NEAR THE END OF his awardwinning novel, The Famished Road, Ben Okri says something to this effect: "There are births within births, deaths within births, births within dying there are many riddles amongst us."
As I get older, I see the line between birth and death somewhat more softly. I remember a story that I once read as a child in Our Sunday Visitor. It went something like this.
Once upon a time, twin children were conceived. For a time, they had no consciousness. After a time, their bodies had formed fully and, with that, slowly they began to have feelings and thoughts.
Slowly too they began to perceive each other. With all that feelings, thoughts, company with each other they began to blossom and they sensed that life was good. They played a lot, laughed a lot, and felt themselves full of life. One day, feeling herself full of life, one said to the other: "How lucky we are to have been conceived and to have this world." The other replied: "Yes, and how good it is to have a mother who gives us life." And that very thought made them even more happy and they began to stretch and to explore their world with renewed interest and vigour.
s As they explored the womb, they found the lifecord which gave them blood from the mother. Sensing how precious was that cord they would clutch it and murmur phrases or make up songs that said things like: "How great is the love of our mother that she has given us life and shares her blood with us!" And they lived happily in their mother's wornb.Months passed and their feelings began to change. Sometimes the womb seemed smaller and threatened to contract and expel them. "What does this mean? Why do things seem to be closing in on us?" said one twin to the other. "It means that we are soon going to be born," the other replied.
Both grew silent and deeply afraid for both knew that birth was near and that it would mean leaving the womb and the warmth and security of the mother. So one said to the other: "If I had my choice, I would never be born. I would stay here forever."
"But we must be born," stated the other stoically, "everyone has to be born." For in their explorations they had discovered evidence that others had been there before them, that the mother had given birth previously.
"But what if there isn't life after birth?" protested the first. "How can there be life after birth? Aren't we expelled from the womb and cut off from the mother? Besides have you ever talked to anyone who has been born? Has anyone ever re-entered the womb and told us about life after birth? No. And if that is the case, if there is no life after birth, then why were we conceived in the first place?".
Wallowing in despair, he clutched more tightly to the life cord that attached him to the mother and said: "Since life is so absurd, there can he no mother." The other protested: "But there has to be a mother. How else would we have come to be? What else could be sustaining us?"
"This womb has always been here and it gives us our nourishment," proclaimed the other. "Besides if there is a mother, where is she? Have you ever seen her? Why doesn't she ever talk to us or show herself to us? No, there is no mother. We invented the idea of her so we wouldn't have to face the hard facts of life. The idea of a mother is an opium for those who cannot face the fact that this womb is all that there is."
Both grew silent, one becoming despondent and despairing, the other resigning herself to birth. One day they both sensed that what they most feared was imminent. 'They were about to be born. They cried as they emerged into the light and gasped to breathe in a way that neither had done before. In all that trauma, it took them a while to realise that they were now lying on the breast of the mother, gazing into a world whose immensity and beauty dwarfed anything they had yet imagincd.t