Author : Kathy Kachelries, Staff Writer

“I think mine is a girl,” Anju said as she stretched her legs out over the sofa in the resting room. Her hands crossed over her round stomach, which was covered by the stork-printed flannel shirt Special Delivery issued to everyone in the compound. A larger embroidered stork rested over her heart, carrying a swaddled infant in a sling. Most girls were horrified by the logo when they first arrived, but an aide explained that it was simply an ancient myth. No children would actually be dropped from the sky.

“You can’t tell what it is,” Jahnavi said. Her shirt hung around her stomach, deflated, but the next few months would change that. Even with an empty womb, she carried herself as if in her third trimester. Jahnavi had lived in the complex for seven years.

“I can tell,” Anju said. “She feels like a girl.”

“You’ve never been pregnant before,” Jahnavi pointed out.

“I know.”

Shaila listened to the conversation with mild interest, though part of her attention was directed towards the television. For weeks, she’d been trying to teach herself to read by watching American sitcoms with subtitles on, and sometimes, she thought she was getting close. Special Delivery didn’t allow anything but light comedy in the facility. A healthy mind makes a healthy baby, they said. Shaila’s dark eyes drifted to the other two women. “If she thinks it’s a girl, let her think it’s a girl,” she said. Her voice was a quiet warning. “They won’t let her see it, anyways.”

Anju’s hands pressed more firmly against her stomach, but she did not argue. For long moments, the only sound in the resting room was the laugh track of the television and the quick, poorly-dubbed dialogue. Shaila bit at her fingernail as she studied the rapidly moving words at the bottom of the screen. In three years she’d be too old to work for Special Delivery, but she didn’t intend to go back to the factory like most retired surrogates did. Shaila was going to move to the city and get a real job, the kind that she saw in the sitcoms.

“They really won’t let me see her?” Anju asked quietly.

“Why would they? It’s not your baby. Let the real parents worry about it.” Jahnavi waved her hand dismissively, though there was a hint of derision in her voice.

“I’d just like to know if it’s a boy or a girl.”

“Yeah, well. You’ll get over that.”

Another long silence. Shaila rubbed her stomach, which was just beginning to swell. This would be her thirteenth birth. “They look like that,” she finally said as she lifted her hand to the television. “Like those people. Blue or green eyes, red or blond hair. They get named things like Courtney and Jeremy.”

Anju looked at her intently, then fixed her eyes on the screen. “All of them?”

“Most of them. It’s what the parents want.”

Anju looked down at her belly, then back to the colorful television. She seemed to consider the statement carefully. “I hope she has blue eyes,” she said.

Jahnavi grunted. “It’s not your baby,” she said again.

“I don’t care. I hope she has blue eyes and black hair and I hope they name her Madhuri.”

“No one is going to name their baby Madhuri,” Jahnavi said. “No one. You ever seen a Madhuri on TV?”

The silence was tense, and after a few seconds, Shaila turned up the volume on the television. “It’s a perfectly good name,” she said, her words almost drowned beneath the laugh track of the television. “Just save it until you have a kid of your own.”

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