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112 The Arrival

 Pao Hua lazily tilted his head towards Hli Ja. He noticed that she was nursing her belly, with his big round worried eyes he said, "I'll go make the bed for you." He got up quickly, carrying piles of blankets to the cave.

Seeing how panicked Pao Hua was, she worried that the little boy was going to trip. Hli Ja shouted after him: "There's no rush! Please, take your time!"

Pao Hua made a proper bed on the ground for Hli Ja. There was a headrest, and the blankets were thick enough to make the hard ground seem soft.

Hli Ja got up grabbing more blankets for Pao Hua. She bundled the blankets onto one arm, and with the other, she held the supply bag. She carefully exited the carriage, making sure not to bump her belly on anything.

Pao Hua had felt finished with his preparations. He ran back to the carriage, as assisting Hli Ja into the cave was his main priority. He met her on the way back, surprised because he wanted to get the bed done and then leave, bringing Hli Ja and some more supplies back on the second trip.

Pao Hua ran over to help, but she insisted that she was fine. His heart was uneasy. He still wanted to help so he took the supply bag from Hli Ja's. She humored, him knowing that it would ease his mind.

Just as the cave mouth came into view, Hli Ja felt water running down her leg. That must've been her water breaking. Once inside, Pao Hua helped Hli Ja into the bed he had made for her.

Hli Ja laid down, instructing Pao Hua to start a small fire. Pao Hua scurried away as soon as he was sure she was nestled safely in bed. He started the fire, prepping everything that Hli Ja had instructed him to do beforehand.

He opened the supply bag, taking out a small bowl, baby clothes, a pair of scissors, and a small knife. With the usual pot he used to brew medicine for his sister, Pao Hua started to brew some nutritional medicine for Hli Ja.

Once the medicine was ready, he emptied the thick brew into a jar. Then he refilled the pot with some more water. Pao Hua gave the jar full of medicine to Hli Ja. Then, he returned to the pot once again, waiting for the water to boil, so he could soak the small knife, cleaning it.

Hli Ja's contractions began to occur more frequently. The intervals between them got shorter and shorter. Hli Ja laid on the bed, her back propped up with many thick blankets, and blanket draped over her belly. With her eyes closed, Pao Hua was sure she was concentrating on her body, listening to her condition. Her face would twist in pain every time a new contraction came.

Another hour passed by. Hli Ja felt that her body was ready to push the baby out. She knew it was time. She pushed her baby, following the rhythms of the contractions. She gasped, groaning when the pain became unbearable.

Soon, the pain became excruciating. She felt like vomiting, but she pushed the feeling down. She had to stay strong. She didn't want to scare Pao Hua, so she composed herself as much as she could.

Pao Hua was right by her side, watching nervously. His palms were drenched in sweat, and sometimes he would feel his lungs burning, reminding him to breathe. His eyes jittered around his sister, scared by how much pain she was in. He could only hold her hand.

Her body was covered in sweat, and her face was cherry red. His heart beat faster. Pao Hua felt powerless, there was nothing he could do to help ease her pain.

Although his sister had reassured him, telling the boy that all women go through pain during labor, he was still shocked by how much. He couldn't shake the anxious and nervous feeling he had. He knew there was nothing he could do but wait for his sister to give him instructions.

Pao Hua stood up and paced in a circle around the inside of the cave to distract himself. He checked on the water he had started boiling earlier. Hli Ja had told him that this water was going to be used to wash the baby. As he approached the pot, he saw steam. Small bubbles popped, and soon the small bubbles grew. He lifted the pot, carefully pouring the water into a bowl to let it cool.

Pao Hua emptied the water jug into the pot. He was careful as the pot was sitting in the middle of their campfire. With nothing else to do, he started pacing again. The baby started crying, Pao Hua looked towards the noise, seeing his sister reach down to pull a tiny baby into her arms.

Seeing the newborn baby, and hearing its cries, Pao Hua felt all the stress he'd been feeling; all the weight that had been piling up since they were assaulted by Pa Chee on that dreadful night... disappear. He rushed to Hli Ja's side, to see the tiny baby resting on top of his sister's chest.

Pao Hua's eyes, as round as dinner plates, watered as he watched his little nephew in his sister's arms. He examined the baby's tiny arms and legs. His nephew cried and whined as Hli Ja pulled the blanket over to them keep warm.

"A rag, please?" Hli Ja asked.

Pao Hua reached behind Hli Ja for a rag.

"Thank you. Please bring the water and small knife as well." Hli Ja asked as she reached her hand to receive the cloth from her brother.

Pao Hua handed Hli Ja the small knife. With it, she cut the umbilical cord.

Pao Hua carefully returned with the bowl of water he allowed to cool down earlier. He sat the bowl next to Hli Ja. She used the rag and water to wipe down her son. He pursed his lips and cried, trembling from the chill.