Until I heard someone say “Merry Christmas,” I had forgotten that it was the eve of Christmas day. I looked up from my smart phone. The greeting was not intended for me. A woman wearing a red dress walked past me and entered the delivery room. Another woman wearing a green uniform was walking in the opposite direction. My legs began to hurt.
I checked my watch. We entered the hospital at around eight. Now it’s five minutes past nine. I’ve been standing near the glass door for almost an hour. Behind me, a couple of nurses were chatting about Noche Buena inside the nurses’ station. I stared at the direction of the delivery room, but the hallway was now empty.
I took my wife’s hand bag and walked back to the waiting area. There were only a few guys there, but all of the seats were taken — there were bags on them. I walked out and went back to where I’ve been standing earlier. There was a newborn baby inside the nursery room. I looked at her face and her pink wrist band. She looked so small and chubby. I wondered whether my own daughter will look like her. Honestly, I’m more than a little excited for our second baby. This will be another level of parenting, I think. Having a baby boy was level 1, having a baby girl will be level 2. This will be something totally new for me. I’ve always wondered what it will be like to have a daughter.
But my wife is not due until the first week of February.
The glass door opened and a nurse called out to me, “Mr. Mendoza?”
“Yes?” I said. I walked towards her.
“Can you buy some food and a bottle of water?” she said.
“You mean a meal? For my wife?” I said.
“How is she?”
“We’re still monitoring her. She’s hungry. We’ll be able to monitor the baby’s movements the moment your wife gets something to eat.”
“Okay, I’ll bring it back here as soon as possible.”
“Thank you, sir. Just press this buzzer when you get back.”
I used the elevator on my way down. The lobby was almost empty. The security guard looked at me wearily and nodded. I tried to smile but I’m not sure if he caught my expression.
It was dark outside and there were not many people walking on the streets. A few taxis were parked along the road. I entered the hospital pharmacy and asked whether they’re selling food and drinks. The cashier told me that they’re only selling medicines.
I walked further down the road, towards the direction of the Capitol Building. All of the stores were closed. A girl was walking her dog. She was wearing a sweat shirt and denim shorts. The dog stopped in front of me and barked. The girl pulled at the leash and walked on.
Another pharmacy was still open. I went inside and bought a few bottles of water and iced tea. They didn’t have meals, so I bought a couple of siopao and a pack of cookies.
I returned to the hospital and used the buzzer, as the nurse had instructed. She came out of the room and took the stuff that I bought.
“Thank you, sir,” she said. “We’ll just call your name through the P.A. if we need anything else.”
“Can I wait at the lobby downstairs?” I said.
“But we have a waiting area over there, sir.” She pointed at the opposite direction. “Is it full?”
She became thoughtful for a moment then took out her phone. “Okay. What’s your number?”
I dictated it to her. She pressed the buttons on the screen and showed the number to me.
“Yes, that’s correct,” I said.
“I’ll text you if we need anything,” she said.
I was glad to finally be sitting on a chair. I had the whole waiting area to myself. I placed my shoulder bag, my wife’s hand bag, and the plastic bag on the chair beside me. The leather cushion was soft and the steel frame was cold. I took out my phone and continued reading the ebook.
It was my first time to read Alice Munro. As I started reading the first story in the collection, I became depressed. I kept thinking of my wife and baby. Why haven’t they given me any news about my wife and daughter? If it’s only a matter of monitoring her contractions or our baby’s movements, why haven’t they given me any updates yet?
I read for a full hour until my phone beeped. I read the message immediately. The number was unregistered, and it read:
“Sir, we need you in the delivery room right away. Thank you.”
My heart jumped. I picked up my things and used the stairway. I was panting when I got to the third floor.
The nurse was waiting for me at the door. She was adjusting her cap.
“Yes?” I said.
“Sir, I need you to go downstairs and pay for a urinalysis,” she said. “Also, please buy this.” She handed me a slip of paper.
“Yes, it’s for the contractions.”
“Is she okay? How about the baby?”
“We’re still monitoring them, sir.”
“Are they okay?”
“We’ll know later, sir.”
“Alright, I’ll be back as soon as possible.”
I used the stairs again. Cold sweat broke from my scalp. I paid for the urinalysis at the cashier and bought the medicine from the pharmacy outside the hospital. I pressed the buzzer as soon as I got back to the third floor.
The nurse appeared momentarily and took the medicine without a word. I returned to the lobby and waited. I continued reading Alice Munro and became even more depressed. I thought about my wife and our baby daughter. I thought, too, about my sister who died at birth when I was still a child. I thought about my father who died last year. I thought a lot about death and fatherhood. Then I stared at the bulletin boards in front of me.
Under “Internal Medicine” was a poster announcing an upcoming seminar on breast cancer prevention. Under “Obstetrics and Gynecology” was a poster announcing an upcoming conference on opioids, pain management, and addiction. I closed the ebook and started eating the siopao and cookies.
The hospital authorities must have turned off a few of the lights in the lobby because the place somewhat darkened; probably to save up on electricity. Rotational brown-outs were still going on in the city and in the surrounding towns and barangays. The hospital management must be doing their share of saving for the rest of the province.
“Merry Christmas, sir!” said a female’s voice. I turned around and saw the nurse from the delivery room. This time, she wasn’t wearing a cap. Her hair fell loosely behind her head. Again, I had forgotten what day it was. She smiled. I smiled back, thanking her.
“They need you at the DR, sir,” she said.
“Okay, thanks again,” I said.
Inside the elevator on my way up, I felt nervous. I checked my watch. It was 15 minutes past midnight, yet the hospital was eerily quiet. Since we arrived there, I haven’t heard a single firecracker explosion.
I saw my wife immediately after I made the turn towards the DR entrance. She was sitting on a chair, her arms at her side. She saw me instantaneously, and she smiled. Her smile beamed out of the hallway and washed over me. I smiled back in relief. She stood up and met me at the door. She hugged me and I kissed her.
“I’m so happy to see you,”I said.
“I’m so glad to see you,” she said at the same time.
“How are you? How’s the baby? What did the doctor say?”
“I’m okay. She’s okay. The doctor advised me to rest more frequently and drink lots of fluids.”
“Yes. That’s it. And oh, the medication. She prescribed a medication for the contractions.”
She laughed. “I had forgotten it’s Christmas already.”
“Where shall I take you?”
“Take me to dinner. We haven’t eaten yet, remember?”
“I’ll take you to a date.”
I held her hand and her bag. We walked slowly out of the hospital. I could feel the coldness of the evening, yet the streets were brighter. A lot more people were walking outside this time. We started talking again and hailed a cab.