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Sunday, October 25, 2015

'She abandoned me as a baby. Now it's payback time!' (1)

Nora is a girl in her early 20s who was abandoned by her mother in an orphanage when she was a baby. After leaving the orphanage, she sets out to make her way in the world. Later, she decides to look for her birth mother, to discover her roots. What she found out was not what she was expecting...

It was a public holiday and while many workers were on break from their duties, I was extremely busy at the popular eatery/ restaurant where I worked in the city. We had been serving customers since we opened at 8 am and more were still coming in at past six o'clock. Maria, the new girl employed a few months before was supposed to have come in to take over from me on the evening shift, but she was no where in sight.
Our manager, Mr Johnson kept glancing at his watch and frowning deeply whenever he came out from his small office at the back of the eatery.
"Where's that girl? Is this how she wants to do this job? She should have been here hours ago!" he stated with a scowl on his face.
I had been standing for hours at the counter attending to customers and my feet were killing me. I longed to sit down and take a break with a cold drink and maybe a nice, hot pastry like the type we served our customers. But of course, it was a luxury I could not afford as we were so busy. 
Seeing how upset the manager was, I told him I would keep working till Maria showed up. He looked relieved and after ensuring everything was going smoothly at the counter, returned to his office. 
 I had been working in the eatery and fast food restaurant for nearly two years and though the job could be stressful at times, I enjoyed my work. It was the first job I got on leaving the orphanage where I had lived all my life. It was the only home I had ever known, the other children and our carers the only family I had. When I was leaving the place two years before, I had felt really sad and had wept at all the familiar faces I was leaving behind. Though I wanted to see the world beyond the orphanage walls, I was a little apprehensive at the new life waiting for me and worried whether I could cope on my own, with no parents, siblings and other relatives.
 Two years down the line however, I was coping quite well in the 'big, bad world outside' as the Chief Matron at the orphanage or Big Mama as we all called her referred to the world outside the orphanage walls. It was Big Mama who arranged the job for me and even got a place for me to stay not too far from my workplace. "Work hard, stay focused and trust nobody. The world is a wicked place as you will find out soon enough," she advised me before I left. She told me other things but more of that later.
  "Good afternoon, sir. What will you like to have? We have local, continental and other dishes!" I said to a customer that just came in. 
 Thirty minutes later, Maria came in looking harassed. 
 "Nora, I'm so sorry for coming in late but I had to..." she started to say but I cut her short.
 "You are always full of excuses! Are you the only one with problems? Anyway, Mr Johnson is really upset with you! Just go in and change so I can go home. I'm tired!" I said irritably.
 When I went inside to change to my street clothes, Maria drew me aside and apologised for being late. "It's my son. He was sick and I had to take him to the hospital," she said.
 "It's the manager you should be worried about. Go in and apologise to him. And next time, try to call so we know where you are," I said, picking up my bag and heading for the back door the staff normally used.

On reaching home, I took a cold bath and went straight to bed as I was so tired and I had to resume work early the next day. I woke up sometime in the night, at about 3 am. Since I no longer felt sleepy, I decided to do some cleaning in my small apartment. I swept, dusted and washed some of my dirty clothes that had piled up. It was nearly six o'clock by the time I finished so I took a shower and prepared for work. On my small dressing table, besides my make up case was the most expensive piece of jewelry I owned: a gold bracelet which was engraved with the name C. Clarkson.
 "it was on your wrist the day you arrived the orphanage," Big Mama had told me on the eve of my departure from the home. "Your mother brought you here but she disappeared before we could get her full details. I think the bracelet belonged to her; her name was Carol and she was 18 years old then. That's the only information we have about her. I've kept it for you all this while waiting for the day you will come of age and leave us. That day has come," she had stated, handing the bracelet to me. 
 I examined it, noting its intricate design. It was beautiful and looked very expensive.
 "It looks valuable," I said.
 Big Mama nodded.
 "Yes. With that, I believe you can trace your mother. That is if you want to," she stated.
 "I'm not interested. She abandoned me. So, why should I look for her?" I said shortly.
 "Nora, my dear. Don't be too hard on her. She was very young. She must have had her reasons," said Big Mama. I was not interested in knowing her or whatever reason she had for dumping her new born baby in an orphanage and running away, never to return.
"She's not my mother! You and the other women here are the only mothers I've ever known. I don't need anyone else!" I had stated firmly. 
"Blood is thicker than water, my dear child," said Big Mama, smiling a little.
That was two years ago and a lot had happened to me since then. I had grown more mature, more tolerant. Perhaps, that might be the reason why as I gazed at the bracelet that morning, I felt a little curiosity. For the first time, I wondered what the original owner of the bracelet, my birth mother looked like, what kind of person she was, her family, friends and so on.
And most importantly the reason she dumped me, a helpless baby at the orphanage. What kind of mother would do that, I wondered. I needed to speak with some one about it, a person with more experience of life than me.
 A few days later, I had a day off and I went to visit Maria at home after her shift ended at the eatery. She was a few years older than me and the mother of a four year old boy, whose father disappeared after his birth.
"He came to the hospital just once to see me and the baby. I've not set my eyes on him since then. No word, contact or anything. I don't know what part of the world he is and frankly I don't bloody care!" Maria had told me earlier when I had asked about her son's father.
Maria was cooking in the small communal kitchen she shared with her co-tenants in the face-me-I-face you type of building where she lived with her son, Toby and a younger sister.
"I stopped at the market on my way from work to get some soup ingredients," she explained, wiping her hands on a cloth.
"I hope it will be tastier than the ones they cook at the eatery. I'm very hungry o!" I stated. I sat down in the room and played with Toby while she prepared the eba for the soup. After we had eaten, Maria and I sat chatting while Toby took a nap.
"No way! There's nothing on earth that will separate me from my child," Maria maintained. It was in reply to a question I had asked her if there could be any circumstance or situation that will make her abandon her son, dump him with total strangers.
"Why would I do such a terrible thing? I love my son, he's my world. He makes me happy; he's my sole consolation for all the nasty things that have happened to me," she added, then turning to me, queried: 
"But why do you ask such a question?"
I then told her my story, how my mother had abandoned me at the orphanage as a baby. "I never knew her. I grew up calling the women at the orphanage, 'Mama', while my own mother is somewhere out there, not concerned whether I'm alive or dead, if I've eaten or starving. What woman does that?" I asked rhetorically.
"Poor Nora. I feel your pain. But understand that people are different, circumstances are also different. Nobody knows what made her do it. Or the countless other women who had done the same to their babies. It doesn't mean she didn't love you. Something must have happened to make her do what she did. Perhaps, you should find out," she advised.
"How?" I asked.
"Look for her. That will be the first step. Other things will follow," Maria said.
"What if she doesn't want to see me after all these years? If she had been interested, she would have come looking for me!" I pointed out.
"As I said, we don't know what happened. Besides, there's no woman who won't be happy to reconnect with her child after 20 something years of separation. Especially one that has grown into such a beautiful girl like you," she said, smiling brightly at me...

To be continued

Names have been changed to protect the identity of the narrator and other individuals in the story.

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