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ESCAPING THE DEAD END

It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” Kunj whispered, a smile on his face as he looked at the ultrasound machine.

 

He rubbed the back of Twinkle’s hand as she turned her face to him, radiant. He kissed her hand.

 

“It’s beautiful,” she agreed softly, squeezing his hand. She turned back to the ultrasound machine. “And in one week we’ll be holding her.”

 

Kunj’s smile grew at those words. He kissed her hand again, then her forehead. How had he gotten so lucky?

 

“Excuse me, Mrs. Sarna.”

 

Twinkle and Kunj both looked up, smiling at Twinkle’s gynaecologist.

 

Zahra Mallik did not return their smiles. Grimly and unwillingly she moved closer to the happy couple. This was the hardest thing she had to do, but for their baby’s sake, she knew she had to do it.

 

She took a deep breath. “Mrs. Sarna, there has been a…a complication, and we need to deliver the baby immediately.”

 

The smiles faded from Twinkle’s and Kunj’s faces. The panic rose in Twinkle, suffocating her.

 

“What happened?” Kunj asked Zahra, standing up but not letting go of Twinkle’s hand.

 

Zahra hesitated.

 

“What happened, Doctor?” Kunj demanded.

 

“We can’t seem to locate the baby’s heartbeat.”

 (A few hours later)

Twinkle became aware of her limbs again. Of her body. But there was something missing.

 

She forced herself to focus. She forced herself to feel her body, to make some movement, to find what was missing.

 

She felt someone rubbing her hand.

 

Kunj?

 

No, it wasn’t Kunj’s. The hand was smaller, less callused.

 

Twinkle moved her hand.

 

She felt someone touch her hair, call out her name softly.

 

She opened her eyes.

 

It wasn’t Kunj sitting at her bedside. It was Nikki.

 

Her sister-in-law’s eyes were watery even as she smiled. But even Twinkle could tell that the smile was forced.

 

It was that instant that Twinkle realized what was missing.

 

She gasped, trying to sit up.

 

“Twinkle, please, relax,” Nikki coaxed, smoothing her hair back and trying to keep her lying down.

 

“Bhabhi, meri bachchi. Meri bachhi kaha hai? Mujhe apni beti se milna hai,” Twinkle cried. “Bhabhi, meri bahchi…”

 

“Twinkle, calm down,” Nikki repeated. The tears spilled from her eyes.

 

“Bhabhi, kya hua? Meri bachhi kaha hai?” Twinkle asked, the panic rising again. “Woh…woh theek hai na? Bhabhi, aap kuch boliye, please.”

 

Nikki squeezed Twinkle’s hand, biting her lip. “Twinkle, tumhari beti…She was a stillborn.”

 

Twinkle’s eyes widened. She was sure her heart stood still. She stopped moving.

 

“Kunj kaha hai?” she asked softly.

 

“He’s outside,” Nikki replied.

 

Twinkle closed her eyes, holding back her tears.

 

Twinkle lay unmoving on the hospital bed. Kunj had taken Nikki’s place next to her. Neither of them spoke, and neither of them looked at the other.

 

“Kunj, I’m sorry,” Twinkle finally broke the silence. She stared out the window, her hands still resting on her stomach, feeling the phantom baby in her womb.

 

Kunj looked at her, his vision partially blinded by tears. “Tum,” he began, his voice squeaking. He cleared his throat and tried again. “Tumhe sorry bolne ki kya zaroorat hai, Twinkle?”

 

“I know how much you wanted her, Kunj,” she told him. Her voice quivered, and Kunj reached for her hand, blinking back his tears. “And…I couldn’t give her to you. I’m sorry, Kunj. I’m sorry,” she repeated, breaking down into tears.

 

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Even as his own fell, he wiped Twinkle’s away. “That doesn’t matter anymore, Twinkle,” he whispered. “What matters is that you’re still here. As long as we’re together, Twinkle, sab kuch theek hai.”

 

Twinkle pulled Kunj to her, and he lay down next to her, holding her close, both of them sobbing silently.

 

(Nearly a month later)

Twinkle emerged from the bathroom, adjusting her dupatta around her neck. She looked up, surprised to see Kunj at the window.

 

She stopped, smiling a little. She took a moment to study him.

 

He touched the window gingerly, as if afraid that it would break under his feather-light touch. There was a small smile on his face, but even after twenty-nine days, the sadness lingered in his eyes.

 

“Papa, ball mujhe de do!”

 

Twinkle’s smile faded. He was watching his nephew play. She felt a stab in her chest and in her womb, and unconsciously a hand went to her stomach. She clutched at the fabric of her kurta, her fingers aching for the bulge that held her child.

 

Kunj withdrew his hand from the window, crossing his arms. He sighed softly. He tore his gaze away from the window, looking down.

 

He had to be strong for Twinkle.

 

He turned away from the window, and his eyes met Twinkle’s.

 

He broke into a smile. “Arrey, Twinkle, tum…” Whatever he was going to say was lost as he saw the agony in her teary honey eyes.

 

He noticed the way she grasped at her kurta, the way her breath came out in short, quick gasps.

 

He was on the other side of the room in seconds, his arms wrapped around her, crushing her body to his. “It’ll be okay, Twinkle,” he whispered, squeezing his eyes shut as he felt her tears dampen his shirt. “We’ll try again.”

 

(Five months later)

“Goodnight, Twinkle.” Kunj wrapped his arms around his wife, kissing her forehead. He smiled at her.

 

“Goodnight, Kunj.” She returned the smile, but even in the darkness he noticed that it didn’t reach her eyes.

 

She turned away from him, facing their wardrobe.

 

Kunj sighed. He turned away from her, looking up at the ceiling. He knew that under their blanket, her hand was still on her stomach. He knew she had been doing that for the past five months.

 

But he couldn’t blame her. It was their first child. And so the loss of it – no, of her, he corrected himself – was naturally hard. Especially on Twinkle. She had, after all, carried her for nine months.

 

(A few days later)

“Kunj,” Twinkle’s voice rang out in the darkness.

 

Kunj opened his eyes sluggishly. “Hmm?”

 

Twinkle turned to look at him. “I think I’m pregnant.”

 

 He couldn’t believe his ears. He quickly got up and hugged her. Soon after they were seated on the bed holding hands. Kunj wound an arm around her, and she rested her head against his chest. She could feel his heartbeat, and she knew he was just as nervous as her.

 

Could it be? Could this be the moment that they had both been waiting for?

 

Was there a baby on the way?

  

(Three to four months later)

“Mr. and Mrs. Sarna?”

 

They both looked up, standing up in unison, hands still intertwined. Kunj tightened his grip around her, squeezing her arm.

 

“I’m afraid that you don’t have a baby on the way,” Zahra told them.

 

Twinkle felt her knees give way. Kunj sank back into the chair with her, and she buried her face in his chest again.

 

“You have two,” Zahra continued.

 

Both of them looked up again.

 

“Wh-what?” Kunj stuttered.

 

Zahra beamed at them. “Congratulations. You’re having twins 

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