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Around The Sun: Peace Baby

Steve Harrison’s baby daughter was born at the tale-end of a typhoon which devastated Vietnam this month. Read his account of the night Rachel arrived – and be deeply moved.

Steve, no newcomer to Open Writing, will now be writing a regular column which will appear on Mondays in Open Writing. These will be filed under the title Around The Sun.

The wind rose, rain cracked the sky and the river began to swell. In a matter of hours it burst her banks and went beyond its natural boundaries.

I was enjoying lunch with a few friends. Every hour we measured the rising river against the wheels of the bicycles parked on what was once dry land.

After a few hours the rain stopped and all was deafeningly quiet. The calm before the real storm. I have a property on the edge of the river. My wife was nine months’ pregnant. In Danang, 30 kilometres north of us, the weather forecast was bad.

I care deeply for my wife Lan, and our soon to be born child. I shuttered our house, closed every gap, lifted everything off the floor, threw plastic raincoats over the computers and television. I locked the doors, put what little I could carry onto a motorbike and headed north to Danang to be with Lan.

The ride was surreal. The weather was perfectly calm, perfectly quiet, but a black thunderous cloud was threatening. The light was soft, yet dramatic, throwing everything I saw into sharp contrast.

In 45 minutes I reached my mother-in-law’s house. My wife, now as wide as she is tall, said with her eyes that she was at ease, and delighted to see me.

There was trouble in the sky though. A storm was about to burst upon us.

We turned in early, resting, easy with each other, the baby in her womb boxing at my back with every turn. An elbow here, a knee there. This baby, a she, is desperate to come into the world.

Rain begins to pounds the steel roof and rattle the windows. Sleep escapes from us. The baby and the storm are both imminent.

Stay where you are tonight, little baby, I thought. This world is not a safe place for you right now.

The rain was now torrential trying to drive through every crevice, though my mother-in-law’s home was secure. We stayed dry, but there was little or no sleep that night. All around us the world shook, as though it was a giant waking from a deep sleep, cursing at being disturbed. Sheets of tin banged against the sides of the house. There was the unmistakable sound of falling bricks. There was a torrent all around us. This night our world was being shaken. One minute lightning and thunder turned night into day. Then it was as dark as being a hundred miles underground.

The room we are in seems to be breathing. The door pushes against its wooden jambs, the windows are tight in their frames…then exhale. The door rattles, the windows flap like birds’ wings. Like the unborn child in the womb, the room has new life.

The night reluctantly crawls onward towards dawn. Stay where you are this morning, little baby, the world is still not safe.

The daylight never really comes, but I need to know what is going on outside. The wind is fierce, the rain ceaseless. I venture out to take photos. Clad in a sou’wester, with a steel mining hat on my head, I check what’s happening in the half light. Sheets of tin fly through the air like so many aerial guillotines. Trees of great age are plucked from the ground and flung aside like toothpicks. The place looks as I imagine ground zero was after an atom bomb. There is water all around my feet. Electric cables writhe around in the wind like serpents. They are not live. The power went off last night.

We take Lan to the hospital where a generator provides power. We wait for hours, then Lan is wheeled away to surgery.

Suddenly all is calm outside. The sun breaks through. I am handed a small white-faced bundle wrapped in a towel. I stare, dumbfounded. The baby has my mother’s face.

My baby Rachel is in my arms. The world is at peace. I burst into warm tears of joy.

Lan is okay, resting after the ordeal.

Rachel has fair skin, a straight nose, and big blue eyes.

I return to our home in HoiAn for a brief visit, checking the damage. The roof has grown wings and is presumably on its way to Thailand. Large bricks lie where my head would have been had I slept there. Our possessions have been drowned as water flooded over the river bank, bursting through cracks in the house windows. Do computers work after they have been submerged in flood water? Right now I don’t really care. Our baby has been born. Our baby Rachel is here, and that makes sense of all this chaos.

Back in Danang, everyone in the hospital is coming to see our baby. They have never before seen a baby with blue eyes.

Now I have to live for at least another 20 years so that I can be around to see this beautiful child mature into a young woman who will break the hearts of the local boys who drown in her blue eyes.

This baby, Rachel, who arrived at the tale-end of a destructive typhoon, has brought peace into my world.


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