أعوذ بالله من الشيطان الرجيم

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

Translated from the Arabic short story by: Muna al-‘amad.)

 Raja’ watched lovingly her little baby boy peacefully in his cradle. In his sleep, he smiled for a quick moment… Raja’ caressed his cheeks gently & whispered, “Do you dream in your sleep, my sweet? What do you dream?” she wanted to leave him sleeping like that peacefully & calmly under that warm blanket. She heard the roar of stormy wind outside & watched his cheeks blushed from the warmth of his blanket. Yes, she wanted him to enjoy his sleep but her duty as a teacher doesn’t allow her that pleasure. 
She gazed at him again & thought angrily, “what kind of a job is this, that makes me wake my adorable baby in this freezing winter to leave him in the hands of a woman who would claim to take care of him for a few coins.”
She cursed Qasim Ameen, Rifa’at Attahtawi & Huda Sha’rawi who raised the slogan of women rights & claimed that a woman can never prove of significance unless they acquire a job outside their houses. Isn’t managing a hectic household & a family enough job for her? Don’t we bear children & bring them up? Isn’t that enough & significant by itself? Why do they bring women out of their houses?”
Raja’s heart sank with guilt as she picked her child out of his cradle. She changed his clothes & prepared the bag with all his necessities. She sat down trying to calm herself to be able to feed him. Holding him to her bosom, she said tenderly, “come on sweet heart, let’s have our breakfast.” He began to suckle lazily. She looked at her watch, “oh, I am running short of time,” she said to herself. But as if he felt her haste, he stopped suckling. She urged him but he didn’t seem in mood for it. “Oh”, she said remembering what her mother used to say that while feeding her baby a woman should think about nothing but him. She should talk to him, caress him & play with him. He feels her love for him at those moments more than any other time & he needs them more than any other time.
Raja’ spoke to him tenderly, “my love, what is it with you today?” he stared back at her but his eyes didn’t speak to her like they always did. They didn’t tell her what he felt & what he wanted. She got extremely depressed & nervous. Her eyes filled with tears & she sobbed audibly. Her husband asked her alarmed, “what’s the matter? What’s wrong?”
“He doesn’t talk to me?”
“|who?”
“Our child.”
He exclaimed impatiently, “for God’s sake, are you Lady Mary that your child would speak to you in his cradle!”
She said, “I swear he always used to speak to me & tell me what he felt about me. He even used to thank me with grateful eyes when I feed him.”
“& today he hadn’t thanked you!” he said ironically.
“Not only that, I lost our communication. He doesn’t even feel that I am granting him anything,” she paused for a little while & then said, “may be I wasn’t able to grant him what I should today… see! He feels what I feel & he understands, I swear, he does!”
Her husband said impatiently, “come on, let’s go. We don’t have time enough for your sublime emotions. Leave them for some other time.”
She wiped her tears & picked her son up, covered her hair & left the house.
In school, her friend, Ilham noticed her nervousness & asked her, “What is the matter with you today?”
She said with pain, “it’s my child! I feel so heartbroken when I leave him & come here. He is more entitled for my compassion & care than these students I teach.”
“Why do you say that? We are not wasting time here, are we? We are contributing in bringing these girls up for the sake of the whole society. If I & you & all the other women here stay in our houses, who will do this job?”
Raja’ said, “why don’t you see it the other way round? By taking care just of my child, I will be able to bring him up well. So he will be a healthy part of the society, fed with love & care till satiety. Able to accomplish his duty & responsibility to perfection. Why should I deprive my child of my love & stay away from him for lengthy hours every day. I held him in my womb for nine months; I can’t dump him in a stranger’s lap just so simply. Why should I have to endure all this? I am tired & exhausted. I feel deprived & devoid.”
She put her hands on her bosom & felt her milk spoiling her woolen blouse.
She sighed with pain, “see! Now here I waste the milk which he owes me & he is fed with the milk of cows because I am here teaching the new generation.”
Ilham asked her with sympathy, “Will it reduce your misery, if they opened a nursery for children here?”
She replied wiping her tears, “may be”
Ilham said feeling for her friend’s anxiety, “come, sit here. You are so unwell. I will take your class today. Ok! Just don’t worry.”
Raja’s nervousness was multiplied, “oh God! Now that’s a new problem. I fail in my responsibilities towards my child for the sake of my students & then I fail in my responsibilities towards my students for the sake of my child. My life is a mess. I feel like a journeyman who is asked to walk in every direction simultaneously. What should I do & where will I reach? I just don’t know…”
At ten, Raja’ asked for a short leave. She left the school to pick her baby from the house of his nanny. As she reached the house, she could hear his yells & cries. She knocked at the door nervously. The nanny asked who she was. When she replied, the nanny opened the door after a long delay.
She came with the baby in her arms & said apologetically, “I was changing his nappy.”
Raja’ smiled courteously & said a few words pretending to understand.
She took her child, kissed him, nestled him & pressed him to her bosom. She left quickly heading to her house.
Raja’s husband returned home in the afternoon and was surprised to see her happily welcoming him at the door. Normally, whenever he returned home, he would find her running between the kitchen and the baby’s room; and when he greeted her she would accost him with her complaints!
Since the arrival of the baby, he has accustomed himself to eating ready meals or fast food; but today he was surprised to find a hearty meal awaiting him. He checked on his baby and found him peacefully asleep. He said amidst rejoicing and surprise: “As you enter your heaven say God’s will be done, for there is no power save God’s power.” (The Cave: 39)
In the evening the couple talked about the new baby, and the husband said: “I see in your eyes many words awaiting utterance, would you share what’s on your mind?”
She answered: “Indeed there is much to say, but I will be brief.”
He said, as though expecting a bomb ready to explode: “Go ahead, I am waiting.”
“I have decided not to go back to school before our baby reaches the full age of two.”, she answered, smiling.
Realizing that it was a final decision, the husband inquired: “Are you thinking of submitting your resignation or taking a maternity leave of absence?”
She answered while gazing in the direction of the crib: “Whatever… whatever!”

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