I stand before a festively decorated door, my hand raised to knock, but I hesitate. I hear faint choruses of festive carols and peals of laughter emanating from within the brick walls, painting a picture of the happy family inside. The smell of Christmas dinner permeates the cold winter air, and it causes my stomach to growl with anticipation. I suddenly remember my purpose here, and my courage fails me at the last moment. Slowly, I back away from the door before dashing across the snow covered road to the safety of my car. Only then do I realize how tightly clenched my hands were just now.
Why couldn't I knock on the door?
Why was I so scared?
My husband holds me tightly, whispering words of comfort and encouragement into my ears. He knows how important this is to me, and in his own, wise way he makes sure that today I will finish what I came here to accomplish.
“I’m scared.” My voice trembles.
“Those people in there are your family. You know you shouldn't have to be afraid of your own family, right?”
“What if they don’t like me? What if they are not the family I hoped for?”
“Then you will have your answers. At least you know that you've made the effort to try.”
And I know he’s right, he always is. After all, it had taken me the better part of one year to decide to come here. Ignorance is bliss, isn't it? My beautiful, perfect life had came crashing down on me exactly one year ago, when I started receiving those gifts. Oh, I remember that day very well.
On the first day of Christmas, the weather was fine and I was in a pleasant mood. I had just finished prepping the ingredients for an apple pie, one of my husband’s favourite deserts. The apples had been meticulously sliced and set aside whilst I made the pie pastry. Gently working the dough into a ball, I wrapped it in cling film and set it in the fridge to chill. Next, I rolled out the pastry into the pie tins and spooned the apples over the pastry. I had just completed the finishing touches and popped it into the oven when the doorbell rang. A young delivery boy stood outside with a bouquet of white lilies.
“Delivery for Mrs. Parsons.”
Hmm. Flowers, for me? I signed the consignment note and he handed over the flowers. I checked but there was no note or card.
“Do you know who sent this?”
“No sorry, ma’am. We cannot reveal our client’s details unless he or she allows it. Hope you like the flowers. Have a nice day.” He tipped his hat to me and he was gone.
I racked my brains trying to remember if I had forgotten any important dates. My anniversary? The day we met? No, I was pretty sure it wasn't any of those. Maybe he just wanted to surprise me, I decided. I placed the flowers in a vase and set it on the mantel where they looked and smelled beautiful. The smell of apple pie wafted through the air, intertwining with the scent of the lilies. Today was a good day.
When my husband came home, he was greeted by hugs and kisses. He reciprocated in kind, tenderly kissing me on the lips. In between kisses, he murmured to me, “What’s the occasion, baby? What have I done to deserve such a greeting?”
“Oh, I don’t know. You tell me.” I whispered back, running my fingers through his hair and breathing in his fragrance. “Thanks for the flowers, they’re beautiful.”
The kissing stopped abruptly and he disentangled himself from me. “Wait, what flowers?” he asked, eyebrows raised quizzically.
“It’s alright, you can stop pretending now. Those lilies you sent me this morning?”
“But I didn't send you anything. Where are they now?”
“Are you sure? They’re in the living room. Come.”
I led him to the flowers and we inspected the bouquet together.
“Someone has a secret admirer.” He teased, but the situation was no longer funny.
“Who do you suppose sent those flowers then?” I finally dared to ask.
“I don’t know, baby. Maybe they had the wrong address.”
“Aww, and I thought my man was being romantic today. I’m disappointed.” I punched him playfully in the chest and pouted.
“Sorry to disappoint, babe. How can I make it up to you?” He asked with a wink in his eye. We went upstairs, the apple pie in the oven forgotten.
More gifts arrived over the next few days. At first they were sweets, then books, and one day it was a baby’s rattle. There was never a note. My husband got more and more suspicious as the days passed. He thought it was getting out of hand and wanted to call the police, but I didn’t let him. It didn't seem like the work of a stalker or crazed secret admirer. Whoever was sending these gifts was trying to tell me something. I came to wake up each day with anticipation at what my mystery sender would send me today. I was scared, but I was also curious.
One day, I received an envelope. Inside was a letter and a photograph. It was an old picture of a young woman cradling a baby. Written on the back of the photograph was a date, two days after the day I was born. My heartbeat quickened as I realized that the woman looked strangely familiar. With trembling hands, I unfolded the letter.
I hope life has been kind to you. I’m not sure if you will believe me but the baby in the picture is you. Your father left me when I was seven months pregnant and I was forced to give you up for adoption. It was a decision that only a fool could have made, and it is a decision that I have come to regret for the last thirty years. I am not sure if have done the right thing by sending you this letter, but I've come to understand that we all make mistakes in our lives. I know I can never give you back thirty years of a mother’s love, but I hope that you can perhaps find it in your heart to forgive me for making what has been the most painful mistake of my life.
Love, your mother.
My parents had never told me that I was an adopted child. So many questions flooded my mind. Why had they never told me? I had no parents or siblings to turn to for answers. They all perished in a road accident four years ago, so I couldn't even ask them anymore. I was so alone. I sank down onto the floor and wept. My whole life has been a lie.
My husband came home at night, finding me curled up and asleep in a corner. I had cried myself to sleep. My hand still held on to the letter, now crumpled and stained with tears. He held me gently, supporting me as I cried for hours on his shoulder. Every day, more letters came but I threw them all into the fire. I couldn't bear to read them anymore. Each word and sentence made my heart ache. I hated her for being so selfish. She was selfish for giving me away, and selfish for destroying my life a second time. I spent many nights in the following months lying awake, staring at the ceiling and pondering my identity, before he helped me see my situation for what it really was.
“You’re the strongest and bravest woman I've ever met. I know you can do this. Go, find her. You can’t change the past, but tomorrow, today will be another day you can’t change. You've lost your parents once but now fate is giving you another parent to love and cherish. Don’t you think that’s amazing? No matter what happens, I promise I will always be there for you.”
I know he is right. At least I won’t be living in a lie anymore. Throughout many sleepless nights, I had dreamt of this moment of truth. Was it also to be a moment of pain? I decided that I wanted answers, no matter if it was good or bad. I dug out that very first letter and looked at the return address. She lived only two cities away from me. I wondered if we had ever crossed paths in our lives before. Had we ever walked past each other on the street and never recognized each other?
He nudges me gently, bringing me back from my thoughts. You’ll never have peace if you choose to run away now. The answer lingered in the cold December air, and I knew that it was true. After all, isn't Christmas a time of hope and happiness, and also a time to be with family?
I make up my mind. My heart starts to pump faster, a new strength coursing through me. Bravery. Courage.
This is it.
I walk towards the door once more, and knock.