aborning | [wenmimareba k. collins]

Wenmi Collins

The baby is a warm bundle in Rea’s hands as they pull out from Old Town’s sewer waterways. Time is running out and things are far too cold this far from the interior. Still, Leonel insists on calling out to this woman spouting babble-speak much like Rea’s child soon would. The woman pushes them off from darkness into light, and Leonel finally takes to the task of taking them out. Once past the metal bars that cage the top of the portico of the tunnel, Rea suddenly feels so very close to finally—finally escaping the grimy streets, crumbling skyscrapers, and the cacophony of chaos. Gunshots and—and hands everywhere and—and a baby that belonged to no one, but to everyone, but to her, but to itself. And now, just watching Leonel row out to the buoy and hoping that they’re just not too late. It’s far too important. The anticipation and traces of pestering nervousness cling to her like a second skin and she fears she may never get rid of this worry for what comes next. 

All around them is an endless expanse of dark, bucolic sea and it thrashes at the sides of the boat. It is an unreliable thing, Rea thinks of both the boat and the sea, but not of the man sitting parallel to her. She is far too aware of how vulnerable they are being this far from land. It would take a small change of balance to send them tipping overboard and down into the cold depths. Not a relished thought, but one that keeps her from making any sudden movements. No matter how scared she is, she doesn’t jump or scramble. The weight in her arms keeps her occupied as she murmurs gently consoling sounds to it. She is not old enough to be able to successfully pretend the sounds aren’t for her as well. 

Up ahead, she finally sees it blinking in the fog like some undecipherable code. “The buoy!” She exclaims, shifting in her seat and pulling the swaddled creature in her arms closer. A red eye in the mist and the brine, but it is not a scary thing. They are where they’re supposed to be. Time is of essence, yes. “We are too late,” she whispers, a ragged thing, the clutch on her daughter, her messiah, growing to stone. Leonel shakes his head, his whole body made of sweat and dirt. His hair is greasy from the days gone unwashed. 

“They will come back,” he assures, voice unwavering and just so certain of his words that she can’t do anything but nod in response. He is right. He has carried them this far, and she trusts him. What he says must be right. 

Fog settles around them and Rea gets the disorienting sense that something, somehow, is watching them. Perhaps from the shore, or even from underwater. Two beams of light so promising in their intensity hover over the milky horizon and a pang of not-quite-hope pains her diaphragm so hard that she’s only half sure it’s not hunger. Her gaze must avert itself to avoid anything ridiculous like a pious exclamation. Such things have gotten her very little in the past weeks. Unfortunately, that means looking at the bottom of the boat and what she sees has her breath choking out of her as she gurgles alarm. 
“I am bleeding!” She is starting to panic, her heart battering against her chest like the machine gun fire that still rings in her ears. Leonel just looks at her with the most peaceful and tender expression that she’s ever seen him wear, and she inhales sharply. Her heart breaks in the tiniest way when he confesses with that boyish grin of his. 

“They got me,” he says as if that were no big deal. As if it was actually some sort of relief that he could finally feel something other than resignation. She remembers the beams on the horizon and that not-quite-hope grows more fervent. Desperate to give Leonel something to think on, something to distract him from making that damnably angelic face, she remembers that she hasn’t told him.
“Abiah,” she blurts out. At the quizzical chink that appears in between Leonel’s eyebrows, she backpedals. “Abiah’s also a girl’s name.” Understanding dawns upon his features and exactly what she didn’t want to return, does. That blissful expression telling her ‘everything’s going to be alright, Rea’, even though it’s so clearly not, comes back with even more luminescence. Against the dark of the wood-grain and the lurching soup they’re in, he is like an unwelcome sun and she feels far too close to crying. She hasn’t cried, sincerely heaving sob upon sob of salt, in the longest time. Desperation she’s felt, and hopelessness too, but not this unbearable grief. So, she smiles, for Leonel’s sake, and for Abiah’s, and for her own she supposes. 

It is moments like these where the mass of life in her hands seems a terribly, painfully precious thing. It is so very alive and hers, by God, it is hers. Out in the serene ebbing of the waves, she, and her baby, and Leonel have their weary, tired, creaky bones rocked. Leonel’s life is slipping at the same rate as his body curls in on itself. Like he’s seeking a womb—is what he looks like with his shoulders curved in like that. What an ironic and sickening contrast, she thinks. The baby in her arms just coming into this world where little’s been left, and Leonel leaving it so slow, only to look like he is returning to where Abiah was just at. With each panting breath, he looks at Rea and the baby and thinks he has done the best he can, which must be enough. Rest is just at the taunting periphery and his side aches were warm slick keeps leaking out of him. Despite all this, his soft gaze is unchanging.
When Rea’s eyes light up and look at something past his heavy body, he knows the boat is coming and he has been correct. He is fine with being the ferryman for this woman and her child—the last hope. He has done his duty and more, and now he can feel the pleasant pull of sleep. How long has it been since he let his mind simply shut down? How long? It is lodged between his ribs—a scorching, throbbing, bleeding wound. His eyes flutter shut slowly, filled with the image of this young madonna and her blessed child. 

Rea has given up any pretense of keeping her composure and is openly weeping now. It is suddenly too much. The boat is so close, and Leonel so slumped over in front of her. “Leonel,” she calls. “Leonel, the boat,” she says, touching his knee. He does not respond, but he cannot be dead. He cannot because she wills him not to be. Time is of the essence. 
The closer the boat gets, the larger its magnitude appears. She’s never seen anything like that, and it terrifies her, but it looks a lot more stable than the boat she is on, and there are people on it. So many people crowding the bow of the ship, looking over the railing and straight at her. She feels so exposed and she wishes Leonel would just open his stupid doe eyes again and look at her and tell her it will be alright. But he does no such thing. He is still slumped, and she can’t be sure, but his chest is no longer expanding or contracting. It suddenly makes her desire for the boat to come faster push to the forefront. For her, and Abiah, of course, but also for Leonel. Perhaps especially for Leonel. A reward for his struggles is in order. It does not occur to her that death is the most suitable reward. His story, his role, is finished, and he is glad to have spooled out his destiny with satisfactory results. It does not occur to her that all he’s wanted to do for the past infernal months is sleep until his breath is but a memory. 

And still, the great beast of machinery peels forward through the waves like a well-sharpened blade. Rea pulls Abiah impossibly closer to her chest and the look in her eyes can be described by no other word than ‘fierce’.

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