"Aaayyy!" The cry of a woman in labor pierced the hot afternoon air, frightening black birds into flight. Akna sat up and cried out as she pushed as hard as she could. But it was in vain. She fell back, the last of her strength spent. Life was slipping away. "My son...My son...," she moaned weakly, reaching out her hand, searching desperately through the mist. The other women sought to comfort her, and wiped the sweat from her face with a cool, damp cloth.
"She is calling for her son. Quick! Bring the boy here," the midwife commanded the other women.
Yich'ak B'alam sat outside on the trunk of a fallen tree, attempting to smoke. The fingers of his bandaged hand trembled so badly that he very nearly dropped the cigarette and only just barely succeeded in bringing it to his lips to take a drag. He had neither slept nor eaten for the three days that his wife had been in labor. He was running on adrenaline, a little water, and a great many cigarettes. How he longed to give into his vice, balche, allow it to drown him, pulling him beneath its waves down into the dark depths of the abyss. It would lessen the pain, if only a little and for only a short time, of the remembrance of the bones of all their other children, the nameless innocents, born too soon, set apart for death the moment they emerged from the womb, buried now beneath the floor of the hut in little clay jars. Oh the bones. So many bones... He remembered the birth of every single one of his little ones distinctly, though they had all been exactly the same. First there had always been the long, hard labor. Then finally the child was brought forth. Blue and tiny with not even the strength to cry - only to gasp for breath. He remembered how he had willed the child to breathe. Willed the breath in his own lungs to enter those of his child. He remembered how after the birth, he and Akna had been left utterly alone with the dying child. How they had awaited death. Longed for death, to end the pain and suffering of the child. Akna held the infant in her arms, close to her breast, willing it with all her being to nurse. She kissed and stroked the face of her child, wet from her tears. She rocked gently and crooned lullabies to ease the suffering, to ease the dying. And Yick'ak B'alam leaned against the doorway of his hut and looked out at the people going about their lives as if nothing were wrong, and he wondered how the earth itself does not shatter for the death of a child. Death had never come quickly. The unspeakable agony usually stretched on for three cruel days. Until, finally, with one last sigh, mercifully the little heart fluttered to a stop...Without realizing it, Yich'ak B'alam had allowed the cigarette to burn down to his fingers. Surprised by the sudden burning pain, he dropped the cigarette and stood up swearing. When he looked up his eyes fell upon the idols of the two goddesses of childbirth, Akhustal and Akna, for whom his wife was named, and upon the little shrine he had made for them. They stared at him smugly with their half-lidded eyes, their mouths twisted into ugly, smirking grins. And he was filled with rage. He stormed over to the idols.
"You bitches! You whores!" he raged. "Did I not do enough for you? Did I not give you enough? Did I not build this altar just for you? Did I not lay the best of my table always before you? I fed you with my own blood! Was that not enough for you?" He destroyed the altar and flung the goddesses to the ground from on high, crushing them underfoot. He stood there breathing heavily and then turned to see that his son, B'ak B'alam, who had been playing quietly on another log nearby, had stopped playing and was now staring at him. But Yich'ak B'alam said nothing to him. He turned away from his son and went and sat back down on the log, where he had been sitting before. B'ak B'alam continued to stare at his father. After a few moments, Yich'ak B'alam called his son to him. "Son," he called, without turning to look. "Come here." B'ak B'alam walked slowly over to his father and stood beside him. Yich'ak B'alam sat the little boy on his right knee. He patted the little boy's knee and turned his face away, fighting for composure. After a long while, he turned back to the little boy. "There is a thing I must tell you, my son, but it is hard," he said.
"What is it, Tat (Father)? What is wrong?" B'ak B'alam asked.
"It is about Na' (Mother) and the baby."
"Yes. A very bad thing has happened. They have become very sick," Yich'ak B'alam explained. "The midwife and the other women have tried very hard to help them, my son, but they are too sick. They cannot be saved." Overcome with grief, Yich'ak B'alam hugged his son tightly to himself, and wept openly on his son's neck. "Oh, my son!" he cried. "This day I am losing my wife and you are losing your mother! Tell me what shall become of us, my son? What shall become of us? Tell me. Tell me." Yich'ak B'alam wept. But B'ak B'alam smiled and stroked his father's hair.
"Do not cry, Tat! They shall not surely die!" he said, cheerfully. Yich'ak B'alam looked up at his son, his face stained with tears.
"What do you mean, my son?" he asked, puzzled.
"They shall not surely die! The voice told me that they shall both surely live,"B'ak B'alam answered.
"What voice?" Yich'ak B'alam asked him. But at that moment, one of the women rushed out of the hut. She came over to the boy and took him by the hand.
"She is calling for the boy," she said to Yich'ak B'alam. Without waiting for him to answer, she pulled the boy into the hut behind her.
"My son! My son!" Akna continued to cry out. The woman quickly brought the boy to her.
"Do not be afraid! Look! Here is your son!" The midwife said to her.
"My son. My son." Akna smiled. She reached out her hand and touched him on the arm and then took him by the hand. The moment she touched his hand a powerful urge to push overcame her. She cried out and pushed hard and the baby moved down for the first time in the three days that she had been in labor. Thinking the baby was coming at long last, the women quickly rushed the boy out of the hut. But the moment Akna let go of her son's hand, she became worse than before.
"Quick! Bring the boy back!" the midwife told the women. So the woman ran outside again and took the boy by the hand and brought him back inside. This time, Yich'ak B'alam, startled, stood up and looked to see what was happening. The woman brought the boy to Akna again and she took him by the hand. She cried out and pushed hard a second time and then fell back. She gasped for breath.
"She is exhausted," the women said as they attended to her, and continued wiping her face. But then, determined, Akna sat up again. She cried out and gave one final push with all of her remaining strength and the baby came out. But when the baby came out the cord was wrapped tightly around the neck. The skin was tinged a dusky blue and the child neither moved nor breathed. "The child is dead. That is why the birth was so difficult," the women said, "She worked so hard to bring forth this child and had so much hope. She was so sure this one would survive. If she were to see the little body the way it is now, before she has had a chance to recover, it would break her heart and she would surely die!" And they hid it from her...
"Where is my baby?" Akna began to ask.
"Do not worry. Everything will be alright. One of the other women are attending to him in the other room. Rest now, and you may see him later," the old midwife told her.
"I cannot hear his cry." Akna became frantic, tears already springing to her eyes because she knew. She knew. "Where is my child? Where is my baby?" And they all looked at her with pained expressions.
"Akna...," one young woman started, "The baby is..."
"He is in heaven, child," the old midwife broke in, "Where the light from the face of Itzamna shines like the sun and his wife, the goddess Ix Chel, suckles him at her breast as she sits in the shade of the ceiba tree which is on the banks of the great river," she finished.
"NO! NO! Nooo," Akna cried, heartbroken. The other women rushed to console her, weeping with her. But everyone had forgotten about the young boy in the room - a witness to it all. Now he approached the place where they had lain the body. A lump had formed where his throat met his chest, making every breath painful. Tears rolled down his cheeks and he wondered how could this be? Then he heard the still, small voice.
"Why are you crying, little one? My son, did I not say unto you that they shall both surely live? It is true, the other little ones I have gathered unto myself. But this little one I have determined to be a brother and a helper unto you. Therefore, fear not, my child, for I am with you always. Now, stretch forth your hand and see that you do all that I command you. For through you I shall show them my wonders!"
Amidst their anguish, suddenly the women heard the cry of the infant. They gasped and rushed to the place where the little body had been lain. Full color had returned to the child and it cried with the full power of its lungs, waving tiny arms and legs in the air. Another gasp came from the women and they quickly unwound the cord, now in loose coils easily removed from the neck. Unable to speak, they took the babe and laid him in Akna's arms...