Monday, July 20, 2009

The Cashew Nut Orchard


Adhan was two years old. He liked to play with Sakinah. They were cousins. The two children had brought my elder sister, Salwani and I closer together. The fact that they were cousins was not the reason why we became very close to each other. It was about how Salwani eventually conceived her daughter to be.

Salwani and Irfan got married almost two years before Siti and I did. Their inability to get children had made everybody worried. Are they infertile? Are they inheriting the low fecundity of our elders and ancestors? Those sorts of questions baffled me, made me feel anxious, dejected and angry at times. I had asked Salwani about it, just to satisfy my curiosity. At that time, I was twenty days away from my marriage date.

“Sis. Do you believe in the inheritance of fecundity?”

“I am not sure, Mathani. The facts tell the story. You see, our grandparents only had one child, our parents have only two. And here I am, married two years, no indication of pregnancy as yet. What would you say to that?”

Salwani always called me by my full name, not just Sani like other people did. I kind of like the way she addressed me. As a result, I became very fond of her by day.

“I bet sperm counts are not the problem?” I asked politely, at the same time negotiating away from her question. If I did answer the question, I would only invite anguish to destabilize my emotion. That was because I hate to hear anything that will support the plausibility of the assumption. I knew that it was an act of denial. But I did not want to feel defeated before I even started.

“Fertility wise, both Irfan and I are okay. We have examined ourselves at two different clinics. We are doctors, brother. We do not just let things finding their own way.”

They did their homework. But, I kept on prodding at her, in the hope that some good things might come out.

“How about physiological and psychological factors. Have you looked at the conditions that stimulate pregnancy? Hormone balance for example. Do not forget about your own ovulation cycle. What is the stage that your ovum is most receptive. I mean, what is the age of your ovum that is most receptive to the sperm? Do you get what I mean?”

“Yes Bro. Thanks. You are a lot of help. I will consult the people in the O&G Division.”

“I am specializing in Family Medicine, don’t you remember?”

“Of course. I will see how well you do when you get married.”

Her comment made me blushed. She would always get the better of me. She had the knack of jabbing the anaesthetics at the right place and at the right time. That expression was just the doctors’ version of the common saying of hitting the nail at the right place and at the right time. But I was not angry. Why should I, anyway. I love her. She was a newly found sister whom I had lost through family arrangement. The separation did took its toll. During the first eighteen years of my life I did not even feel that she was my sister. She had lived with our parents in Kuala Lumpur while I lived with our grandparents in a village near Kuala Lipis, Pahang. So, it was only right that we should make up for the lost time.

Actually, there were other facts about our clan that I had never communicated to my sister. Siti and I had promised not to reveal then to anyone. Despite the somewhat sour relationship that we had during our first eight months of reunion, Siti and I did a simple study of our family tree. The results were startling and annoying. For the past four generations, I was told that none of us had more than three children in a family. To add to that woes, it was noted that quite a number of them died at comparatively young age. As a doctor and a researcher, I would like to search for the explanation.

Back to the story about Salwani; when Siti was confirmed pregnant, my sister started to frequent our house. She would find time to be around with Siti. When Siti was six months into her pregnancy, Salwani conceived her first baby. Later on she related that if a woman finds herself difficult to conceive, she should try mixing closely with pregnant women, physically and emotionally. Another suggestion was that the woman should try to adopt a child. For whatever reason, it seemed to work with certain women but not others. The good news was that it worked for Salwani. We were happy for her and her husband. She thanked me for the suggestions and encouragement that I had given her. So that was the story about Sakinah. She is six months younger than Adham.

When I asked her again whether there was any inheritance associated with pregnancy, she brushed it aside without hesitation. She gave a thumb-up and then pointed at her belly. She was two months pregnant!

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