It was what she had always prayed for. Life. A new life. An opportunity to make life. An opportunity to bring life into the world. After years of trying, she finally got what she wanted, a little bulge that turned into a bump. It was a difficult journey for her, but she had to endure it, for it was only a matter of time before she held the baby in her arms. Her husband already picked a name, and she didn’t object to it.
The night her water broke, she was rushed to the hospital. The pain was nothing she had ever experienced in her life; she thought she was going to die. She counted every minute as they rode to the hospital, and every second as they prepared her for childbirth. It was her first, and she didn’t know what to expect. After about two hours of extreme pain, she felt it, she felt the baby coming.
The doctor was called, and he came in immediately and stood in front of her open legs.
“Push” was the first thing he said, and “Push” was the only thing she heard before she felt some relief; before she closed her eyes.
When she opened her eyes, she found herself in the middle of nowhere, sand and sea surrounding her.
A young boy, who didn’t look older than ten, sat, building a sandcastle. He turned his head when he noticed eyes on him.
“Why are you all alone?” she asked. “Where are your parents?”
“My parents?” He seemed confused. “You’re my mother.”
“But I don’t have a child.”
“You don’t remember praying for one or being pregnant with one?”
“I do, but you’re much older. How is that?”
“Time is different over here.”
“Where is ‘here’?”
“‘Here’ is where we all come from.”
As if she’d been hurt by what the boy said, she immediately began to cry. The last thing she remembered was being in labour, so if she was here with her supposed child, then it could only mean that she was dead.
“Why are you crying?” he asked.
“I don’t know why I’m here,” she said between sobs. “I remember I was in labour a few moments ago, and I was just about to push.”
He looked at her, wondering what she was talking about.
“If I’m here with you, an older boy,” she continued. “Then it means I’m dead.”
Just then, she heard a strange sound. She turned around and saw a door, a door that hadn’t been there before, and she made to go for it.
“Don’t open it,” he pleaded.
She turned back to look at him, and asked, “Why not?”
“I don’t want you to leave me.”
She didn’t know why he’d said that and wondered if the door was the way out of this strange place. If it was, then she had to leave. She couldn’t just abandon the life she had and stay with someone she didn’t know, someone she had met less than a minute ago. If truly he were her son, as he claimed to be, then she would have felt bad about what he said, about him not wanting her to leave. But he wasn’t her son–he couldn’t be.
She walked to the door and opened it, but she saw all black. After a few seconds, her eyes adjusted, and she saw light below. She tilted her body forwards and looked down at what was a hospital room with a woman on the bed being resuscitated. A doctor was asking the dying woman to stay with him and two nurses were running helter-skelter.
She didn’t know exactly what she was seeing and couldn’t recognise who the woman was. The boy approached and touched her arm. She turned around in shock, then lost her footing and fell through the door with her back. She descended in slow motion, swinging her arms around as the boy stretched out his hand to her. She tried to reach for him, but he was too far off.
As his image faded, the last words she heard him say were, “Don’t leave me.”
She screamed, then closed her eyes, anticipating the pain she was going to feel as she crash-landed on her back.
She opened her eyes, breathing heavily. She looked around her and was on the bed in the hospital room. The doctor immediately gazed at the heart monitoring machine connected to her as the monotone flat line began to beep and move, rising at intervals, but then gradually in synchronisation with her heartbeat.
“She’s back,” the doctor announced.
The nurses stopped running around and came to her bedside. She was still dazed, not sure what was happening. It took her a few seconds to realise that she’d been in the process of giving birth to a baby–and that was it. She tried to sit up, but she was immediately told not to.
She couldn’t feel her legs. In fact, she couldn’t feel half of her body, from her upper tummy to her feet. Her tummy looked flatter than it was when she was pregnant, and from the gowns, the hairnets, the masks, and the gloves the doctor and the nurses had on, she knew she had been cut open, and the baby was out. But where was the baby?
She suddenly began to panic as she didn’t hear the cry of a baby. She looked to her side, and there was the baby, in a transparent plastic cot, covered from head to toe with a white blanket. Her husband was crying over the cot. The baby wasn’t moving. She couldn’t hold back the tears that erupted from her eyes, and she wished at that moment that she never opened the door, that she never left the young boy in the strange place. Then without notice, she went into a more severe panic mode, and the beep from the heart monitoring machine began to fade away.
“We’re losing her,” the doctor announced, and the helter-skelter recommenced.
She closed and opened her eyes, and found herself on a beach. It was the same place she had been to the first time she passed out, where she had encountered the young boy who claimed to be her son, her dead baby. She started running around, searching for him but without luck. Disappointed, she collapsed on her knees with her face buried in her palm. Someone tapped her shoulder then and she looked up.
“Is everything okay?” a teenage boy asked.
The boy had grown and looked different, but some of his younger features stood out clearly. She smiled in relief, then got on her feet.
“You don’t remember me?” she asked.
He shook his head. “I don’t.”
She heard a strange sound, then saw a door appear beside her. She knew she would have to leave and probably never see the boy again if she opened the door, but it was the only way out. She thought briefly, then turned back to the boy. He was already walking away.
“Gabriel,” she called.
He turned around, surprised. “How do you know my name?”
“I’m your mother.”
“No, you’re not. My mother left some years ago, and you’re not her.” He turned back and continued toward the shoreline. He picked up a bucket of pebbles and began throwing them into the sea.
“Time is different over here,” she said.
His attention fully caught, he dropped the bucket and turned to look at her again.
“You told me that the first time we met,” she said. “On this beach.”
“I remember now,” Gabriel nodded. “It was you, and I also remember you leaving. I told you to stay with me. I told you not to open the door, but you did.”
“I’m sorry, but I had to go.”
“Just like you have to go now.” He pointed to the door beside her.
“Yes, but you can come with me.”
“Why don’t you stay with me instead?”
“We can’t stay here. There’s nothing and no one else here.”
“There are so many people here.” He looked around. “Can’t you see them?”
She shook her head. She couldn’t see anyone, but she immediately understood that she was in passing, where those hanging onto life made a stop. She thought that if she could leave with him, things would be different when she woke up—if she woke up.
Right after, she heard a distant voice calling her, asking her to come back.
“Please,” she said to Gabriel, sounding agitated. “We can go somewhere else, where time is normal. I don’t want to leave you.”
“You left me before. You can do that again.”
“I’m sorry. I belong here.”
“You don’t–” She paused. “Please, let me show you something.”
He followed her to the door, which she opened. They saw a black hole, followed by chaos.
“What’s happening down there?” he asked. “Who are those people?”
Before she could respond, she felt herself lifting off the ground and something
pulling her through the door. She began to cry. “Please, come with me,” she said, one last time.
Instantly, she began to fall through the door, and surprisingly, Gabriel held her hand. The thing pulling her down was the same thing holding him back. He couldn’t follow her, and she couldn’t come back in.
He stretched his other hand, trying to reach for hers, and she propelled herself and grabbed it with her free hand. They held each other, hanging in the middle, no going forward nor backward.
She looked down when she heard her name again, then looked back at Gabriel, and said, “Don’t let go.”
At that point, Gabriel heard his name and wore a frightened look.
“What is it?” she asked when she noticed the look on his face.
“I just heard my name from down there,” he replied. “Who’s down there?”
She heard it the second time and recognised the voice. “It’s your father. He’s calling us.”
“I don’t have a father,” he snapped, almost letting go.
She screamed, then held on to his hand firmly. “Please, don’t let go,” she begged.
“You have a father, and he’s down there all alone. He would die to meet you. He loves you.”
Gabriel said nothing, but he calmed down.
“Trust me,” she reassured him. “You would love to meet him too. He needs us the same way we need him.”
Gabriel didn’t know how or why, but he trusted her. He tried to move his legs, but they stood firmly rooted to the ground. “I can’t move,” he said. “How would I join you down there?”
“Pull me up,” she replied. “Let’s try to do it together.”
It took some strength, but they were able to pull themselves against each other, suspended at the edge of life and death—she on one side, and he on the other.
“We have the strength to make only one move together,” he said.
They both closed their eyes and shoved themselves slightly across the line, she pulling, and he pushing, and it was enough to send them down, to the edge of life, shutting the door behind them.
She opened her eyes again, breathing deeply as she looked around, but she didn’t see Gabriel. She was back in the hospital room, the monotone flat line beeping and moving as if it hadn’t stopped moments ago, the sound of her heartbeat echoing at a normal pace through the room, and the doctor and nurses looking at her.
“She’s back, again,” the doctor announced as he checked her. “She’s been going in and out of consciousness, but she seems a bit stable now.”
Her husband approached and pressed his face against hers. As he cried, they heard another cry, the cry of a baby. They immediately turned towards the cot and saw movement. Their baby, Gabriel, was crying, as he tried to move his hands and take the blanket off his face.
Both the nurses and his father ran to help him. His father yanked off the blanket and was shocked to see the boy indeed alive. He stood frozen until a nurse shoved him aside and picked the baby up for his newborn checks while the other nurse changed the writing on the whiteboard from ‘Time of death’ to ‘Time of birth’.
Her husband came back to her bedside, crying. She, too, was crying.
He held her hand and said, “I thought I’d lost you both. The doctor almost gave up on you. It’s a miracle that the two of you came back, and almost at the same time. It’s as if you went to bring him back from wherever he was.”
Although still crying, she managed to smile, then thought, ‘If only you knew.’