It is a while before Mama realizes that blood is still pumping out of Habibu, forming a widening crimson pool on the mat and the floor. She uses the rags to try to staunch the flow; to no avail. There is no sign of the placenta being delivered, as would normally happen within minutes of birth. Mama waits in hope for further precious minutes before realizing that the blood flow is not going to stop and that there is serious danger. Alarmed now, she summons her son, who sets out on his bicycle to try to contact the nurse at the government clinic 12 kilometres away.
By the time the nurse arrives, two hours have passed and it is too late for Habibu, whose life has drained away with her blood. There is nothing the nurse can do for the woman. Instead she tends to the newborn baby, while cursing under her breath the fees she has to charge for attending a birth at the clinic – fees that mean so many women opt to go it alone. She knows she could easily have saved her – an injection of oxytocin, perhaps, or a manual delivery of the placenta – but knows just as clearly that this desperate experience will be repeated on many other nights and days over the months and years to come.