This story was first published in Variety Pack magazine, Issue II.
If I had a functional womb, I would transfer the Calendar widget to the home screen of my phone. It would be one of my go-to icons. I would use it all the time, marking dates in red, yellow and green, apportioning each month into anticipation and action. I would insert tiny notes: expected start date, ovulation period, conception window, safe days for risky romps. I would feel both normal and special, like other women.
If I had a functional womb, I would spend unhurried hours in the Personal Hygiene section at the supermarket. I would check out different types of sanitary napkins – some embossed with butterflies and smelling of roses, others gift-wrapped in mauve and purple like birthday presents. I would want to know the difference between the regular and the XL pads, the day-time ones and the all-nighters, the cottony-net covers and the insta-absorb ones. And though my friends tell me that napkins with belts became redundant after the arrival of self-adhesive pads, I would still buy one box of each kind, just so I know how they feel against my skin. Femininity is as much about feeling as it is about being, and I have not felt much in a long time.
If I had a functional womb, I would crib about periods like all the ladies I know. I’d join the elaborate discussions my co-workers have in our restroom. I’d complain about the heaviness, the backaches, the dreaded cramps. I would pout and make faces and go tsk tsk tsk, but unlike them, my discomfort would be superficial. Inwardly I’d be happy to be uncomfortable, ecstatic even, because menstruation is the gateway to maternity, and maternity is a grief-sized hole in my heart.
If I had a functional womb, the sight of my sister’s children would not give me pangs. I would grow my own babies. I think the first one would be a daughter. She would start out as a basic lump but quickly take on human form, sprouting little arms and legs and miniature fingers and toes. The first time I visit the doctor, she would give me a glimpse of my little girl in three dimensions and I’d watch her, mesmerised, like a wide-eyed child on her first visit to Disneyland. The doctor would prescribe a whole new lifestyle – fresh fruit, supplements, morning walks, yoga. No cigarettes now, she would warn me. I would nod vigorously, for once unbothered by her sanctimony. On the way out of the hospital parking, I would dump my lighter in the trash can without missing a beat. For that little girl, I would willingly surrender my sins.
If I had a functional womb, I would have an altogether different life. I would need a bigger house and yard and washing machine. I would make peace with a smaller bank balance. I would use a different car: not the singleton’s hatchback but the harried mother’s pick-up truck. It would have tennis balls and school books sprawled across the backseat and a confection of used socks and candy wrappers on the floor. The insides of the car would smell of assorted kiddie fluids – sweat, phlegm, tears – instead of lemongrass and patchouli. My house would often, if not always, look ravaged. There would be 90-decibel tantrums and daily yell-fests. Food would be cooked, argued over, wasted. Toys would break, books would tear. There would be crying, sulking, reconciling. I would scold, then soothe. The days would be endless, the nights shrunken. I would be poor and cranky and exhausted. If the lives of other mothers are any indication, I would lose a lot of my former self – my hobbies buried, my friends adrift, my youth gone.
And yet, I would relish all of it. I would pick the cacophony of motherhood over the white noise of my solitude in a heartbeat.
If only I had a functional womb.
Megha Nayar was longlisted for the Commonwealth Short Story Prize 2020 and the New Asian Writing Short Story Prize 2020. Her work has appeared in several magazines and is forthcoming in Bending Genres, Rejection Letters and Marias at Sampaguitas, among others. She tweets at @meghasnatter.