Manika curled up on the bed unsure whether to laugh or cry.
It had just been one of those days where everything came together, the good and the bad. Had someone told her this morning what turmoil would be going on throughout the day, she might have smirked. But now she felt exhausted and simply wanted to be alone, to take it all in. The day had started so peacefully…
Nieva came waddling down the stairs, looking as miserable as ever. In the last stages of her pregnancy, the child had been stressing her back a lot and she felt like a whale. It was past time that this child came into this world. Fortunately, Baato had been so wise as to prepare a plate of macaroni and cheese; Nieva had found herself craving this dish more often than not lately and her mood immediately lifted.
„Good morning, my love“, Tahia smiled at her, „How are you?“
„Miserable“, Nieva groaned and Tahia’s smile faltered, „But I do love macaroni and cheese, Baato knows that, so I guess I feel a bit better now.“
Tahia frowned as if she had only just noticed the slump of pasta and cheese on the plate in front of Nieva. As the pregnant woman sat down and started munching on the delicious noodles – Tahia didn’t look convinced – there was a moment of quiet. Then the chaos started.
Manika came out of her room and barely had time to say „Good morning“ as there was a loud thump on the door and – without waiting for permission – the red-haired slave Arku barged in, a look of panic on his face. He looked into the confused faces for a moment then darted towards Manika.
„Creator“, he cried out, „I’m so sorry, it’s terrible – I couldn’t, I mean I tried, but – there was nothing I could – I swear I tried -“
Manika raised her hands trying to calm the man down.
„What are you talking about, Arku? What happened?“
A nasty thought crept in Manika’s mind and a tingling sense of worry rolled down her spine. She had an unpleasant feeling what Arku’s visit was about. But she sure prayed that she was wrong.
Arku bit his lips as if he was afraid to say anything. The look on his face went from panic to sadness and he hung his head.
„It’s the Creator mother. She…“
Oh by the maker, no…
„I couldn’t do anything, I swear! I pleaded with the Grim Reaper, but he wouldn’t listen!“, Arku panted.
Everyone was in shock and the silence that followed Arkus words was only broken by Manika slumping down on a chair. Mother… Tears started welling in her eyes. She hadn’t even been able to say goodbye. Had she even told her how much she loved her? How much she respected her?
Feelings of guilt and sadness hung on the edge of Manika’s mind, threatening to wash over and drown her at any second now. But – as chaos was reigning – they never had the chance. Just at this moment, Nieva let out an incredibly loud cry of pain and clutched her belly.
„It’s coming!“, she huffed between two screams, „The baby…“
Tahia started to panic. She wasn’t prepared for this! What should she do? Get water? Get some sheets? Hold Nieva’s hand? What did people even do in this situation?! Even though she had witnessed childbirth before, it was as if suddenly her memory had been wiped. Fortunately, Manika took matters into her own hands. She was glad for the distraction from the terrible news and helped Nieva stand up.
„Come to the nursery. It will be fine“, she told her reassuringly and gestured towards the stairs. Tahia, even though a nervous wreck, was not to be left behind and quickly hurried after them which left a confused Arku standing in the kitchen of the Arayeo’s house.
He looked around, but as he figured he had done his duty here, he simply sighed and walked out the door.
Next: Interlude – Between Life and Death