“The Brave One.” Originally Published:

Southern Indiana Review, Volume XVI Number 1, University of Southern Indiana 2009

The Brave One

“Miracle ‘train’ baby comes home to grand welcome,”

Hindustan Times, New Delhi, March 28, 2008

“I wanted to see the child who has been bestowed the good fortune by god so I have come here,” Rambhan said, a man who had walked to Swaroopganj to see Jodha, whose name means “the brave one,” born unexpectedly while her mother was squatting over a moving train’s toilet bowl.  The baby fell to the tracks below, under the train trundling to Ahmedabad.  A boy (perhaps) walking along the tracks, looking for cans (perhaps) found her two hours later—or several hours, or hours and minutes, it doesn’t matter—the girl survived.

“Are you listening?”  Zondie’s mother has returned from India (ostensibly to pick up her puppy, Ché, she’d rescued from a dumpster in Chile and left with us, but really to deliver her monologue, what she calls “Air America”) with a wheeled duffle bag filled with garbage now dumped on our dinning room table, articles and clipping she’d collected while traveling the sub-continent over the last two months—few clothes, few toiletries, just scraps.

I pick up a tattered Fortune Magazine and read the dog-eared article about an American woman who spends $100,000 dollars a month by way of her American Express credit card.  The woman was married to a man who made a “good deal” on government land in Montana, meaning he ripped-off taxpayers, and turned it into a by-invitation-only ski and golf resort—a whole mountain—“Private Powder™” where membership starts at $250,000, and homes begin at $2 million.  The subject of the article, the Blixseths’ divorce, is described as contentious, and the so-called “visionary” (the author’s word) Yellowstone Club might be lost.  Still, Mr. Blixseth describes himself as “a dreamer who was fortunate enough to see his dream come to life.”  In Swaroopganj, people like Rambhan who have heard the news of Jodha’s birth bring fruit and toys and other things.

The juxtaposition of all these scraps must mean—or the same old thing—and all the while, “Air America” rolls on, spilling into our house, Judith pulling papers from the pile, shuffling, looking through, for the right napkin, fragment, to piece together a mosaic, evidence (as if we need it) necessary to bring out the glow of her critique—in this case, of Al Gore’s economic summit in India, and Akhatar Hameed Khan’s microloans.

“The farmers commit suicide when they can’t pay back the loan.”  Judith’s hair flies off at angles, but of course she’s right.  “They had nothing before and now they’ve figured out a way for them to have even less.  Why don’t they just give them the money?”

Only expletives come to mind, like social engineering, carrot and stick, and accountability, always applied to someone else—and Blixseth.  I want to say they’re buying what they’re selling.  I want to say it will come to guns . . .

Someday it will, but instead, I think of an entity, because she wasn’t even “the brave one” yet, falling into this world, to cold train tracks—the undercarriage passing overhead and away, the umbilical cord snapping (I presume), the fluid that would drown her thrust from her sinuses and mouth by the thud of the railroad ties—and the placenta (some believe it to be a jealous twin) carted away for delivery later.  I could never imagine it.  Not found by starving dogs, she faced extinction without identity.

In the article, Rambhan says, “Don’t you think she is a miracle?  She fell from the train but survived and now is absolutely fine.”

It occurs to me that animals don’t enslave each other nor do they have miracles, and that I could give up both in a second.  I will never have that choice, and perhaps that is for the best—who am I to take anything away from Rambhan, or Zondie or Judith—or from my daughter.  Zondie is pregnant, but we’ve decided not to tell Judith yet—no foretelling how she might react, and nothing fits in edgewise during “Air America,” anyhow.  The baby, though, is on our minds.

We just saw the sonogram Wednesday, the little body of gray and white, bulging like a fisheye, the technician measuring the skull, the brain ventricles, pointing out the kidneys, spine, and chambered heart.  “A beautiful heart,” the technician says.  Our baby yawns, drinks, waves her arms.  She thinks not a thing—which is incredible, wresting herself from the mystery to which she and we all will return, no expectation or dread, no sense yet that she will be called by many names.