I remember thinking – joking to myself through the agony – careful, gentlemen, I’m in labour and severe pain here, as the paramedics transported me towards and into the back of the ambulance. I remember thinking: I hope this story, this tale of the alien and me, does not begin and end with an ambulance. These weren’t the same men who responded to my 999 call, the day I found him, the day I found a wild slim man on the beach apparently suffering from amnesia. Then my thoughts were interrupted, as one of the new pair of paramedics clamped a mask over my mouth and breathing became suddenly easier, for a while. I drifted off on the flow of gas, and when I came back it was with a bump onto a stretcher, the feel of night air, and the electronic slithering sound of A&E doors.
The on-call obstetrician arrived moments after I did. He told me his name, what he was about to do, and not to worry, because I was in good hands. He was awful sure of himself, but, making an effort to focus on his words, his demeanour, the grey curls of hair above his ears, I decided to trust him.
‘Up to theatre straight away, I think.’
It seemed I was flying business class today. But I needed everything to slow down, to slow these moments down. I put up a hand, and the consultant signalled the porters to stop.
‘You may find that there is something… unusual about this baby.’
‘Unusual? How d’you mean?’
‘It may be… anatomically different.’
I thought that this was perhaps enough of a steer, so I nodded.
‘I can’t – I can’t tell you that.’
He looked at me, penetrating grey eyes, the same colour as his curls.
‘May I?’ He felt again. At one point a flicker of not knowing passed across his face, but he moved his hands onwards and erased his surprise.
‘It’s certainly a big baby; bigger than I would have expected, from the look of you.’ He paused for eminently humorous effect. ‘Though possibly not you, dad.’ The slim alien loomed, across from the doctor, above him, above us all, a look of wild anxiety etched into his normally impassive face. ‘But that only emphasises the need to take this one out via the tummy, so that’s what we’re going to do. Dad, come with me and we’ll get someone to fetch you the necessary, assuming you would like to be present?’
The alien nodded, as if silenced by the new environment he found himself in. He clutched at my hand and squeezed. I did not want him to let go. I was scared at the thought of being cut open, and by fearful imaginings of what would be brought forth. This wasn’t what was supposed to happen. Not what was supposed to happen at all. I thought of my trusted doula.
‘I’m here Chan,’ she said, from somewhere beyond the foot of the bed. ‘The doctor will take care of you now.’ She said it, I knew, to give me confidence in him, if I had not found it myself. It meant, I believed, that she trusted him too. I relaxed my head, let go of the alien’s hand, and the bed was set in motion again.
The lights were bright, too bright, even though they were angled away from my face. I wanted the alien to stand where he could shield me, a shaggy-haired sun umbrella. The local anaesthetic was administered, and soon I felt that my head was somehow disconnected from my lower limbs. The alien watched somewhat aghast as they cut me open, but I pulled him back to me, letting him know with my eyes that I wanted his, until the baby was raised up high.
Not everyone spotted them at first, but the consultant knew, as he held the baby, as the umbilical was cut, and the mouth of my baby opened for the first time to emit what sounded like the typical crying of a human infant. He played it cool.
‘You have a girl, Ms Charlenny. But you were not wrong. There is a very usual formation of the scapulae here. Helen, what do you say?’ He passed the baby to the waiting paediatrician, who took the baby a distance away to pronounce the Apgar score. I released the wild slim alien’s hand so that he would follow.
‘Chan, she’s beautiful,’ he shouted, from the other side of the theatre. She sounded beautiful. I couldn’t hear the paediatrician’s reply to the obstetrician’s question; it was lost in the shouting and the crying. Give me my damn baby, I thought. And then there she was, pink and hairy-headed, cheesy and bloody against my breast, impossibly beautiful, and no less so because of the two scalloped protuberances on each of her outsize shoulders.