The Burden of Gender

by Abha Iyengar

Maruta awoke with a feeling of heaviness, the heaviness of her uterus pushing her down. She wanted to go to the river and drown, to let herself sink to the bottom and be gone forever. But The Eye was watching her, she felt him probe her back. Try as she could, she had been unable to sever the sensor impulses she sent out to him, the first man in her life. He could always sense what was going through her mind, so she had to be very, very careful.

Even as she imagined herself sinking into the sheer oblivion of the waters, she spoke to reassure him, “I want to go to the waters to bathe, I think the time is near and I need to be fresh and clean for the young ones.” She did not look at him as she spoke, for The Eye could read her eyes. He would read the desolation there and message the men to come, to make sure she did not leave. They would bather her then, grant her her expressed wish but not her freedom.

Thousands of sperms  had created within her 128 sacs filled with babies, making her womb hang down wide and huge, down to her feet. Soon they would emerge, one by one, emptying her out, making her ready to receive new sperm. All the babies were male. They grew to manhood fast, some kind of trigger made them grow at breakneck speed, and soon they too became ready to impregnate her. She had borne sons of sons. Old due to overuse rather than age, weary and tired, she wanted an end to all this. But she was preserved, for without her there would be no more men born to guard this world and conquer new ones.

At first, and that was such a long time ago, she had actually enjoyed the concentrated male  attention, the need and lust for her body. There was no other girl or woman left on the planet after the scourge happened. It had come suddenly, obliterating all women from the world. Neither her mother nor her sisters survived. She had somehow lived, a young pubescent girl betrothed to him who was called The Eye.

The attack had been sudden, catching them unawares. Men had fled and bled, but it was the women and girls who were completely annihilated. The circling winds of dust had begun slow and then swept across the entire land, with a force and intensity that could not be described. Even now, Maruta choked when she thought of how the dust had entered her mouth and nose and covered her even as she lay hidden high in the cold mountain cave with The Eye. Somehow they had escaped. After the attack was over, a few men remained, but the land was reduced to just stone and water. Rocks and a few rivers, and a few men,The Eye and Maruta. How thankful they were then.

After the scourge, The Eye kept her close, but could not do it for long. The men hunted her out. They pulled her away from The Eye and made her theirs, one after the other. Initially they wooed her for her favours, but as more and more came, their desperation drove them to take her against her will at all times. She had cried, pleaded, scratched, tried to escape, threatened, but to no avail. The first time they left her alone was when she was with child, for that was important for them, the species had to be propagated. Relieved, she loved getting pregnant at first, it gave her time to herself and time to feed and bring up the child.

But the scourge had changed her too. She did not bear only one child as her mother had done. The next birth had been of twins, then of  quadruplets, then eight kids. Each successive time, the number of babies conceived doubled. Each successive time, the babies were male, no girls were born. The men had lost the vital chromosome needed to produce girls. She began to dread the pregnancies and the impregnations, dread her life and curse the fact that she had survived the scourge. 

The 128 babies would be out soon and the thought of these growing into young men with only her as the woman around made her shiver. Desperate men copulated with each other, but to touch and feel a woman, and to hopefully have a child, they would come to her. They did not know which child was theirs, but they could claim to have participated in making the population grow, for many men and boys died at war. There was continuous war between the worlds, and no one could be spared. Except The Eye, who was there to keep watch over her.

The Eye had accepted this long ago. Each year he watched over her like an overseer in a factory , ensuring that the production machine was available and well-oiled. The Eye was only one moving eye, he had lost the other one when a piece of flying glass had entered it and scarred it forever. Protruding and searching, this one eye focused only on her. The rest of him was shrivelled, old, withered  and he was kept alive only for her. Since his life depended on her life, he was ever vigilant. They would have shot him a long time ago, there was no place for him in this planet requiring lustful young males. More of the young were needed so that the world replenished itself with youth.

Women would have been really welcome for more than one reason but the scourge had ensured that no girl was born. Maruta had initially hoped that she would produce a few girls and the planet would return to something of its earlier balance, but had soon realized that the scourge had been unforgiving. There would be no women and that is how the planet was to die. She was the last conceiver, after her, there was no one.

At the time when she had survived the scourge she had been thankful. Youthful and full of energy, she had been happy to do as The Eye bid, and later, what the world wanted of her. But now she had had enough of being the sole bearer of such a heavy responsibility, the responsibility of a viable and alive future.

She needed to go to the river. She moved, one heavy foot ahead of the other, dragging her body that seemed all womb and nothing else, out into the desolate stone land that stared back at her. The men were out fighting, for it was a land of soldiers. The maimed and helpless sat back in a pen, taking care of the young growing males, teaching them fighting tricks. The soldiers were getting younger and younger, aggressive and hard. There was no place for emotions in this new world. Maruta had no wish to visit this pen, they reminded her of her own helplessness. When the fighting men returned, they jumped on her and she did not know what she hated more, the desolation or their return.

She moved forward with determined step, tearing her thoughts away from the men she had borne, and from The Eye.

The Eye must not know of her intentions. He had hobbled up to the door and was staring out at her, watching her. She did not turn to wave at him but carried on. At that moment she realised that this would be her last bath.

The river was up ahead. As she entered the wonderful waters, she imagined The Eye had finally closed in relief, no longer needing to watch over his own life.

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