1pm and I am waiting in my car to meet her.
I am watching for her by the door.
She doesn’t come.
The clock moves forward and I wonder, momentarily what to do.
I do feel however that she will be there – it’s just that, once again, I need to find her.
I wait for a minute or two outside the front of the store: the mechanical doors folding open and shut, letting people in and out on their business but still no sign.
I turn back into the shop, searching and around the corner by the side of the café I think I see her.
It is her.
Reassuringly normal, scouring a copy of the Daily Mail.
She sees me too
I won’t hug you she says, I have a cold, its best if we keep our distance.
Irony, irony, irony and yet this time I am determined it will be different.
This time I want to connect with her but on my terms.
I order coffee.
She wants to pay.
I say no. She tugs the receipt off the tea tray but I hold it down with my finger and say no. She reaches for her purse, but you paid last time she says. It doesn’t matter I say, it really doesn’t. I have no change. It’s fine I say with all the finality I can muster and then, you can buy next time.
She tucks her folded bill notes back into her purse and waits, cupping the warm coffee mug between her hands.
How are the family she asks – we talk a little, finding our feet, skating around the edges. We talk about being lucky.
I ask if her daughter Abi always lands on her feet.
She says yes, she does.
Jo, not so lucky but Abi always does. Two girls brought up exactly the same she says but so different.
And you, she asks, do you always fall lucky?
I say truthfully that I have always felt someone was watching over me.
Always I prayed for you she says, every single day of your life since you were born.
I have always felt something I say again, acknowledging.
Tell me about your faith. What do you believe?
I have always believed in God, she says.
I give everything to him and he has taken care of me. When I was 19 after giving you up, I had to go back home. To the room I grew up in and shared with my brother and sister. I knelt by the side of my single bed and I prayed and prayed and prayed for Him to show me the Way. To guide me and to show Himself to me in such a way that I knew He was there.
I was in a very dark place.
And what did that look like I said, curious; what does that mean?
It is a knowing she says. I can’t describe it but He made himself known to me on that day.
She lifts her head.
Do you read the Bible?
You must do, start with the new testament its easier but read something every day
I want to know I say, I want to believe, I really do, there is such longing within me its just I don’t see that as God, as your God, I just don’t
Tell me about your church, I ask.
Tell me about your church when you stay in America.
Tell me about the woman in the old black and white photograph where you have a hat on, the brim shading your eyes from the sun. It looks strange like a lampshade I want to say, but I don’t.
After you, I left England for Africa.
And Grace, she says, was my friend. We were missionaries for God together. We played scrabble and table tennis and we shared evenings together – I loved her very much. Grace was a champion at scrabble – always won, knew every turn of words.
I glance up from my coffee and see Jenny is happy in that moment, I can tell.
Then, on our second mission in the Congo after we had signed up for three more years, there was a tragedy. During the revolution. Her husband was killed. He was murdered. He had gone to pay the staff their wages one evening and was slaughtered in the village with another man.
Such a shame, she says but unwilling to go further.
But what I think, were you doing in such a violent, dangerous place, all that hatred and vitriol – all that blood and slaughter – why did you go?
I was a missionary with God’s word, she says
Jesus, I think.
But I say that I am grateful to know her as a woman in faith because that means something to me and I feel it is a place where our lives can intersect and have meaning.
I don’t want us to go back over and over and over.
I just don’t.
I am so very sick of the whole damn thing, the accident of birth. The adoption. The loss.
It happened and I am.
But, I say, I would like to know about your family and would like to figure out together how we can have a relationship.
Can I see photographs of my family again? My grandmother, your brothers and sister? My grandfather?
Here she says, I brought these for you.
She passes me a plastic bag stuffed full of purple and yellow irises. They were my mother’s favourite flowers. She had them in her wedding bouquet. I saw them and they made my think of her in that moment and I thought I wanted you to have something and so I brought them for you.
And there it is.
A new piece of solid, concrete fact.
I love having that piece of knowledge given to me.
Encouraged, I say – it is the chain of souls that I miss knowing , who I am part of and who you are part of and what makes me, me.
But I’ve lost her.
Too much I think to myself. Button it.
Thank you so much for thinking of me, I say instead.
The conversation slows.
We are entering into dangerous territory. I breathe in hard and say
It’s just that I feel you don’t acknowledge me to your family and other people and I feel that until you do so I don’t exist that you are ashamed of me and I am a product of shame.
But I don’t understand, she says. You are beautiful and intelligent and bright. Your self esteem is not tied up with what I do or don’t do with my family and friends.
I know that, I think but you are missing the point.
Wounded, I try again.
I need you to acknowledge to people that I am your daughter or I feel incomplete.
But that’s not quite it either.
It doesn’t matter, I say when actually it does.
But you know Sam (I don’t, Sam is her son, but go on) and Abi and Jo and they know of you although I know they said when you bumped into each other that they had not recognised you, she says (tellingly if you ask me).
It’s Clare and Alastair and John who would be next to tell: their partners. Her eyes narrow, not that John matters she says, he is new to the family and his parents live in Keighley.
I will make you a pact she says.
Let’s pray on it.
I will pray for guidance on telling them and you do the same.
I am not going to tell you where and when I will discuss this again because God does not work like that
Well then what does He do and how do you know and, anyway, if that is true, could God get a move on please?
I glance back at the clock.
I am beautiful she says. I take it like a precious and turn it over and over in my mind.
I am beautiful.
My mother thinks I am beautiful.
We don’t hug goodbye nor arrange another meet.
I must get some milk I say or there will be trouble I laugh (only half joking mind).
I will come with you she says I need some tissues and then she says, I do wonder sometimes what on earth we did before tissues.
I think they used cloth, I said genuinely confused for a moment.
And then we part.
Me down the milk aisle, her down the tissues.
I look back over my shoulder but she doesn’t see me.
Later when I pull out of the car park she is behind me following in her bright red jeep.
She waves at me through my tinted rear screen windows I wave back.
She is smiling.
I want so badly to connect in that minute, I feel hot tears pricking.
I pull down the driver’s window and lift my hand outside and wave and wave and wave.
We drive on together for a while in convoy til work beckons and I turn back to my life and she turns back to hers.