The first line is taken from Roddy Doyle’s Oh Play That Thing (2004) a follow-up to A Star Called Henry
May I ask a question? What is the extent of the service you provide?
“As much or as little as you require, Ms Griffin. We can carry out the full search procedure, which will hopefully result in finding your missing relative, or we can just give you a few guidelines and point you in the right direction for you to do the work yourself. Either way, we can assure you of our discretion and professionalism.” A confident smile spread across the woman’s face as she leant back and waited for Angie to make her choice.
This wasn’t going to be easy.
Angie put her file of papers on to the edge of the woman’s desk and dabbed a balled-up tissue across her perspiring forehead. It was so hot in this oppressive little office, but nowadays, now she was officially middle-aged and rampantly menopausal, she could rarely tell if was her surroundings or her out-of-control hormones that gave this feeling of claustrophobia and imminent meltdown.
Suppressing the urge to leap up and throw open the windows, she forced her attention back to the woman at the desk. Julia Fernandez, private investigator, the nameplate had said on her door. Angie paused a moment longer, composed herself, and delivered her answer. “I’d like you just to point me in the right direction, please. I want to be the one who finds her, through my own efforts, but as you can imagine I have no idea where to start.”
Julia smiled again, acknowledging Angie’s decision. “That’s fine,” she said. “Then you can always come back to us at any time if you need a little more help. I also happen to think you will find the procedure interesting.”
She smiled a broad smile this time: “And let’s hope it’s rewarding too. Now, I need you to tell me as much as you can about the person you want to find, and forgive me if I interrupt from time to time with questions that will help me add some detail. Take your time. I can guess this may not be easy for you.” She leant forward in encouragement, while Angie made another nervous dab at her hot cheeks.
Looking straight at Julia, Angie took a deep breath and spoke, quietly at first and then with increasing confidence.
She’d imagined this moment so many times, speaking those words she thought she’d never have the courage to say. Sometimes she’d pictured herself blubbing unstoppable tears, too, but not this time, now it was happening for real.
Angie heard her voice explain: “I want to find my daughter. I haven’t seen her since a fortnight after she was born. She was taken away . . . no, I had to give her away. I couldn’t keep her. I was 17. She’d be 38 now, 39 in two-and-a- half months’ time.”
Julia raised a finger as a signal to interrupt. “Sorry, but I do need to know if there was a father. Did you have any contact with your baby’s father, or perhaps you were married?”
“No, not married. Definitely not married,” Angie almost laughed at the thought. “He was nothing special. We never even liked each other much, but we went out a few times. He disappeared like a rat up a drain as soon as he knew I was pregnant. I had to leave school.”
“What about your family?”
“Good question. They were ashamed, appalled, the predictable response at first. Then my mum packed me off to Somerset, pushing the problem onto her sister. I stayed with my aunt and uncle in their cottage. There was a swing in the garden. I spent days just swinging to and fro, watching spring turn into summer and then into autumn. I suppose it could have been idyllic, but to be honest I was terrified. What was happening to me was so life-changing, yet I wasn’t much more than a child myself.”
“Did you want the baby?”
“I never had a choice. I never thought of getting rid of it, if that’s what you mean, but I was very scared. I couldn’t see my future. Before I left school I’d always thought I would become a teacher, but then everything turned to dust. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the baby, I loved to feel her kicking and moving about so strongly inside me. Oh God, I loved her to bits, she was mine, my very own, but loving her so much didn’t stop me being worried about what would become of us.”
“Before you gave birth, did anyone talk to you about giving up your baby for adoption?”
“No. No, no one talked to me about anything. My mum arranged it without breathing a word about it to me. It’s hard to believe your own flesh and blood can do something so cruel, don’t you think, Julia? You don’t mind if I call you Julia?
“Of course I don’t mind. Do tell me what you called your baby.”
“I’d only been able to think of boys’ names – John and David and sensible things like that – so when she turned out to be a little girl I just picked on the first name that came into my head. That’s how I called her Jasmine. No reason, really.”
“But that’s such a pretty name.”
“I know, and it suited her. She was a beautiful baby, no wrinkles, the bluest eyes, and hair so silky, with the beginnings of curls. I was sure she’d grow up to have curly hair like me.
“But I never knew, because after two weeks in the mother and baby home she was taken away from me. They told me it was the best thing for both of us. I screamed my heart out for four days and nights. I wanted to die. I have never ever got over that loss. You know, the desolation has never left me.”
“And now you feel the time is right to try and discover how Jasmine’s life has turned out?”
Angie felt her heart jolt when Julia spoke Jasmine’s name. It made her daughter seem real and no longer the figure of fantasy that had been inside her head for all these years. “Yes,” she said. “I need to know she’s all right. Even though she’s had to live so long without me. You see, Julia, I don’t have a lot of time. I was told yesterday by my consultant that I have a terminal illness . . .”
Angie’s voice trailed off and she reached into her bag for another tissue.
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