“That the child is the supreme aim of woman is a statement having precisely the value of an advertising slogan.” – Simone de Beauvoir
I work at the 24/7 petrol station. It’s in a secluded part of town, so we get some unusual characters stopping by. An older man comes in regularly and always buys a Daim bar and a bottle of Lucozade. He tells me the same jokes that have long since gotten stale, and he loves to boast about the house he has in Spain. Despite being painfully bored, I smile politely and feign a keen interest.
My manager is closing up early today as his daughter has a mini baby shower. They also plan to reveal the gender, so this woman will discover what she’s having amongst the chocolate bars and the toilet roll. Different strokes for different folks, I guess. I’ve never been a fan of children, even when I was one. I bristle at the sound of babies screeching.
Countless times, strangers have assumed that I’ll be having kids. They never ask; they believe it will happen.
“Oh, you’ll know when you have your own children,” they’ll say.
When you’re a woman, bearing a child is expected of you. People balk at a woman who has no maternal instinct. Instead of seeing her, they see an empty womb. The duty of being a parent feels like one large contradiction. All I hear from customers are their complaints about their kids and how tired they are. When I ask them how many kids they have, they tell me they have five! If the experience is wearing you down, why would you continue to bring yourself more pain?
It’s lunchtime when we shut down for the baby shower. Diana had been expecting seven people, but only three show up, setting her off.
“They were supposed to come! Dad, you don’t understand what this means to me!”
Diana is crying while her father tries to comfort her the best he can. I take myself off into the back to make a cup of coffee. I hear the fridge door open and slam shut.
“Don’t you think it’s so rude of them not to show up?” Daria asks me, indignant.
“Maybe they got held up,” I lie, shrugging my shoulders.
“Well! Since they couldn’t be bothered to show up, I’ll say it. We’re having a boy!”
I’m not quite sure how I am supposed to react. Am I supposed to jump up and down with glee and ask to see the scan pictures?
Suddenly, she starts to cry again, which startles me.
“What’s wrong? Didn’t you want a boy?”
“Of course I wanted a boy!”
My face cannot handle my perplexed look.
“Then, why are you crying?”
“Because not all of my guests came!” she wails.
“Diana, why is this baby shower so important to you? Shouldn’t it be about you and the father rather than what other people think?”
She waves me off.
“Look, no offence, but you just don’t get it.”
I’m not getting anywhere with her, so I return to the front of the petrol station. With only an hour left of my shift, I grab a sandwich and head outside to eat in peace. The sun is a giant orange yolk floating aimlessly in the sky. Just as I take the first bite of my sandwich, one of the guests stands next to me.
“Beautiful sunset, isn’t it?”
I grumble with a mouthful of egg and cress.
“Diana is devastated about the others not showing up. Nobody likes her. That’s why they didn’t come,” he says.
“Really?” I ask.
“Don’t sound so surprised. Would you go through this bullshit if you had a child?”
I turn to look at him with a big smile on my face.
“You’re the first to question whether I’ll have a child. Other people assume I’ll have one because according to their philosophy, baby chambers are all women are.”
He starts laughing hysterically.
“Baby chamber! That’s one I need to remember.”
The sun has descended so much farther that it looks like it’s kissing the hills. The air isn’t too muggy. It’s a comfortable balm that I can withstand. A loud cheering comes from inside, and we both turn to see Diana showing off her scan pictures.
“We’ll never hear the end of this, will we?” he asks.
“I doubt it.”