His eyes, still bleary and unfocused from a deep sleep, took in almost no detail at all, save the horse was black, and its rider wore some sort of light blue cape, flapping like a horizontal flag, disappearing as horse and rider vanished on the other side of a gentle rise, and disappeared from sight.
In the sky, gray clouds blew in to fight the sun for sovereignty.
Realizing he was under no threat, but curious as to why the rider was out so early, he muttered a muted, mild oath about the creation of horses, and scratched at the pewter gray and white whiskers of his hairy face, and slipped his feet into his slippers.
Bones cracked and popped, and he muttered another oath (still mild) about death taking its sweet time.
He smiled at that; the last thing he ever thought he’d die from was natural causes. In fact, it wasn’t even the last thing, for he’d never entertained it as a possibility.
He made himself some strong kaf, setting the water to boil while he ground the beans fresh, the scent filling his nostrils through the filter of his thick moustache, and spreading throughout the small kitchen, giving it a pleasant, definite, morning smell.
Humming as he prepared his first mug, he went outside with it to admire the colors of the sunrise, setting alight the autumn leaves of the hillside trees that surrounded his small farm.
His foot hit something, almost sending him falling. The blow wasn’t hard, just unexpected, so it didn’t hurt, but it did unnerve him.
He looked down, not sure if he was hallucinating; he’d heard about such stories, but never gave them credence, at least, so far as he had reason not to do so.
The basket was large and well-woven with thick, dark bands, and in it, a baby, who snuffled and shifted after Azariel stumbled, but it didn’t wake up, and was otherwise unharmed.
Azariel seemed to remember all of the old oaths, not mild, at once, and he muttered them all now, alphabetically, it seemed, the kaf forgotten, the sunrise ruined.
There was a note:
I have faith that you will raise her well, for I cannot.
There was no name, no food, no clothes, no swaddling for changing, only a simple, rough rag that had seen better days.
Still cursing (softly, so the baby wouldn’t wake), he picked up the basket and brought it inside, set it by the hearth, but not too close.
He had to calm down, so he sat staring at the little face, her eyes closed, her nostrils flaring a bit as the fresh air became not fresh.
Finally, his stream of invectives exhausted themselves, he went into a fit of quiet, crying laughter.
I’ll either have to send for a midwife, or marry again.
As the implications of the thought clarified, he stopped laughing.
Unable to tether the basket any way that was practical, he wrapped her up more as a parcel than an infant, and placed her in a travel pack he could strap across his shoulders.
On the way, he let his mind roam as to how he was the one who’d come to be the recipient of someone else’s responsibility.
Likely they saw the small farm, and figured some kindly old couple lived there, people who either had children who were now out in the world, or never had children of their own.
Either way, why would they think in either instance that they wanted another child?
Children cost money for more years than you could put them to work to earn it back.
The load on his back shifted, and heard her snuffling again.
And now, she’ll wake up hungry, and I’ve not the equipment to feed her.
It would do no good to slow the horse down, and no good to try and comfort her, so he spurred the horse to a fast trot, and tried to stay as level in the saddle as he could.
By the time he reached the town gate the baby was squalling, with gusto, and Azariel’s nerves, as well as the horse’s wits, were frayed almost to the breaking point.
“Who goes there?”
“The one who’ll send you to meet your gods if you don’t open this gate!”
The watchman opened the gate.
“Some drunken skirt let you fill her belly, eh, Azariel? Now you’ll have to move to town, and be a proper gentleman.”
“The only belly I filled is your sister’s you-!”
The rest of his tirade was lost in the watchman’s hearty laughter as he rode through the gate.
Azariel sat in the town hospital, waiting for what, he didn’t know.
I did my part, and brought the child to safety. I should go.
Some part of him, though, wanted to hear it from the people who would know, that she was going to be well.
Morning became noon, and Azariel felt like a reptile sunning on a log.
He finally got up, stood to his full height, and bellowed.
A nurse came running out, shushing him.
“There are people sleeping in here, sir!”
He supposed he had that coming, so he let it pass.
“I know,” he answered with a wry tone. “I was one of them.”
She looked at him with a blank expression.
“Is the baby I brought in going to be all right, that’s all I want to know.”
“You’re the…?” she arched her brows in question.
“The man who found her in a basket outside his front door, this very morning. I brought her in, they took her from me, and I’ve heard nothing since.”
“Oh. Oh my... I wasn’t told.”
“Yes. So how is she?”
She hesitated slightly before answering.
“We’re keeping her, sir. We’ll find a good home for her.”
He looked at her, letting the weight of his stare cause her to shift uncomfortably. “That’s all well and fine, madam, but not what I asked. Is she-?”
“She’s blind, sir.”
The words, softly spoken, hit him like a large stone to his temple.
He stammered and sputtered, sat down, stood up, and paced.
“Is there anything else, sir?”
He stopped in front of the nurse, but found he could only look at the floor.
“I….I could care for her.”
“You’re married, then?” Her voice brightened with the faintest of hope.
The question caught Azariel off guard.
“Ahhh, no. No ma’am. I’m a widower. I’ve a small farm though…”
The nurse waited, looking at him until he realized the impact and implications of his own words.
She straightened. “Thank you for bringing her in, sir. We’ll take good care of her, and find-“
“A good home…a good home. Yes, you said. I know.”
“Good day to you, sir.” Her voice had softened toward him.
Azariel was looking out the window.
“Good day, nurse.”
He heard her footsteps walk away.
Just mere hours ago, he’d wanted to be free of the child, and now that he was, his sadness was profound, and he was even a little afraid of returning to that small, empty, silent house.
In a few moments the nurse came back through the door, walking quickly, a little out of breath.
“Oh good, you’re still here.”
Azariel turned from the window. “Yes?” He was hoping she'd changed her mind.
“The note, sir. You said there was a note with the basket; did it-," she caught herself, "does she, have a name?”
Azariel thought for a moment, remembering.
I have faith…
“Yes, she does. It’s Faith. Her name is Faith.”
“Thank you, sir.” She turned away again.
She stopped, looking back at him."
“Yes, sir?” Her voice had an edge of impatience.
“Can I…say goodbye to her?”
It seemed at first she was going to refuse, but then her expression softened.
“You did save her life, as such. I suppose there’s no harm in it. I’ll bring her out.”
Azariel could hear the protests through the doors, but his advocate outranked them all, and in a few moments she brought Faith out, properly swaddled, and smelling of sweet milk.
The nurse held her, and Azariel stood looking down at the little face again, eyes open now, the deep brown of wet trees in autumn, beautiful, and useless.
Azariel put his index finger in her hand, and she grasped it, and gurgled, and her eyes drifted up to his, not searchingly,as if she was blind, but as if she could see right through him.
His spirit shuddered within him, and his eyes grew warm, and she let his finger go.
“Farewell, little one. For a very short while, you were mine.”
He looked at the nurse, whose own eyes were glittery.
“Thank you,” he said.
She nodded, not trusting her voice, and left with Faith secure in her arms.
His smile was rueful.
A good home…I have faith.
© Alfred W. Smith Jr. 2015