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New perspective on Indian Camp by Hemingway
Gentle Rain smoothed the hair off Chirping Bird’s sweaty forehead with a weary hand. The poor girl had been in labor for two sunsets now, and Gentle Rain knew she didn’t have a chance. She had seen too many young women join the Spirit World in this way. All she could do was to ease Chirping Bird in her passing.
Gentle Rain laid a damp rag on the suffering woman’s forehead before sitting down cross-legged on the cold dirt floor. The other women in the shanty followed suit. Clasping her hands to her chest, Gentle Rain led the prayer that would beseech the Spirit World to accept Chirping Bird and reward her for all she had suffered in this world.
The thick covering that served as a door to the shanty was thrust aside by Little Mouse, the second son of Gentle Rain’s daughter.
“They’re coming!” he exclaimed, oblivious to the praying women’s preoccupation. The chanting stopped and all was quiet save for Chirping Bird’s panting breath and her frequent shrieks of pain.
Gentle Rain solemnly set eyes on her grandson. “Who?”
“The white man.”
A murmur passed through the anxious group of women seated around Gentle Rain and two rose to stand protectively over Chirping Bird.
Chirping Bird was too delirious to understand what was going on around her. A quiet moan escaped her lips and that was all.
When Gentle Rain spoke, her words were sharp as speartips.
“Send him away,” she uttered decisively. “He can’t help her now. No one can.”
Little Mouse stared at his feet, confused. “But, he-“
“We will ease her way to the Spirit World,” Gentle Rain commanded.
“He can save her!” cried out Purple Skies, a close friend of Chirping Bird.
“We have to let him try!” exclaimed another.
Gentle Rain opened her mouth to negate the comments of these women, who in ordinary circumstances would have ceded to her age and higher status, when Great Bull, Chirping Bird’s husband shifted in the upper bunk. He lay there, useless from an ax cut to his foot. Raising himself, pipe in hand, to look at the women below, his eyes bored into Gentle Rain’s. She knew that look. She had seen it many times in her long life.
Great Bull’s eyes dripped no tears, but the suffering in them was far worse than tears could explain. He didn’t say anything, no words had escaped him since two nights past, but his look was enough.
Gentle Rain felt her heart clench and squeezed her eyes shut, praying to the Creator for guidance. The group of women around the bed parted as Gentle Rain made her way to the bedside.
As the oldest woman in the tribe, Gentle Rain would have the last say. She stood by the bed and took Chirping Bird’s hand into her own. The woman’s skin was hot with fever. Her hair was matted around her head, sticking to her face. A large quilt covered her enormous belly.
“My baby!” she cried, in her fevered frenzy. When she saw Gentle Rain standing by her, she directed her pleas at the older woman. “Please…save my baby!”
Gentle Rain nodded reassuringly. “We will try,” she promised.
A moment later, a symphony of dog barks resounded from the outside. The shanty hanging was once again opened and Swift Hawk and Crazy Bear entered, followed by two white men and a boy. Gentle Rain did not leave Chirping Bird’s side as the young woman let out a piercing scream.
The taller white man, the doctor it seemed, called out for hot water to be brought. Gentle Rain nodded at Purple Skies and the younger woman went to the kitchen obediently.
The doctor examined Chirping Bird with a critical eye, then turned to the young boy behind him.
“This lady is going to have a baby, Nick,” he said.
“I know,” the boy replied.
Gentle Rain took a look at the boy. He couldn’t be older than nine or ten. This is no place for men, and certainly no place for boys, she thought, but kept her mouth shut. The boy, however, seemed to share her thoughts. His eyes were naked with fear and revulsion, but he tried to be brave.
“You don’t know,” the doctor objected, “Listen to me. What she is going through is called being in labor. The baby wants to be born and she wants it to be born. All her muscles are trying to get the baby born. That is what is happening when she screams.”
“I see,” said the boy.
Chirping Bird tried to roll to her side but was inhibited by the mound of her stomach. She cried out in pain. The women flocked closer, staying a distance from the doctor, but attempting to reassure Chirping Bird.
“Oh Daddy,” cried the boy, who seemed seriously distraught now, “can’t you give her something to make her stop screaming?”
Gentle Rain raised her head hopefully.
“No,” replied the doctor. “I haven’t any anesthetic. But her screams are not important. I don’t hear them because they are not important.”
Gentle Rain raised her eyes to appraise the doctor. Her eyes begrudged him decades of discrimination and hatred against her people. She was sure this white man would not speak those words if this was someone he loved that were dying painfully. In her mind, she imagined striking out at this man. She imagined sinking her nails into that serene face of his so that he, too, might scream out in pain.
Great Bull rolled over noisily on his bunk. Gentle Rain was glad of it. She didn’t want to see those haunting eyes of his again.
Purple Skies motioned to the doctor from the kitchen, where apparently the water was ready. The boy followed his father like a shadow. When the doctor returned, his hands dripping and clean, he set to work.
“Pull that quilt back, will you, George?” he asked the second white man, who till now had been standing uneasily in a corner. “I’d rather not touch it.”
The man obliged.
The doctor took his time, disregarding Chirping Bird’s increasingly shrill shouts of pain. After a full inspection, he seemed to come to a conclusion, and pulled a silver knife from a bag the small white man was holding. All the women in the room drew in their breaths as they realized what the doctor was going to do.
As he raised the knife point, Gentle Rain clasped his arm. “Wait,” she protested.
The white man looked her in the eyes. “Do you want me to help her or not?”
Her grip slackened and she relented.
Gentle Rain watched as if from afar as the doctor began his operation. Three women held Chirping Bird as the incision was made, but they couldn’t keep her from struggling. In a desperate move, she bit the arm of the small white man, who drew back in shock.
“Damn squaw b****!” the man complained and Crazy Bear laughed.
Gentle Rain watched as the doctor lifted the baby carefully from its mother, slapped it gently so it could breathe, and handed it to her. She nodded once in recognition of his victory before her eyes became set on the child. She wiped it off and wrapped it in a thick blanket. When the baby cried out for the first time, she smiled brightly.
“See, it’s a boy, Nick,” the doctor told his son, “How do you like being an interne?”
The boy looked as if he would be sick. His skin was tinged with green and his gaze was fixated on a spot above the bed. “All right,” he replied in a shaking voice.
“There. That gets it,” the doctor said, speaking to himself. “Now, there’s some stitches to put in. You can watch this or not, Nick, just as you like. I'm going to sew up the incision I made.” The boy looked away.
When the doctor had healed the wound he had made, Gentle Rain knelt by the bed and laid the baby boy into its mother’s arms. Chirping Bird was too exhausted to acknowledge it.
Gentle Rain rose to thank the doctor for saving a life she had thought was lost. When she turned, he was hunched over the man in the top bunk. A great pool of blood dripped from the cut at Great Bull’s neck. Gentle Rain closed her eyes as she realized the truth. Great Bull had heard one too many screams from the person he loved best in the world. His soul had gone in his wife’s stead.
As the white men and the boy left through the flap of the entrance, Gentle Rain crossed her legs, clasped her hands, and began the song of mourning for the father that she had thought she would perform for his wife.