I sat with my back to the girl in labour. Of course, at my age anyone younger than twenty harvests I consider to be a girl. I could hear her screams, and her pants. I could hear the mid-wife reassuring her, telling her when to push. I could hear the girl cursing and swearing, threatening to bring down the wrath of the Light onto the absent father of the child she was bringing into existence. The pain of labour always brings out the best nature – and language – in a woman.
Here in Tunnel City, the greatest respect you could show to any person was to turn your back on them and give them some privacy. Apart from the mid-wife, the girl in labour had an entire platform to herself. Anyone with an urgent need to pass through the platform did so with their eyes averted. I could see, reflected in the eyes of anyone that met my gaze, the hope we all felt for this mother.
I knew her by sight; however, we’d never spoken. She lives on the second level, and I live on the seventh. There’s little socialising between the levels. The only time the levels mingle is during the services at the Church of Binda. The Religious Centre is on the fifth level, right at the heart of Tunnel City.
Eventually, the mother let out a primal scream, and a baby cried through its first breath.
“I have it!” the mid-wife declared. “It’s a boy!”
The mother’s panting rose into another scream of pain, although this time the wail was full of emotional pain and anguish. The mid-wife placed the baby into my arms as the new mother sobbed.
“Ruello, recycle it,” she said, keeping her voice professionally flat and unemotional.
The mother must already have a son.
This is the introduction to my short story, ‘Tunnel City’. As our microfiction theme for this month is ‘Recycled’, I thought this was appropriate. ‘Tunnel City’ will shortly be available in its entirety in ‘The Cursed’, a collection of short stories and novellas.