she’ll make arrangements and take care of everything.” His every word threw shudders through her body. “I didn’t realise before that this was what she meant.”
“You’re shaking, Yi Xin. Let’s get you dressed first, alright?” her friend said.
“Please don’t worry about this anymore. Next time, we’ll do it the right way next time,” he pleaded. “Just tell me now, are you feeling unwell anywhere?”
“Yi Xin, look at me.”
A sudden warmth covered her bare shoulders, making her flinch, and she met Kai Li’s worried eyes.
“Is it him?” Kai Li asked warily, adjusting the clean, white towel that she had just wrapped over her body.
Meanwhile, Ming Shern’s voice pierced her ears again, his tone turning desperate. “Talk to me.”
“You knew.” The words slipped out.
Yi Xin didn’t wait for a response. She shoved the phone into her friend’s hand and stumbled back into the bathroom, locking the door behind her. The shower was still on. She walked into it – without removing her towel, shutting her eyes and letting hot water fall on her face. She increased the water pressure, hoping to drown away the chilling memory of him promising her eternity on the examination bed as the doctor emptied her of a life. As the cold left her body, the soaked towel weighed on her shoulders before slipping off her and falling flat on the floor. Outside, the rain grew heavier.
A cramp hit her in the lower stomach. Then there was a heavy splash on the floor. She wiped her face and opened her eyes to see a fresh pool of blood staining the wet white towel underneath her, and resting between her feet, a big lump of tissue.
She stared at it, forcing air in and out of her lungs. It was almost the size of her fist.
She slowly lowered herself, blinking away water that clouded her vision, until she was on her knees. For a moment, she could only stare at the dispersing pool of crimson red in innocent awe and intrigue, as if spellbound. Then, she reached out to gather the bloody lump in her trembling hands. Streaks of diluted blood slipped through her fingers, and she cradled it closer to her breasts, shielding it from the torrents of water that continued to shower down.
Water droplets fell from her drenched hair onto the lump and dissolved into it. Seeing this, she lowered her cupped hands and pressed its contents against her stomach in painful desperation, rubbing dead tissue with pruning fingers against wet skin, as if it could dissolve back into her – back to its rightful home, safe from harm.
Lightning flashed through the small bathroom window. A bolt of pain stabbed at her abdomen, making her bent over in excruciation. An echoing crack of thunder followed, bursting her bittersweet bubble, and she screamed. She remembered feeling the cold wet floor hit her cheek.
When she opened her eyes, she was in her bed, fully clothed. By her side was Ming Shern instead of her roommate.
“How are you feeling?” Ming Shern asked when he saw that she was awake.
He was holding her hand firmly as he sat on the edge of her bed, his legs hanging off the side of it. She studied him while contemplating an answer. He was still wearing yesterday’s clothes, his hair dishevelled, his stubbles beginning to show.
“Kai Li went out to buy us some food,” he spoke again as she did not reply. “It’s almost noon now. You’ve been… asleep for quite some time.”
He paused. She was still watching him, unspeaking, pondering.
“Do you want me to leave?”
She shook her head. A decision was made.
He nodded and sat closer to her. “How are you feeling? Does it hurt anywhere?”
She shook her head again. “I’m okay. Just…tired.”
He looked down in shame, his grip on her hand tightening. She stared at the blades of the ceiling fan above them turning in steady circles.
“I understand,” she spoke in a whisper. “Like you said, next time, we’ll do this right.”
He nodded again. “Next time.”
The conversation ended there. In the silence of the room lingered an echoing scream that only she could hear.
*** Header Image by Daiga Ellaby on Unsplash
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