I’m at the bus stop and really hurting. I stretch my neck, twisting it around, trying to work out a knot. I’m breaking in a new set of pillows and thus haven’t been sleeping right, my back and sides messed up now, as I lay all night in positions my body isn’t used to.
“Oh, congratulations, by the way.” A man in an old suit leans to me from down the sidewalk. “I’ve seen you here before.”
“Congrats on what?” I shrug. I don’t recognize the man, and assume he’s got me confused with someone else. Maybe he’s just goofing on me because I keep stretching and grooving my back around to loosen it.
“You’re expecting.” The stranger steps closer. He is beaming. “So congratulations.”
“No, I’m not.” I shake my head, taken aback. “I’m a guy. I can’t get pregnant.”
“Oh, you’re a guy all right. But you’re also pregnant.” The stranger smiles without blinking. He’s just staring at me, a middle-aged man with a doughy face in an old suit.
“Yeah, right.” I look away, turning down the street to see if the bus is coming. “Get away from me, meatball.”
“No really. Lots of people are pregnant. Not everyone, of course, but lots of people. Just look around.” The stranger sweeps a wide gesture to the sidewalk across the street.
“Sure. Of course” I nod, unconvinced and now getting a little annoyed.
“Why here. Let me show you.” The stranger raises his arm.
“What? What are you doing?” I step back as it looks as though the man is about to touch me.
“No. I’m fine. Really.” I chuckle, as I find the stranger somewhat amusing.
“Oh, stop that now.” The man steps toward me. “No need to be so fussy.”
“Why? What’re you doing?”
“I’m going to extract your baby.” The man shrugs. He looks slightly offended. “Why? What’d you think I was doing?”
“I don’t know. Trying to tickle me or something.”
“Now why would a person do something like that?”
“I don’t know. I don’t know you, so how would I know why you’d do anything?”
“Come on now, hold still.” He takes a step closer. “This will make you feel better, ease your burden.”
“What? No. For heaven sakes, no. I am not expecting. I’m a guy. I can not have children.” I step back, raising my hands to block him.
The doughy-looking man lowers his arms. “How can you be so sure?”
“Because. That’s just the way it is.”
“Why? Who says?” The man raises his arms in the “what gives” gesture. “Don’t you want to see your baby? Hold your baby? Love your baby?” He wraps his arms around himself, closes his eyes, and grins. “You’re a lucky man. Lots of people can’t even have babies. And here you’re all . . .”
“Yes. Your baby. . . Here. Let me show you.” He reaches toward my chest, “Lift up your shirt. I won’t even touch you.”
I sigh and look around to see if anyone else notices, then lift the bottom of my shirt, revealing my embarrassingly pallid belly.
“A little higher.” The man leans in with a serious expression. He crouches to study me. He looks like a big city doctor from maybe a hundred and fifty years ago.
I lift my shirt past my chest.
“Yeah, see. Right there.” He smiles and nods in satisfaction.
“What?” I look down.
“There. Right there.” He points to my side.
Sure enough, there is a little dimple at the side of my chest, about five inches below my underarm. I reach over. It feels soft and squishy, not at all like a hard lump that it appears to be. It’s maybe the size of a pea, like I have a pea under my skin.
“Don’t poke it.”
“Sorry. Geez, I just didn’t know what it was . . . I was curious.”
“I just told you what it is. Want me to pull it out?” His eyes rise to me hopefully.
“Why? What then? Would I owe you money or something?”
“My, you are a suspicious one, aren’t you?” The man chuckles. “You’d have a baby. That’s ‘what then.’” He nods, seriously. “You want to see your baby, don’t you?”
“Ah, yeah. Why not.” I shake my head, entirely bored with the conversation now and hoping this will make him go away. I look over my shoulder, wondering when the bus will be here, figuring this is just a gag. Maybe he’s a magician, and he’ll slide a small doll from his sleeve and try to sell it to me or something. Maybe I’m on one of those hidden camera programs. Maybe he’s just bored, and trying to make interesting conversation, trying to make something out of an average weekday morning.
He reaches toward my side. I look away, searching for the bus again. I feel a slight tugging at the lump. Then it feels like he’s pulling something out. I feel my skin stretch, and definitely something hard sliding out. I look down and, sure enough, he’s pulling something from my side, a long, thin something pulled right out of me. I feel my hands and neck go numb. There’s a popping sound, then relief.
“There you are.” The man beams, his palms cupped together, smiling into his hands. “Oh, look, it’s a girl. A wonderful baby girl.” He looks up to me, eyes aglow. “You have a daughter. Congratulations. I’m so happy for you.”
I look down, still holding my shirt up. I do feel lighter now, for some reason. I feel different. Better. Relieved. My neck and back feel much better, much looser.
He lowers his palms for me to see. Inside his hands is a tiny, wiggling baby. I look at my side. There is just a little hole there, a pinprick, with some pinkness around it, like a bug bite. I look over at the man, then down to his outstretched arms, reaching to offer the baby to me.
“Well, here you go now. Take her. She’s yours. She’s all yours.” He giggles.
I lower my shirt, reach down and slide my cupped hands under the baby.
The man steps back, still crouching slightly, grinning and nodding. “Congratulations. Congratulations,” he whispers.
The baby feels warm. She is naked and squirming, yawning, her eyes closed tightly. She is the size of a small mouse, kind of long and lean. I look up at the man. A long black limousine pulls to the curb. It is an old car, but well taken care of, shining like a black mirror. A door opens. The man nods, climbing into the back seat. The car pulls away, and I’m left standing in the crisp morning air, waiting for the bus, holding a small, warm, newborn baby.