Once a year, in India, babies are thrown from balconies. Crowds gather to watch parents give their infants to priests who—in the same preemptive spirit we dunk our young into rivers—drop them 50 feet onto a taut sheet. The thinking is that an early fall will free from their bodies any premature notion of an easy life, that such a plunge will break the hard truth to their still-soft bones that the earth wants them back.
Consider this an inoculation, a good shot of terror straight to a baby’s brain that will linger in the blood long after the fear fades. Look at it as an act of love. Look at the fathers shuffling on top of the temple and the tough love with which they hand their child over. Watch the priest handle the flailing baby, how he is careful not to coddle, how he fists the baby’s hands and feet together and then holds it belly up over the railing, just long enough for the onlookers to brace themselves.
And look at all the mothers waiting below. Look at the woman who recognizes it is her infant son poised above the sheet. Watch her throw up her hands, that mother who knows too well how fast a body can break down, who knows what it means to see all that she loves stuck in irreconcilable decline.
And now, her baby boy midair, she watches him delivered from his unworldliness. She sees all his inchoate thoughts scatter when his limbs whip against the fabric, as his head bucks back, bewildered. She watches him open his eyes as if for the first time, not sure where he is, the world suddenly on his back. And before he can take it in, he is swept up again and placed in her arms where she tells him It’s okay, it’s going to be okay, and you can see she wants to believe it. [End Page 71]
But then, along with everyone else, she is quick to turn her eyes back up, and you can feel a buzz breeze over the crowd, can feel the tension again in the sheet. Look, another baby is being dangled over the ledge. And from down here, you can’t separate the baby’s body from the priest’s. You just see a silhouette, the hint of a struggle, and then, all of a sudden, the baby is lifted and let go and you see it stark against the sky where, at first, it doesn’t fall, but is, for a split-second, suspended in the air above you, weightless.
And now, it’s clear that this is what the weary crowd has come to witness, what they’ve waited and cocked their heavy heads to see, this little reprieve, a baby hung out above the jealous earth because we want to remember what it was to be weightless. And again, with our feet firmly on the ground, a baby appears again above us, and all we can do is thrust up our hands as if to receive this grace, as if to hold up what we cannot bear to see fall. [End Page 72]
Jad Adkins is a recent graduate of Georgia College’s MFA program. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Pinch, Appalachian Heritage, Sonora Review, South Loop Review, Jelly Bucket, and elsewhere. He is currently the nonfiction editor of Pinball.