The Wanderer


2. Their first and final breaths

Twenty six years earlier...

"Michael!" Kathryn shrieked as another contraction seized her body. She was six months pregnant. Three months premature. Leaning up against the wall, made of thick mud and cement which was crumbling away onto her nightgown, Kathryn felt sweat running down from her forehead and into her eyes, wide with fear. Letting go of the wall and taking one step at a time, she attempted to make her way to the doorway which was situated on the other side of the room. Dragging her feet, she neared the centre of the the room. But as she took one more step, her swollen knees buckled from the strain. Just in time, Kathryn's husband; Michael, came to the doorway to find his wife about to come face to face with the stone-hard floor. Without a second thought, he ran towards her and caught her in his strong arms. He carried her to the bed, ad placed her gently down onto the stained sheets. "Wait here," he whispered and kissed her on the forehead, leaving her alone in their one-room shack. A small, breathless laugh escaped from Kathryn's dry, chapped lips. "As if I'd be able to leave," she thought as she slipped into unconsciousness.

A couple of minutes later, Michael stumbled stumbled into the room where he had left his wife, closely followed by an elderly woman carrying a basket filled with strong-smelling concoctions. Michael could feel that there was something wrong, but all the same the elderly woman hurried to the bed. She removed the sheets that covered Kathryn and swallowed, in all of her years of healing she had never seen so much blood. The air was thick with the distinct smell of metal. Nevertheless, she got to work. The healer put her fingers to the young woman's wrist. There was a pulse but it was weak, she had to work quickly. She turned to the young man, "You may not want to watch this."

"I'm not leaving my wife," he replied. She admired his confidence.

The healer shrugged, "OK, but I need a knife."

Michael raised his eyebrows, but hurried off thinking it best not to question. While he was gone, the healer traced the incisions she would have to make on Kathryn's bulbous stomach. At the sound of footsteps she held out her hand and felt the cold metal touch her dry palm. Inhaling, she pressed into Kathryn's taut skin.

Michael turned away. No matter how much he loved his wife, he wanted to keep hold of his porridge. Less that five minutes later, he heard the cry of a baby. He gasped and ran to the bed. The healer wrapped the newborn in a sheet of cloth from her basket. She handed the baby to Michael. "There were some complications," the healer whispered. Confused Michael looked down at his wife, Kathryn. There was so much blood, the pungent smell choked him. He gagged, still holding the wailing baby. Looking at the healer and then back down to the corpse that was his wife, he struggled to look for an answer.

There wasn't one.

Squirming in his arms, Michael looked down at his son, he had his mother's nose, and passed him to the healer. Without looking back, Michael ran out of the city gates and into the dustland, leaving all that he new behind.

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