Joe’s first signal was electrical, long before I felt him kicking. His heart winked. It was a white dot on a black monitor, the wiretap of the womb. After childhood, we had the electronic umbilical of social media and internet banking:
Can you transfer some more money?
I feared him disconnecting, thousands of miles from home. Especially when our lights started to go out.
I worked in the Gambia long ago, and we had power cuts a couple of hours a day, even in the hospital. It was easier to live upriver, in a corrugate with a well, and to relax in the yard with friends, and a slow brew of gunpowder tea on a camping stove. Dead wires didn’t matter; there were no wires. That was long before Joe, long before the web; before email, smartphones, cloud storage, blogs and online shopping.
This year, a typhoon destroyed our servers. Paul has made Joe’s old bedroom a library, replacing e-books with paper volumes, printing out what remained of our electronic archives. After dusk, our battery banks slowly fade us to ignorance and isolation.
We had no Christmas cards this year. Everyone had been used to e-mails. Joe was in Africa; I thought I had lost him. But on the 24th, a thin blue envelope, its edges navy-and-orange striped, landed on the doormat. The card showed Mary on a donkey, against a flimsy violet sky. Unfamiliar handwriting, round and girlish:
Love from Joe, Saskia and Bump. Coming home, see you soon, XX