Jungle, strange bird calls, whining against the umbrella sized leaves. A hush falls all of a sudden. Even the skittering river water stops, the drops freezing in panic over the top of a rock in the stream. Slowly a whisper gathers speed. At first it sounds like a mumble, jiving and gibbering as it echoes against the tree trunks. But as it rises in volume, words start to form.
The water began to flow again, finally falling with a plop back into the stream. The lizards began to blink, their eyelids flicking vertically in rapid succession and the birds call across the tree branches again, checking on each other.
From the depths of a bush, not far from the river the chanting continued to emanate, though for some reason, the closer to the bush, the less harsh the voice became. Instead it was soft like a feather tickling the wind. Then, just as quickly as it began, it stopped and a perfectly round head rose out of the bushes and peered about. The hair was close cropped, almost shaved and fuzzy like baby hair.
She reached up to her forehead and brushed at it as if trying to push back bangs recently cut. No one else seemed to be around. A toe picked its way through the branches and twigs on the floor of the jungle, careful to avoid the salamander on its way to the water. Then she walked towards the village, leisurely, as if she’d just gone for a short walk to clear her thoughts.
At the village a little boy came running toward her, his big white teeth barely contained by his gums. He pulled on her skirt and she knelt down to listen to his secret.
“Mami,” he said, “the goat is giving birth now!”
She shouted with joy and grabbed him up, heading for the goat pen. The mother goat lay on her side, panting. Her stomach, swollen with pregnancy still rose and fell, but it was too rapid. Her breaths were shallow.
Mami drew a hand over the bump, feeling the stomach with her finger tips. Although she had seen this before, it was rarely a good outcome. She waved to nearest bystanders, welcoming them to join her and her son. Many came running to see. As the audience grew, a whisper escaped her. She closed her eyes in concentration. Almost in answer the mama goat bleated and the boy looked on in wonder and shock. The top of a head began to come.
The blood was quite enough for him after a few seconds and he ran away with the excuse of getting water for the goat for when it was finished. He’d been gone a long time now, but other women began to gather around the goat pen. Some brought blankets or throws and others brought snacks of fruit, sun dried and sweet, to munch on as they watched the progress of the baby goat.
As the small, wet baby inched its way along, the group grew in number. Mami, already experienced in birthing, was calm and collected. Soon, even her son wandered back to the circle of spectators. It was a ritual to watch the start of new life. She called to her son.
“Boy, come here,” she said.
Although he hesitated, the boy found his eyes were already drawn to the baby goat and so he obeyed. There down in the pinkish dirt was a curious creature, all bones and flattened fur, still sticky. An involuntary furrow swept over his brow at the thought of touching the afterbirth still clinging to the baby.
Mami, seeing his reversion, remembering her own initial feelings of discomfort, handed him a towel to dry the kid. As he approached it, gently wiping while the mother goat leaned back her head to rest, the audience applauded with enthusiasm. It was a mark of maturity to help birth a baby. Mami was proud. In the distance, however she caught the edge of a sharp sound ringing. Discomfited, she left the rest to the others and walked to edge of the town, listening intently. As she reached the tree line a wall of sound erupted, rushing past her like a wind. The leaves rattled and the braches waved. Her hair pulled back from her face by the force of it and she screamed.
When she woke she was in a strange place. The grit of the dirt under her fingers felt rough and unfriendly. Sleep walking often guided her toward surprising locations. The tide was moving in quickly and the rush of waves and salty spray were feet away. It felt shaky at first to stand and her knees shook. What if she slept on while the waves licked at her feet and she had drowned, she thought. The fear of what could have been plucked at her guts and she swallowed the wet air trying to find calm.
The sand caked to her ass was damp, leaving behind a big splotch on the butt of her jeans. Some of it definitely, somehow, got in her underwear too. She brushed what she could away and tried to resituate herself in her jeans to get more comfortable, but didn’t find that it helped any and started trudging up the sand dunes to the path on the way home with a slight hitch in her step. The wind pressed her bangs against her forehead teasing her eyebrows. Boone would be awake and worried if he couldn’t find his mother.
When she reached the door handle of her front door, a siren erupted from around the corner. Shit, she thought. The car, as she expected, pulled into her driveway and sirens stopped blaring. She opened the door, its hinges creaking slightly.
“Boone,” she shouted, “honey, it’s okay, I’m here. Can you come outside, please?”
From a back room, a child’s voice called out.
“Mom!” the high pitch of his voice carried far further than usual considering the thin, short boy that came running down the hall towards the front door in his thermal pajamas. The thermals bunched at the ankles and he nearly tripped, but caught himself with arms spinning forward.
She caught him as he leaped for a hug and her little boy wrapped his arms around her neck and buried his head in her chest. The breath was warm on her clavicle.
“Honey, did I scare you?” she asked.
“Yes. I’m sorry.” He answered.
The cops were heading up the walkway, their hands on their holsters.
“Excuse me, ma’am?” one of them spoke up.
“It’s okay, sweetie. You have nothing to be sorry about,” she whispered back to her son, before turning to the policemen.
Officer Roberts stood back and pinched his face at her, confused.
“Ma’am, we’re answering a call about an abandoned child?” he wondered.
“Yes, officer, I’m sorry. I was out back and I um…I had my headphones on, so I didn’t hear him calling me.”
“Looks like you got a little dirty, there.” Officer Stanford pointed to the bottom of her jeans.
She spun slightly, looking behind her at the splotches of damp and sand still clinging to her and tried to laugh it off.
“Oh, yeah, tumbled over backwards while I was pulling at a weed.” She answered. “It was a real tough one, but I yanked it out eventually.”
The two men looked at each other, still disconcerted by the situation. Then they looked back at her.
“So, are there any other caretakers of your…son?” Officer Roberts asked.
“Ah, no, officer. I am the only caretaker.” She answered.
“No husband, boyfriend, or maybe a nanny?” Roberts continued.
“None to speak of. Why do you ask?” She asked back.
“Ma’am, its standard procedure in cases such as these to have a caretaker stand as guardian and character witness.” Officer Stanford offered. “I’m sorry if it’s inconvenient.
She stared at the officers, her son hanging around her. He felt heavy all of a sudden and she set him down by her feet, still holding his hand in her own. Sanford blinked and shifted back on his heels uncomfortably.
“Is there anyone that can vouch for you or take him for a couple hours?” Roberts asked.
“Is that necessary? I mean, for heaven’s sake I only stepped out for a little while. He was asleep and probably just had a bad dream.” Her hand gripped Boone’s tightly.
Sanford looked over at Roberts and they nodded.
“Sorry, ma’am, but you’re going to have to come with us. Child protective services will be meeting us at the station so that someone will be with your son.”
“Wait!” her voice was as high pitched as her six year old son, “I don’t understand. How could this be? I only left for a little bit. I swear.”
Boone looked up at his mother and their intertwined hands bumped gently against her thigh. She looked down at Boone, her eyes stinging. There were the traces of tears streaking his cheeks and a messy splotching of dried spaghetti sauce on his pajama top. The burning behind her eyes gathered and she had to sniff trying to keep back a sob. She knelt down on her knees to look him in the eye. He’d always been a little small for his age, and her eye-line was still a full head above his.
She looked back over her shoulder at the officers and they hung back respectfully.
“Mommie’s been gone longer than a few hours, hasn’t she?” She asked Boone.
Boone looked at her as if he didn’t want to answer. Trying to keep eye contact the way he did when he didn’t want to tell her a lie. She sighed, finally understanding and poked him teasingly in the stomach. Boone smiled, but instead of answering, he only nodded his head a little begrudgingly.
At the station, she and Boone sat together on the bench waiting for social services to show. It had been an hour already, but Boone refused to let go her arm. A buzzer rang from somewhere inside the precinct and Boone twitched. It startled her too, but for some reason she started to feel sleepy. She sank down next to him, leaning against her small son like a pillow, without hesitation her eyelids sank down and she was asleep again.
A light breeze rustled against the leaves and a goat bleated from behind her. The noise made her turn around, popping her neck. The boy came running towards her holding the newborn goat in his arms and she knelt to meet them.
“Look, Mami!” the boy called to her.
“You should leave the baby with its mother. She may be worried.” She said, walking him back to the goat pen.
“But Mami, the mama goat was sleeping,” the boy complained.
“Perhaps she just needed to,” she answered back.
The buzzer rang again and she was startled awake, her head jutting back in surprise. The waiting room was empty now. Boone was gone.
This weeks music challenge is brought to you by The Queens of the Stone Age with the song “Burn the Witch”. You can read the story by Trebez here.