October 26, 2020

Ichha

(c) J. Singh, 2020

The couple sat nervously in front of the witch doctor, waiting for him to speak. It had been several minutes of silence, yet he just sat there staring at them. By now, both the husband and wife were beginning to feel a little uneasy.

Finally, the wife couldn't take the silence anymore and opened her mouth to speak. But just as she was about to say something, the witch doctor spoke.

"It has been a long time, has it not?" he asked in his thick Indian accent.

"Yes," the husband, Gerard, nodded. "It's been over twelve years. We married young, Sophie was twenty two and I was twenty five. Since then, we have been trying."

"We have been to see many doctors and specialists," added Sophie, "and we have tried all their recommendations. Fertility treatments, everything, but still ... "

She spread out her hands in a gesture showing that all their efforts were for naught. The witch doctor listened intently, nodding his head slowly.

"You have not been able to conceive," he said, as if to convey to them that he understood their predicament. He pointed a gnarled finger at both of them, alternating between Gerard and Sophie.

"No, we haven't," Gerard replied, "And when we found out about you, they told us we would have to practice the austerities for six months before you would see us."

"And did you?" the witch doctor asked eagerly.

"Yes," they both nodded. "We did."

"All of it?" he asked, eyeing them suspiciously.

"Yes, the yoga, the breathing, the meditation and early morning exercise, the changes in our diet, we did everything," they confirmed.

"And have you noticed much changes?" he inquired.

"Well, I seem to have more energy," Sophie answered, looking at Gerard.

"I sleep better," Gerard offered.

The witch doctor seemed to be satisfied with these answers.

"But still, no baby?" he asked, looking from one to the other for confirmation. They both shook their heads sadly.

"Well, let me see about you both," he said, scratching the back of his neck as if trying to remember something. "I think that your efforts will give you a result. You must meditate more, try to cleanse your mind of all negative thoughts."

Gerard and Sophie nodded, listening attentively.

"But," he winced, "there is a problem."

"What is it?" asked Sophie, leaning forward.

"You have a choice, this is in fact the only thing you may choose," he sounded sombre, almost despondent as he relayed the news to them, "you will have a son, that much is for sure. But, you have to choose from two outcomes. The first, you could either have a son who loves you, who pays attention to what you teach him and how you raise him, and who grows up to be the ideal of what you aspire for him. He will be a loyal son, always thinking of you and will be very close to you. But, he will not live into old age. He will lose his life early, before he is even seventeen years of age."

Sophie gasped. Gerard was frowning. "What's the other outcome?" he asked.

"The other choice is a son who does live to a ripe old age, long outliving you. But, this is one who will betray you very early in his life, he will turn against you and will try to hurt you. Yes, he will disavow you and intentionally cause you much emotional hurt and pain. You will lose any form of family relationship with him at an early age, and this rift will not be redeemable. It will be like you never had a child."

"Those are my choices?" Sophie asked incredulously. She put her face in her hands and began to weep silently. Gerard put his arm around her for support.

The witch doctor shrugged. "This is the written destiny for you. I can tell you about it, and I can inform you what your choices are. But I cannot change your destiny, that is beyond my power."

"Why didn't you just tell us this to begin with?" Gerard asked, his face betraying the pain he was in. "Why make us wait for six months and go through all those exercises for nothing?"

"Ah, but it was not for nothing, was it?" the witch doctor raised a finger to make a point, "You have more energy, and you are sleeping better."

Gerard and Sophie looked at him incredulously.

"Is it not so?" he looked from one to the other, awaiting some confirmation and validation of his proclamation.

"We're leaving," Gerard stood up and Sophie followed suit uncertainly. She took her husbands hand and they walked out of the makeshift tent.

"You will be back!" they heard the witch doctor calling out after them, "After all, you want a baby! A son! You will come back so you can have your son! I will be here, just remember it has to be goat meat!"

"What is he talking about?" Sophie asked Gerard quietly.

"Never mind his nonsense. It was a mistake coming here. Let's go."

They made their way through the noisy, crowded streets to the main road. Sophie covered her mouth with her scarf but the diesel fumes from the vehicles were still too strong to bear. They hurried to cross the main road and get away from the traffic.

"What will we do?" Sophie asked, "What are we even doing here?"

"I don't know," Gerard answered, as if reading her thoughts, "it was a long shot anyway. Our flight isn't until Tuesday, but we can still make the best of this trip, at least. We should just forget about all this. It was a wild goose chase. Tell you what, we'll go sightseeing."

Sophie looked down, battling her own sadness. She wanted to get all these thoughts out of her mind, but it was difficult to just shut them off. After all, she had been eagerly hopeful only a few minutes ago. She dearly wanted to have children and raise a family. This was a deep longing that left and ache and emptiness inside her that would always be there. But she also realized that this trip had been a waste. A waste of resources, money, energy, and precious time. And her sweet husband Gerard was trying his best. He must be feeling the stress of it all, too. And yet, here he was supporting her and trying to cheer her up, even while he must be going through the same emotions as her. She wanted to agree, to be able to throw away these emotions and just be carefree and enjoy the rest of the trip. But it was extremely difficult to pull herself out of her present state of mind.

"There are sights to see," Gerard continued, touching her chin gently, "We could go north, we could see the Golden Temple. They say it's amazing."

"I guess," Sophie responded. She didn't feel like sightseeing. But she also knew that Gerard was trying his best. It would help to get their minds off their problems for once and just think about other things. Maybe, she began to think, it was time to give up trying to have a child of their own. Maybe children were not in their destiny after all.

Teary eyed, she looked up at Gerard. Poor, sweet Gerard. She raised her hand up to his face and gently caressed his cheek.

"You have always been there for me, Gerard," she said, tears streaming down her face, "thank you. I love you so much."

"Oh, honey," he kissed her and hugged her tightly. "I'll always love you. You are perfect, I wouldn't have it any other way."

He wiped her tears away. Then, to change the sombre mood, he said cheerfully, "Let's do it, let's go north and see the Golden Temple! Who knows when we'll ever be out this way again. Let's seize the day and see something wonderful!"

She laughed. He always knew how to cheer her up, and his mock rendition of an impromptu pep talk did just the trick.

"Alright," she said, still laughing, "let's go."

* * *

It was early morning and the skies were just starting to show the first faint wisps of daylight. Sophie and Gerard had made their way to the holy city of Amritsar and were now standing outside the entrance to the Golden Temple. They had removed their shoes and covered their heads, as per the requirements for admission to the Golden Temple complex. Now they stood outside, breathing in the cool, crisp dawn air. It was early and there wasn't a rush of people. Distant loudspeakers played the sound of a prayer being intoned in a melodious voice. An old woman was bent over and sweeping the street outside. A few devotees were walking inside, barefoot, heads covered and bowed in reverence as they entered the holy place. They would touch the ground and then touch their foreheads before stepping across the threshold.

Standing outside the entrance, holding Gerard's hand, Sophie breathed in deeply. The cool, refreshing air in the pre-dawn gave her a wonderful feeling of being alive. A peaceful, calm, and invigorating feeling. As if she had just taken a refreshing bath and was energized and revitalized. She smiled a big smile at Gerard and leaned her head on his shoulder. She was glad that he had suggested coming here.

"You are quite welcome to come inside," said a female voice beside her. She turned to see a young woman, maybe in her early twenties, wearing a distinctive blue turban and an equally impressive navy blue dress and white cummerbund. A black band came over her right shoulder and at the waist, holstered a small sword.

Sophie noted the British accent.

"Are you from England?" she asked.

"Yes I am," the woman replied, smiling, "I grew up in Southall. My family immigrated when I was very young."

"My husband is British," Sophie said.

"Nice to meet you," Gerard said, leaning forward to shake her hand, "I'm Gerard, this is Sophie."

"Nice to meet you too. I'm Soha. What brings you here?"

"It's a long story," Sophie said. "But, coming here, to this place, this is wonderful. It's so peaceful and amazing here. I can feel it, it's so spiritual."

"I come every year from England," Soha said, nodding. "I save up all my vacation for this one trip. I love being here, especially at this time when there's not much of a crowd yet."

"I'm afraid I don't know very much about your faith," Sophie admitted, "But it seems you're very devout."

"We are all on the same journey. There is a reason you are here, and no matter what has happened in your life, whatever brought you here today, you will leave with blessings."

"Thank you, that's beautiful," said Sophie, "I'm looking forward to visiting. Perhaps you could help us, we don't really know the proper etiquette or protocol for what to do."

"Of course," Soha said, nodding.

"Might I venture a question," Gerard asked, "Would it be possible to perhaps say a prayer here, inside, maybe?"

"Of course," Soha replied, "I will take you there."

"I'm afraid we don't know the language," Gerard said.

"The Creator understands all languages," Soha replied, "All you need to do is come from your heart."

"Okay," Gerard looked at Sophie. They nodded together. "We are ready."

"Alright, shall we enter?" Soha asked with a smile.

"Yes!"

* * *

It was October and the gray skies and incessant rain made it dreary in Paris. Sophie stood at the window and watched the rain and traffic outside. Pedestrians held on tightly to their umbrella's as they hurried to their destinations, eager to get inside where it was warm and dry.

A fire crackled in the fireplace, casting a warm yellow glow in the room. Gerard sat in his sofa chair sipping hot tea.

"Something has happened," Sophie said casually, turning to Gerard.

"Oh?" he paused and looked at her, holding the tea cup in his hand.

"I didn't know if I should mention it," she said, "It's probably nothing."

"Still," Gerard sounded concerned, "Is everything alright?"

"Oh, fine," Sophie smiled absent-mindedly, "It's just that . . . well, I'm late."

In response to his perplexed expression, she elaborated. "I'm never late. My periods are always on time, always have been."

As the meaning of what she was saying started to sink in, Gerard put down his tea cup and saucer and stood up.

"Do you mean?" he asked, hesitating. "Could it be?"

Sophie nodded with tears filling her eyes and a blissful smile of joy on her face.

"Yes," she said, starting to sob, "I got a test done. I didn't want to have any doubt so I got a blood test done. I wanted to be sure."

"And?" Gerard walked over to her, eager for her answer.

"It's true," she said, "I'm pregnant!"

Gerard held her in his arms as they both shed tears of relief and joy.

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