At the edge of the Kaituma River, the baby is sleeping in his basket. It’s dawn, but the sky is heavy and dark from last night’s unexpected storm. Everything is visible, although so far, nothing is coloured. The green seep of the jungle and the sky’s usual, harsh blue are neutralised by the earliness of the hour.
The baby in the basket has been swaddled in a blanket, but he’s managed to work his hands free and the shallowness of the basket’s sides allow him to inadvertently trail them – one in the river, the other in the silt on its bank. It’s not a cold morning, yet still the snap of the water wakes him and he gulps in shocked mouthfuls of air in the moments before he starts crying.
The sun is coming up and as the baby throws his arms out in front of him, punching at the sky, the river’s sediment can be seen under his fingernails. It’s gritty dirt, in so deep it’s slightly forcing the pale, half moons of nails away from his fingers.
It could be that water splashes on the baby’s face. Certainly something causes him to brush his hand across his nose and traces of the sediment are left under his nostrils. A reddish-black stain, like a scar. The baby wrinkles his nose at the smell of the sediment and if he had words yet, he would describe its flinty, complex dankness.
He can’t of course understand the sediment with its layers like strata of rocks, its holding of the past and its ghosts. At a point later in his life, someone will ask him whether he knows that everything goes down deep and the man he will become will shiver in reaction to something he can only remember at the level of instinct.
Under the crying of the baby, the sluggish, oily river gurgles and in the distance, a cockerel is crowing; but there are other sounds too. Voices of people, walking along the river bank. The energetic, early morning voices of the fishermen, walking to join the boats in the port.
When they come close enough to almost knock over the basket with the baby in it, the voices rise quickly and shrill. “It’s a baby, there’s a baby.” “Take it out, check it’s ok.” One of the three men picks the baby up and he sees, when the blanket falls away, that he’s dressed in a white tee-shirt, spattered with something purple, and he’s wearing a diaper.
The baby stops crying and looks up at the man with an expression of something like surprise. The man notices the smudge of reddish hair growing on the crown of his head and he feels the smallness of the bones of his ribcage. The baby has little meat on him and is built for disappointment, his Ajee would say.
Another of the men takes out a box of matches from his shirt pocket and lights one, holding it near to the baby so he can see it better. When the match flickers in the morning air, it occurs to the man that the glimmer of water and the glow of fire aren’t so different from each other. A bit like the seasons here, only distinguishable by more, or less, rain.
At the edge of River Kaituma, the basket is empty now, apart from the discarded blanket. The baby is pressed close to the fisherman’s chest, safe for now, in his calloused, gentle hands.