It was storming. Rain was pelting down in sheets. Anyone foolish enough to venture outside would be completely drenched. It was merely water, but it painted the world grey and dark. Thunder screeched after a flash of lightning chased the shadows away. For a split second, the city was laid bare. Peeling paint on buildings and overflowing industrial sized trash bins were a common sight.
The darkness crawled back as soon as light retreated. It always did, there was no escape.
It wasn’t merely the gloom of the hidden sun. This was a shell of a metropolis, a far cry from a proper one where sky-cars were the norm, where neon lights beat back the impending nightfall, where voices and noises signalled life underneath the hard shell of concrete and steel.
Here, a sole street light flickered valiantly against the leaning shadows. This used to be the heart of a bustling city-state, but it had gone the way cities always did when resources and funding got low, when politicians cared more about their pockets than the people who elected them.
A car rolled to a stop along an empty street. It was old, a petrol fuelled vehicle, albeit a well-maintained one. She sat in the car. It was mostly quiet. There was gasping rasp of her car’s engine and her own breath. Wipers squeaked as they swished left and right trying to keep up with the deluge of water. The non-stop rattle of water slamming against the car was near constant. It was enough to drown out all thought.
She watched. The city was quiet and somber. The equatorial sun hadn’t set, but it hid behind the dark rippling clouds as if ashamed about what was going to happen. The buildings leaned against each other. They looked tired, standing on their foundations seemed beyond their ability. Urban rot was a disease running across the pock-marked asphalt.
Her eyes darted left and right, checking and double checking. She clutched at her white lab coat, pulling it closer around her shoulders. A shudder ran down her spine as she started second guessing herself. A contented sigh came from the bundle on the passenger seat. She glanced at the infant, all swaddled in white. The baby gurgled as their eyes opened. Her breath hitched as pure innocent eyes of brilliant chartreuse captured her own. She took a deep breath, a gentle hand caressed the unblemished skin of the baby. Young, the baby was too young, barely eight months old.
“I can’t consign you to that life. It’s no life. You’re better off here,” she whispered. “I hope you’ll understand one day.”
She pulled the swaddle loose and gently extracted the baby’s chubby left hand from within the layers of fabric. There was a medical tag still attached to the arm. She looked at the tag, a logo of black, white and yellow was printed next to a series of numbers. These were numbers in place of name given lovingly by parents. She expelled a breath from her lungs in a bid to ease the tightness. It didn’t worked. She got to work. Fishing around in her pocket, she pulled a box cutter free. It clicked loudly as the sharp blade extended. She looked at the squirming baby again. It was the right thing to do. The blade gleamed as lightning ran across the sky. She gritted her teeth and slashed downwards as thunder rumbled overhead.
The baby giggled as she pulled the tag free. Staring at the baby, she tried to rewrapped the baby again. But she was no experienced mother. She was a scientist, her hands meant for lab equipment and datapads, not laughing, cackling babies. After a few tries, she gave up. If things went the way she planned, the baby would be in better hands than hers soon.
She rooted around her car and found an umbrella. Worriedly, she glanced out of the window again. The streets were still clear, the rain had made sure of that. It was now or never. The baby laughed again, she couldn’t help smiling. The green eyes so at odds with the downy soft black hair. She brushed against the baby’s nose. The excited shrieks from the baby made her laugh out loud.
“All right, time to do this,” she muttered to herself.
Taking a deep breath, she looked at the building across the road one more time. Her hand tightened on the umbrella. She didn’t give herself time to second guess herself. With a quick pull of the door handle, it swung opened. The roar of the rain came flooding into the car. Lightning streaked and thunder roared, startling the baby. The baby whimpered. It was the beginnings of a full on bawl. She pushed a button and the umbrella unfurled itself. Reaching back into the car, she cradled the baby against her chest, humming to calm the infant.
Her steps quick as she jogged across the empty street, the baby was more curious by the experience than afraid. She stepped towards the door careful to angle the umbrella to block the security camera from getting a good shot of her face. The baby started babbling, their hands made little gasping motions at her hair. She moved her head away, well aware the strength of the baby’s grip.
“I’m not your mother but leaving you there is beyond even me. After tonight, I must flee for my life. Taking you with me is a death sentence for both of us. I know you deserve better, but this is the best I can do for you. I can’t keep you with me,” she spoke.
The baby stared at her, legs kicking within the swaddle and hands waving in the air. She bent down and pressed her lips against the baby’s forehead. The squirming calmed a little as the baby started cooing. Slowly and tenderly, she lowered the baby to the ground. As soon as the cold ground pressed against the baby’s back, they started wailing. It was loud, insistent and demanding.
She gritted her teeth and turned her back on the baby resolutely. Step by step, the further she walked the harder it was to breathe as tears clouded her vision. This was the right choice. There was no other way to keep the baby safe. She had no choice.
By the time she got to her car, she was sobbing. Her hand pressed against her mouth to hold it together. The baby’s cries were louder than the rain hitting the asphalt, more powerful than the rolling thunder. She pulled the door opened and got into the car. As soon as she slammed the door shut, her resolve crumbled.
“Why? I barely had the baby for long. Just a couple of months max. This isn’t my child. I should be able to do this,” she hissed angrily at herself.
She permitted herself one look. One look back at the small white bundle at the door of a state orphanage. Her jaw tightened as she wrenched her eyes away. Keys jingled as she twisted it. The engine spluttered to life. She dashed the tears angrily away with the back of her hand as she floored the accelerator.
The baby cried long and hard as the car sped away.