Her screams were echoing through the empty corridors. She tried to catch her breath but her body was in pure agony as if someone was squeezing the life out of her. Even though she thought she was prepared to endure the torment, the real trauma was even worse. Sweat rolled down her forehead, as she clenched the sheets tightly. The ordeal had been going on for hours without any signs of stopping.
"That's it," a gentle voice encouraged her. "It's almost over my dear. Push. You have to push!"
"I…" she gasped. "I...can't...too much...pain…"
"Doctor she has lost too much blood!" the nurse beside her warned. "Her BP is dropping!"
"Get more blood bags!" the doctor ordered another nurse. She rushed outside to get more blood bags. Out in the corridor, a fully suited man was sitting on the bench, calmly waiting. He heard the screams from within yet maintained a poker face. His hands held a letter. When a nurse emerged from the operation theater, he put the letter into his pocket, stood up and bowed.
"How is the girl?" he asked in a formal tone.
"Are you the father?" she questioned.
The man pursed his lips before replying, "I am."
The nurse scrutinized him. The man was too calm and icy. He looked unaffected about the birth of his baby. His handsome face was unreadable while his dark brown hair was properly brushed back. Unlike most new fathers who looked tensed and haggard, the man looked as if he was there for a business meeting.
She knew that he was an influential person because the girl was admitted under strict secrecy at the VIP ward of the hospital. All her needs were taken care of and yet, the father of the baby never showed up. Until today.
"She has lost too much blood," she informed him. "I'm going to get more blood bags."
"What about the baby?"
"The baby is still on the way," the nurse said in a grim tone. "Now if you would please excuse me."
She scurried off to fetch more blood bags and then returned to the operation theater. The other nurse proceeded to inject the needle into the girl's veins. The color on her face was returning but the labour was far from over.
The girl was only 18 years old and it was her first baby. Her body was weak and the unusually long hours of labor pain was exhausting her. Furthermore, it had been only eight months and the baby was premature.
The girl's legs were spread far apart and she was fighting for her life to give birth to this child. However, the delivery was not the issue. The doctor was more puzzled by the girl's request. As he tried to stabilize the girl's condition, he recalled the instructions she had given him.
"When the child comes out, please don't let me hear its cries," she begged. "I don't want to hear the child cry. Please hold her mouth and take her away from me as soon as possible!"
The words had astounded him. A child's cries were the very first thing a mother wanted to hear and yet, this girl did not want to experience that joy.
The girl gave another ear piercing shriek. Her vulva was dilating and ready to push out the baby.
"Dear, you must push," he coaxed her. The girl's face was contorted in pain and she felt as if she would die. "If you don't the baby will be in danger!"
The girl bit her lip so hard that it was bleeding. Her strength was leaving but she must push it out. She heaved her stomach, forcing herself to push. It was as if her womb was being beaten up repeatedly and she was still expected to pop out a human being from there.
The nurse held her hand. The girl was glad for the warmth of her fingers while the nurse consoled her to continue pushing. She squeezed the nurse's hand tightly but the latter did not flinch. The girl continued to torture her body, pressurizing it to bring out the baby.
"I see the head!" the doctor declared. "Harder!"
The girl yelled, the struggle becoming too unbearable for her. She heaved again and again, taking deep breaths in between. Once the torso was out, the doctor held its mouth to prevent the girl from hearing its cries and gently pulled out the baby which was covered in blood and sticky liquids.
"Nurse, cut the umbilical cord!" The doctor ordered. The nurse nodded and placed two clips on the long cord which was connecting the baby's navel with the mother's womb. She expertly snitched it separating the mother from the baby. The girl was barely conscious.
"Nurse…" she called weakly. One of the nurses attended to her.
"Please take her away," the girl begged. The nurse was confused by the girl's plea. Why was this girl rejecting her baby?
"Don't you want to see your child?" she asked. To her surprise, the girl began to cry. Her tears were not due to the hours of pain she had suffered but of a broken heart.
"If I see her, I will never be able to forgive myself," she sobbed. "Her cries will haunt me forever and I won't be able to let go of her."
She grasped the nurse's hand. "Please, take her away!" she cried. "It's better if she never knows her mother! Please…"
The pain in her heart was worse than a thousand labour pains. The child she had carried for months...she had never thought that the separation would hurt this much. Even though she knew every detail of the contract by heart and had prepared herself, she never thought that her heart would be torn apart at the final hour.
The girl knew that if she heard the child's first cry or saw its face, her resolve would break. She would never be able to get over the trauma of leaving her child to a stranger. To achieve something, she unwittingly gave up the most precious thing in her life.
And now she would be alone. Forever.
The man outside was calmly waiting for the doctor to come out. Finally, he emerged, carrying the newborn in his arms.
"It's a girl, Mr. Hwang," the doctor declared. Hwang Minho looked down, staring at the little girl underneath the blankets.
She was so tiny that it looked as if she would fit in his one hand. Her tiny fingers were twitching while she slept. Minho was staring at it, not saying a word.
"Would you like to hold her?" the doctor asked, feeling confused over the man's lack of reaction.
Minho gave a stiff nod and held out his arms. The doctor placed the girl into them. Minho poked the girl's face, as if trying to feel if she was real or not. In her sleep, the baby's small fingers curled around his, holding it.
The doctor was puzzled by how unaffected the man was but then the latter mumbled something.
"Did you say something, Mr. Hwang?"
"Hwang Jina," Minho mumbled. "Her name is Hwang Jina."
His icy mask slipped for a second as a small smile played on his lips. But it was visible for only a fraction of a second.
"We will have to keep her in the PICU for a night," the doctor said but Minho cut in.
"Our family doctors will take care of her in my hospital," Minho informed him. "We'll shift Jina there. And as for the girl inside, my Secretary will cater to her there. We'll pay her hospital bills as well."
The doctor was puzzled by the odd couple. The father clearly wanted the child and yet the mother was distancing herself. Furthermore, the father was Hwang Minho, the richest and most powerful man in the country! Which girl would not want to marry him and give birth to his child?
"Oh and one more thing," Minho said. "That girl should never find out my name. Don't tell her that I myself came here to fetch this child. Otherwise I will destroy this hospital."
The calmness behind the threat made him more menacing. The doctor gulped in fear and lowered his head.
"I-I understand sir," he said. "She'll never find out."
Minho nodded and turned away to leave. Before exiting the VIP corridor, he took one last glance at the room the girl was still in. He never understood why the girl agreed to this but nevertheless, she completed her part of the contract. Her job was done.
The nurse was cleaning her up. The girl was in a catatonic state, unfeeling and not responding much. Her mental health had taken a toll not by the long hours of labour but by the aftermath of giving up her child. The nurse pitied the young girl. She was barely an adult and yet had to go through such a big catastrophe.
"Your baby will be fine," the nurse consoled her. "You did a very difficult thing but I'm sure she will be loved by her family."
The girl looked up at her. "It's not that," she said, her eyes tearing up.
"Then what is it?"
Suddenly, the girl threw her arms around the nurse, crying hard. She could not express the guilt she felt. Her grief did not stem from the fact that she gave up her child. It was because of that terrible secret. In her selfishness, she had passed on a terrible curse to her own child. The naive and desperate decision she made to rid herself of that curse had thrown that baby into a life of hell. The curse which had haunted her the whole life will now stalk that little child. And she could never forgive herself for it.
Please protect my child, she prayed. Please protect her...