The Snow Baby and the Keelhauling

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He arrived with the snow more than 10 years ago on a Sunday night during the senshuraku, the final day of the sumo tournament.  The NHK sumo broadcast was on the waiting room TV and when the sanyaku, the top three ranks of wrestlers, came on, he decided that it was time for his own appearance.

The waiting room had a raised area with tatami matting. I sat there with my back against the wall and slept without knowing it.  Jet-lagged, I was nearing my third day sleeplessness. A nurse came in and spoke to me. She seemed irritated that I had dozed off.  I didn’t understand what she was saying, though I caught that she wanted me to agree to something important and that I should follow her into the birthing room. There, another nurse gravely explained in Japanese something I wouldn’t have understood even the simplest English because I was such a somnambulant.

My wife seemed in agreement with whatever it was and everyone indicated this was a serious situation.  She nodded to me from where she lay. She looked bad, dark circles under her eyes, exhausted.  I understood that I should nod, too, and did, though unsure about what.  It was serious and I should agree, that was all I knew. I went out and sat in the same spot and leaned against the wall. This time I didn’t sleep.

So this is how it ends? I’m left with nothing — some kind of “Farewell to Arms” nightmare?

I stared at the wall until at last the nurse came and led me back into the room.  A fetus was there red, eyes clenched, mouth open, an aquatic creature brought up from the depths without realizing its amphibian ability.  One ear that was folded slowly opened as he was washed. The nurse looked at me and said, he’s fine.

Oh lord, welcome to the world. I wish you all the best.

I was sent out to wait again.

The baby appeared wrapped in a blanket. He opened his eyes, looked around the room, unimpressed he closed them to instant sleep.  His mother came out and explained that the urgent request was for a dose of medicine to help finish the labor that had lasted so long.

Whaaaat? That was it? Are you kidding me? Why didn’t they ask me when I was coherent – like, I don’t know, yesterday?

The nurse that had been irritated arrived with a smile and offered to take a family photo.  We posed. In the photo baby sleeps, his mother basks in a hormonal high, and I look as if I almost survived the keelhauling.