Today a woman I had met not more than 30 minutes earlier handed me her adorable 14 month old daughter in a pink rash suit and matching flowered sunhat while she (the woman) struggled on the sharp rocks to get a foothold so she could get out of the water. They had been “swimming” together, with mom floating around and holding her little girl, urging her not to whimper when the water moved around. She pointed to her friend, and then to her friend’s dog, who was being held nearby in the water saying, “be like the doggie, she doesn’t whine.”
I wasn’t surprised by the woman handing me the child necessarily, as I had offered to help. But the kind of help I offered was, “can I give you a hand?” not “can I hold your baby?” But she needed help, and it was baby-holding she was after, and so I was on duty. I held the girl, who looked at me with eyes that didn’t budge, not even to blink, but didn’t pull her to me, as she was dripping wet and I was dry. Also? Not my baby.
And I could say it’s because we were on Rapa Nui (Isla de Pascua, Easter Island) and that’s the way things are here, except the woman with the baby was from the 5ta Región (near Valparaíso). Or I could say it’s because I seem like a trustworthy person, perhaps good at holding babies. Earlier in the day I had helped a little kid at the place I’m staying (maybe 4?) put on her bathing suit top so she could play with a hose with some friends. I guess it’s a five-and-under day for me.
The woman with the baby took her back and then retired to a round woven mat she’d brought down to the beach and as the woman with the dog got out of the water, I noticed that she had a band of bluish, slightly raised Rapa Nui tattoos around her left thigh. In the end, I was more curious about the tattoos than about the baby and why I’d been asked to hold her. But I felt too intimidated to ask.
I told them my name in case we ran into each other again, took a picture (with permission) of the lobster the dog woman’s husband had speared, slipped on my flipflops and walked back home under puffy, rainless clouds and a fierce afternoon sun.