It had been many years since we had been at school together and his idle curiosity, and maybe boredom, had led him to try and trace me. He hadn’t immediately found me, but instead, had found my sister’s search on an adoption site. This spurred him on, establishing new contacts with old school friends we used to have in common and eventually he was given my email address. “Did you know your sister is looking for you?”
This was more than I had ever dreamt of during the years that I had looked for her, him, them … I didn’t know who I was looking for, didn’t know whether siblings even existed. I had been approached by others looking to exploit my neediness. Give me money and I tell you where they are. I am your brother, meet me. I had almost fallen for them in my initially urgent, later despairing search for family and identity.
And then, suddenly, out of nowhere, there it was, on an email, complete with contact details.
How do I know you are who you say you are? What was the name our mother gave me? When was I born? What hospital was I born in? Tick, tick, tick – she knew everything, even correcting some details I thought I knew but had deciphered incorrectly from scrawled, faint and barely intelligible handwriting on ancient bits of paper. Finally, she sent me a photo of herself and of course there was no doubt, no doubt at all. For the first time in my life, there was someone who looked like me. And then, all of a sudden, I had not just one sister but two, and three brothers, and a mother.
I met my sister for the first time in London. She said she worked for a company that sold diamonds and that she had been able to persuade her employer to let her cover the UK contract, just this once. Of course, I was eager to meet and I spent my savings so we could stay at the same place. It was a very exclusive and expensive hotel as would befit a diamond business funding an employee’s work trip.
We clicked, straight away. We had never spoken before, just traded emails and photos. She had last seen me when I was six weeks old. We walked all over London, chatting with ease as if we had never been apart. She spoke English well, although she said our other sibs did not. She said she would translate everything for me. She was generous of spirit and generous with her money. She was easy to like and she filled the role of my much-wanted older sister so simply. I loved her and adored her instantly.
Of course, the invitation to Singapore came naturally, yet insistently. Just pay for your flights, you won’t need any money when you get here because you can stay with us. Come and meet everyone, they want to meet you, we have been looking for you for so long. I felt wanted, loved, included. Missing parts of my life were filled in, so much like the bits of the clichéd jigsaw puzzle.
The trip was planned. Work became a source of irritation and resentment as it delayed me from going where I needed to go. The many months I had to wait until leave allowed me my freedom left me frustrated and despairing. But I received gifts from the family, many of them. Mostly tourist tat sent with so much affection, boxes covered in green customs forms, labels and parcel tape; delivered, full of hope and promise. In return, I sent them gifts from England, things they would not have seen or tasted, things representing the life I had endured while separated from them. I always used my sister’s address for simplicity, it all went to her and she shared everything with the others, translating as needed, explaining my gushing notes which tried so hard to make up for the missing decades.
Changi Airport was clean, crisp, organised. Everything was where it should be. The air conditioning had refreshed and cleansed me after the long flight. My stomach had churned with anxiety, excitement, fear and longing. What would happen if she weren’t there?
There was a sudden beep as I switched on my phone. Where are you? Have you got your luggage yet? We are waiting for you.
I had seen her immediately. She was surrounded by a crowd and suddenly I was in the middle of that crowd. Everyone was babbling, loud and confusing. Words tumbled around me, exclamations of joy, hands touched me, tugged at my clothes, hugs and kisses were flung about like confetti at a never expected wedding. My “brother”, such an alien term for a single child, grabbed my suitcase and gestured for me to follow. I was part of the crowd that moved to the car park. I had no choice. I was part of a group that wanted me completely.
I was fed. Fed too much food. They sat me at a metal canteen table while family disappeared and reappeared with dishes full of unrecognisable items. The heat, humidity, foreign flavours, smells of spices and open drains assaulted my every sense. Canned music, different languages, backfiring cars, shouts and laughter provided the ever noisy backdrop – I grabbed hold of any words in English like a buoy in a stormy sea. Nothing else was familiar. Nothing else made sense.
The time with the family did not allow me to gather my thoughts. They showed me all the tourist sites; we ate in their local Hawker Centres; we deliberated and debated at great length the luckiness of certain numbers before buying lottery tickets. And the heat and noise were unrelenting. I floated, buffeted by their demands, cushioned by their tenderness, confused by their language. And by the end of the holiday, I had just given in to it all. I wanted to belong, I wanted to please them and I wanted to come back.
But now here I am. I have been pulled out of the Nothing to Declare queue, joined because I have nothing to declare.
“You packed everything yourself?”
“You can vouch for everything you are carrying? Are you sure?”
Yes, yes … well, everything except the small box that I need to post when I get home.
The box, so small and innocuous looking, representing just a small and innocuous favour. You don’t mind, do you? It’s just that I don’t want it to get lost in the post and you know how things are, sometimes Customs open parcels and things go missing, or delivery gets delayed. It can be so annoying. I’ve already packed it up and addressed it for you. And here’s some money, it should be more than enough to cover the postage. Are you OK about taking it for me? You don’t have to, it’d be OK, I can find another way of sending it. It’s just that I trust you. You are part of us now …
“What’s in the box?”
“Where did you get it? Who gave it to you? What are their names?”
“Answer me. How did they meet you?”
“You need to tell us.”
“We know what is in the box, you may as well tell us… Save yourself.”
“We know who they are. We have been watching them for months.”
K.T has spent a career in which writing was used to inform, analyse and describe, but about and for other people. She is now searching for her own creative voice. The dream is to write a novel and write as full time as retirement will allow.