She had no evil in her heart, she would tell herself inward false reassurance. She was young and desperate, and had no idea where to go or who to turn to. And of course, the veil of shame she knew she could enclose on herself and everyone around her if the secret was revealed.
And so, as the years passed, that was what it became - a secret.
It had been foolish of her to believe that he had really loved her in the first place. To her, he was something exotic, three years older than her. He was her first sweet taste of adulthood beyond the monotony of the classroom. Someone so much older and wiser. Maybe that was half of the allure of love for her, aside the gifts he would give her in between classes, small gifts like jewellery and chocolate which she would proudly display to her female peers as a sign she had bordered womanhood with her new boyfriend.
After the first few years of her adolescence spent dateless, she had to admit that she had been hasty with him. For so long, she had envied the smiling faces of the couples that passed her by on the streets and on screens, secretly craving that very same affection. She thought that he saw her as the world, the same way she had. But in reality, she’d been nothing more than a pathetic substitute for him, a fawning puppy that trailed on every click of his heels.
Something he could, and would so easily later discard.
When the first tell-tale signs appeared in the sudden monthly absence, she thought herself to be overreacting and just ignored it. Then, when her breasts began to ache and her stomach became subtly rounded, she knew that she couldn’t ignore it any longer.
They had met in the courtyard on that sunny summer day, with her nervously explaining her predicament through fumbling, tented fingers.
“So? It’s not my problem. Just get rid of it like everyone else.”
Each word stabbed at her heart like the tip of a pocket knife, but she couldn’t begin to comprehend the pain of the other solution. Termination was a choice that delinquent girls made when they couldn’t be bother to deal with the responsibility of motherhood. And it had been her dream ever since she was a child to have a little family of her own. It was too cruel to even consider.
But she loved him too much to displease him.
She kept her secret well from everyone she knew. She managed to disguise her changing body under baggy clothes and her moods with muttered excuses of having the flu, not wanting to deal with anything that wasn't him.
Somehow everyone around her just believed it. And she was grateful that they weren't interfering- that would give her more time to solve the real problem.
Night after night, she had wracked her brain over how to solve this new dilemma. She knew that she had to be careful at home, especially around her parents. Theirs was the reaction she dreaded the most. But thankfully they remained oblivious.
The answer came one day as she was in the bathroom. It had slid with a visceral ‘squelch’ out of her body, cracking its eggshell soft skull against the porcelain toilet seat with a gentle thud that made her wince. She didn’t even realize what had actually happened until she had gotten up and seen the dark, near gelatinous red running down the sides of her legs.
She saw it as genderless, something in her brain refusing to recognise it as a human, or that it had even emerged from her body. The girl had memorized the womb cycle from countless biology lessons, but nothing she had learnt had prepared her to actually see one in real life. It was nearly fully developed, probably sixteen inches long with miniature fingernails and toes and a miniature sprinkling of hair on its small, bruised head. Its skin was pale and veiny, glossed with afterbirth. In its face, she saw a perfect blend of her own and his features, eyes clearly fluttering beneath its paper-thin eyelids.
The call of her mother from downstairs snapped her back to reality. She knew that she had to get rid of it, for the sake of him. And if her parents discovered…
She scooped the tiny body into her satchel, hurriedly mopping up the assortment of fluids on the tiles and went off on her way to school.
All along the walk, she kept peering over her shoulder, conscious that all the other passers-by knew her mistake and were all silently judging her for it. For her, her sin was becoming heavier and heavier with each step, to the point she was afraid it would tear itself and expose her to the world. Ignoring her own aching body, she clenched her legs together and walked on. Her hand gripped the growing wet patch in her bag even tighter as she walked along to the train station, soon finding herself in the morning layout of the station, still relatively deserted.
It was there she knew how to get rid of it.
With fumbling fingers, she gripped the key in her hand, sinking to a height where she knew no-one could see what she was doing. Hearing the quiet click of the open locker, both hands reached into an unzipped small space in her bag where they clenched around the slippery flesh.
Almost haltingly, she slid him into the cold metal darkness. For a split second, his dull brown eyes seemed to flutter open and he gave a half-open stare that seemed surely accusatory in her guilt-ridden mind. It was almost enough to make her stop. But her own fears persisted her in carrying out the unspeakable deed.
She didn't know what she had been thinking when she had done it. With the benefit of hindsight, she knew that she hadn't been in her right mind. Adulthood had been thrust onto her in a way that few could ever even imagine.
I’ll come back for you, she found herself promise in a whisper. I’ll get him to change his mind and you’ll have a real family, with a mommy and a daddy. And we’ll get good jobs and save up for you so you can live in a nice house and have lovely toys. And we’ll all be happy. Don’t worry, somebody will probably find you here and take care of you.
It had been selfish and childish, she had come to realize as she grew older. Once the lockers were shut, they were practically airtight. If it had even cried, no-one could have possibly heard it.
Whenever she thought about that, no matter where she was, the same familiar coldness seemed to descend over her again.
After she had boarded her train to school, she had found him in the hallways amongst the coming throngs of all the other students and explained with breathless relief that their problem was gone. She couldn’t find the courage to tell him how, but she believed that they would continue on happily.
His only response was to mumble something along the lines of ‘good’ and shuffle off. Their love lasted only another week until he finally unceremoniously broke up with her in order to go out with another senior in his homeroom.
She thought her heart would never heal from the experience, in her foolish teenage melodrama. But still, a lingering fear remained.
It was a while before she could muster up the courage to return to open the locker. Every day her breath would hitch as she came and went, waiting for the day that the locker would be open and closed up with yellow tape.
But that day never seemed to come.
Normally, she would have worried about what he thought of it, but she refused to let the thought even cross her mind. She needed to see if her mistake was really final, what had happened to their child. Her child. When she had finally decided to open it out of naïve hope, the sudden cold that brushed through her fingertips quickly shattered any solution of fixing her mistake.
Up until then, she had never seen a dead baby before. After she had witnessed such a sight, she never hoped to again.
So she did what she could and decided to only hide it further.
In time, her guilt eased when she graduated high school and went onto university. She met the kind of man she had always wanted there and soon their romantic murmurings had become a full-on wedding date. As the years passed she forgot the bittersweet memory of her first love, but still a lingering regret remained in spite of all the happiness she found. It was a regret for something that only she knew that had existed, a shame that had long since been hidden for the world. But as much as she tried, she could not forget it.
She found herself in the same train station again, but this time, a seven months pregnant already on her way home in her final month of work before maternity leave. Maybe she had been distracted from the fact by how eagerly she was talking to her husband on the phone.
She promised that dinner would be made by the time he got home from work. Of course, her husband always stressed about her overexerting herself, especially in such a delicate condition, but she always brushed him off. After all, she could still stand, couldn’t she?
She paused, feeling a growing weight on her back. Suddenly, the station seemed colder somehow. Trying to brush this off as just her imagination, her pace quickened. But the unexpected sensation seemed to follow her.
Looking around, she singled out a small child standing alone amidst the wandering passengers that bustled to and back. It was a little boy, dressed in a pair of red overalls and shoes, his head slightly lowered so that the only discernible feature she could make out were his eyes. She looked around in confusion, wondering why anyone wasn’t stopping to help the little lost one. Looking at him, the growing weight on her back seemed to lift, but it seemed as soon as she even blinked, he had vanished into the crowd.
Her hand found itself protectively clenched around the prominent swell of her belly beneath her clothes, as if almost determined to not to repeat her mistakes. Her maternal instinct seemed to override all logic within in her body.
She caught up to the little boy in a secluded hallway, slightly breathless. He blinked at her, clearly oblivious of her efforts.
“Are you alright? What are you doing here all alone?” she asked him.
The boy remained silent and unblinking with his large innocent eyes. For a moment, she wondered whether he might be deaf. But knowing that this child could be alone and frightened in this place was enough to make her go on.
“Where is your Mommy?” she inquired in a more concerned voice.
The boy stared for the next few minutes, still completely silent.
Her brows knitted upwards in confusion. The boy seemed more like a doll than a living human, with pale veiny skin and hanging dark circles under his wide brown eyes, as if he hadn't slept in months. Who was this child? Was he homeless? Was he being abused?
Before she had time to ask him any more questions, he started to laugh.
It was a high-pitched breaking laugh, not unlike the giggles of other children his age, but there was something about it that unnerved her deeply. She was about to make the decision to turn back, but she froze at the sudden sensation of small hands curling around the sides of her swollen womb. His grip seemed to be getting tighter and tighter. But she couldn’t move. She couldn’t even speak, her mouth suddenly dry.
She couldn't deny it now.
Her pupils shrank within her irises as she stared down mutely at the smiling child, whose face seemed so much paler than he had before.
Finally the reply came.
It was the cleaner who found the trail of viscous, transparent fluid leading up to that particular coin locker- fluid that was later identified as amniotic fluid. The police searched endlessly through whatever leads they were given, but could find no trace of the woman nor her unborn child.
But no matter how hard they tried, no-one could explain the tiny handprints on the inside of the locker- hand prints that seemed to have been made over the course of years, in spite of the tiny skeletal occupant of a baby that was discovered.