Invincible Blessings

Invincible Blessings

Excitement knew no bounds for Jane. Christmas is fast approaching and she is all set to spend the holiday season joyously.

“Hey Jane! This time we are definitely going to bake cookies. What say! beamed Samantha, Jane’s only friend. Jane and Samantha are buddies for as long as they remember. They are inseparable.

Like every year, Jane had sent out her handmade Christmas greeting cards to all her friends and relatives. In all her 24 years of life, she had seen her mother address those pile of envelopes. Her flowing, calligraphic letterings still had an impression on Jane. But this year, it was different – she had to do it all alone. “Holiday cheer is only in handmade things,” she could almost hear her mother’s words, while addressing those envelopes.

“I miss mum so much. I wish she was with us this time too following the tradition,” Jane said in a low tone. Samantha gave her a comforting shoulder. “You know, this year hasn’t been the same. It has been the most unexpected in many ways. And you should be a proud daughter of a healthcare worker.”

“Yeah I know. It’s just that I didn’t want to be alone on Christmas,” said Jane. “Cheer up, girl. Let’s focus on the preparations.” Samantha was excited. “Can’t you see we have a kitchen all by ourselves to experiment!” winked Samantha. “I have already seen so many recipes for Christmas.” Samantha gave a wide smile.

“Don’t get too excited. We have a lot of things on our plate. Mum texted me to get all the presents from her closet.”

“Oh! That’s exciting! I wish aunt didn’t forget my favorite watch. What are we waiting for? Let’s go!” exclaimed Samantha with excitement.

Both the girls hopped in the house like excited bunnies. Children, you see, grow up suddenly in the absence of elderly guarding sticks. They missed the support but not that they regretted it. This Christmas would be Jane’s chance to surprise her mother. To bring to her all the love and warmth, she had showered on Jane all these years. Little did Jane know that there was this little Santa Surprise waiting for her too.

They went into her mother’s room. The neatly organized closet on the left corner was a reflection of her mother’s personality. She was a woman of great strength. All these years she worked her best on the professional and personal front in the role of a single mother. The room was filled with Jane and her mother’s pictures capturing the essence of their lives. Both the girls entered into the closet to a sight of neatly wrapped gifts.

“Wow! Jane, your mom is a superman!” Samantha’s bewildered eyes couldn’t hold the wonder. “Despite being a busy doctor, she has managed to keep the house so sane!” she exclaimed.

“Yes darling, after Dad left us, she focused all her energies and emotions on me.” Jane beamed with pride in her eyes. “And sweetie, let me correct you, she is a SuperWoman!”

“Not even a superwoman, my mom was Super all rounder,” said a grim Jane. he continued, “You know what, Sam, my mom managed me, my studies, her practice and all these single handedly.”

“Yeah, I agree, Jane. When He closes one door, he opens many others,” replied Samantha comforting her best friend.

“It is said that doctors do not write well, but look at these, can anyone say like that?” said Jane smilingly, with a card in her hand.

Shirley’s creativity reflected in her cards. Yet, she knew Jane was her best creation till now. She had made Jane a firm yet sensitive individual who cared for one and all. This year was a testing time to see if her daughter imbibed the real value of celebration. The hidden value of gifting and receiving. Christmas taught just that.

“Okay, looks like we got all the gifts out,” Jane commented. She placed the last wrapped present under the Christmas tree. She and Samantha had hauled the artificial tree out from the attic that morning. The laborious task of assembling it had taken more than an hour – the strewn green twigs-resembling parts bore testament to it.”Now we need to decorate the tree and prepare a meal. Easy-peasy!”

When they were done with placing the gifts Jane decided to give a final touch to the heavily embroidered tree skirt and knelt down. One particular gift caught Jane’s attention. It looked like it was done in a rush. It had a card pasted on it with her name scribbled on it. It was far from the pearls her mother would imprint.

“Whose handwriting could that be?” wondered Jane.

She tore the glitter paper haphazardly. Though not her usual self, excitement intercepted with threads of curiosity made her impatient. Very rarely had she received unknown gifts except from few of momma’s colleagues and friends. It was a moderate size box with meticulous packing. Each cello tape was crossly but precisely stuck at the corners. Very similar to Shirley’s way but the written art didn’t match.

“What are you doing, Jane?” said a sudden voice from her back.

“Oh Samantha! You scared me. Can’t you see, I am opening a present?”

“But, it’s not Christmas yet my dear. Three more days to go and then you can open all these wonderful gifts that aunt has planned for you.”

“But, I really need to open this now.”

Even before she could say anything, Samantha took it away from her hands.

Jane looked at her adamant friend in dismay. Samantha quickly wrapped the gift again with loose hanging cello tapes. Not once did she peep inside and pushed aside Jane who was trying to do so. “Rules are rules. No gift opening before Christmas. Just because aunt is not around, you can’t get away with it.”

“There is a reason, I want to see what’s inside. You see, though everything is the same as Mamma does, the handwriting is different.” Jane pleaded.

Rubbishing off her thoughts, Samantha said, “You give absurd reasons, darling. Mamma may be in a jiffy or something might have happened,” she continued “Your mom has always told us, Patience is the key.” Jane had no option but that gift was attracting her.

There was a nagging feeling at the back of her head regarding that particular gift. Something definitely felt off but she also knew there was no budging Samantha. She adored Shirley almost as much as Jane, if not more.

“Now focus, Jane, these cookies and that lemon tart are not going to get baked themselves.”

That brought Jane’s thoughts back to reality with a crash. Other than occasional toasts, they both had never handled her mother’s well-stocked kitchen.

The beating of eggs and whipping of batter began. The oven was set for preheating. Cinnamon powder with nuts was added generously. The girls enjoyed their me time. Flour on the floor and caps on the head the girls sang Christmas melodies.” Aala luya aalaluya…..”

The hand-beater splashed a dollop of the batter on Samantha’s head. This just added more gusto to their rendition of carols.

“You better watch out, you better not cry, you better not pout, I’m telling you why, Santa Claus…”

Ting tong!

Still humming, Jane opened the front door to find a grinning Mrs. Evans. She was holding a tray of gingerbread cookies under tightly wrapped transparent foil.

Warm lady who came with a warning of even a fallen autumn leaf. It was good to see her at the doors but she would definitely report to mom about the mess. Thought Jane. The gingerbread smelled delicious but Mrs. Evans’ minty perfume overpowered. How she wished she could just grab the tray and ignore the delivery lady! But a modest upbringing reprimanded her.

“What are you girls up to?” Mrs. Evans asked, sweetly.

“Practicing our baking skills,” answered Jane.

“Wow, that’s a great help to your mother, and here are some cookies I baked today. Your mother always takes such great care of all of us, despite being burdened with her duties.”

Jane smiled broadly with pride and accepted the offered tray.

Mrs. Evans tried to budge in with the tray. Jane tried to softly resist but couldn’t stop the 90kg mushy mass from entering.

“Heavens!” shrieked Mrs. Evans on seeing the kitchen which she barged into without blessing the living room. The kitchen looked as if a tornado had just passed away. The shrieking had in fact crumbled a few packets standing on single foot. One of them blessed Mrs. Evans’ new starched trousers.

She further strolled around the house with an investigating eye. She was taken by surprise at the lovely decorations the girls had put up other than the mayhem they had created in the kitchen. The Christmas tree loaded with the ornaments caught her attention. She went close to it. There she could see one particular present not properly wrapped.

“Oh! Shirley couldn’t do this?” She commented eyeing the mysterious parcel. “My friend, how perfectly she applies that last stroke of mascara! She can never in her waking hours wrap such a disaster.” She spoke animatedly, slowly moving towards the gift. “Mrs. Evans,” Jane crossed her way like a black cat, “Mamma must have done it in a hurry.”

“What are you girls up to?” said Evans. “Should I appreciate your creativity here or take you to task for the mess inside?”

“Appreciate; for the Christmas tree,” said the girls unanimously.

“Ohh!! I see, you want appreciation, not criticism,” sternly warned Evans. “Both better start clearing the mess now, I will repack this one.”

I have to see what is inside this” murmured Jane while walking back

“Dear Lord! Why would you want to do that now? Hold on to your curiosity until D-Day,” surprised and little annoyed Mrs. Evans spoke. “Now let me give you a hand in wrapping it up as my Shirley would have done it.” She smiled and started on her work. But her inquisitive eyes caught on something. “My dear girl. Who gave you this? Where did you find this one?”

Mrs. Evans was left gaping as she managed to peek into the box. Catching the curiosity in her voice and knowing well that she was one meddlesome person, Samantha rushed to the rescue. “Not fair Mrs. Evans,” Samantha complained. “These are Christmas gifts, remember! Let’s give them the due credit on that day only.” Mrs. Evans got the message that she dare not attempt a relook.

Without a second look at anything living or non-living in the room she progressed towards the door. Happy that her trick, though a little rude, had worked, Samantha gave a secret hi-fi to Jane. Yet again they were successful in shooing away a fiddle in their happy time. The friendship was thicker than Mrs. Evans’ mushy skin. It knew not only how to survive the odds but also kick them out. Right now with this odd they were very polite, even though she whacked their nerves.

Mrs Evans wasn’t the kind of woman to let go of things happening around. The oddly packed package and a curious looking envelope bearing Jane’s name in a barely readable handwriting was pricking within her. She would be back, probably when Shirley was home and she wouldn’t have to grapple with the messy girls.

“Why would something that looked like a letter be packed in such a big box?” she wondered. Anyways, she better shifts focus to her own Christmas preparations before the family began nit-picking and having their way. Being the stubborn soul she was, the next morning she stood at Shirley’s door again with a freshly baked apple pie, as Shirley had loved her pies while a little girl and she was hoping this time too it would weave magic, giving her a chance to do some prying again.

Ms. Evans rang the bell again. Jane opened the door half asleep. “Uh….oh, Ms Evans, what brings you here so early?”

“Jesus, what is with you girls nowadays! It’s already 9 in the morning.” demanded Ms Evans. “Anyways I have baked apple pie for Shirley.”

“But mom didn’t come back last night,” came the reply.

“Oh, that isn’t good you know,” exclaimed Mrs. Evans.

“Why do you say that? Jane asked with irritation in her voice.

“On her health darling. Working late hours and that too in these difficult times.” Saying this Mrs. Evans tried to make her way inside the house. “Do let me know if you need anything girl.”

“I will surely Mrs. Evans. And thank you for the pie, I will give to Mom once she is back.” Jane tried to block her way at the door.

“Oh, I almost forgot to tell you that we are singing carols tomorrow at my place. The group from the church will be here at 7:00 pm, do join us, will you?” she asked.

Jane somehow managed to send away the unexpected early morning intruder and went in holding the pie. While she lazed on the couch near the Christmas tree, the unusual packet came on her mind. But she couldn’t see it anywhere in the gifts. The particular box was missing. Where could it have gone?

Jane wasn’t too focused on the missing package especially when she held the heavenly smelling apple pie. “I guess I have inherited Mom’s love for pies,” she grinned impishly.

“Samantha, Samantha….where are you? You seem to have vanished suddenly. Don’t worry I have handled the intrusion well.” Jane was sure she would be lazing in some corner in the true festive spirit.

Jane heard something drop. The sound came from the basement. Who could it be down there? The last she knew Samantha was laying like a bear on her bed. Jane tiptoed her way to the basement. She could not believe her eyes when she saw Shirley down there. “Mom?”

Shirley too was taken aback by the sudden intrusion. She was running out of words to what she would reply to Jane.

“What are you doing here? When did you arrive?” Jane bombarded Shirley with obvious questions. Both the bodies stood frozen in shock.

Shirley was trying to hide something behind her lean frame. “What is it that you are hiding?” Jane questioned. “And were you not in the ICU duty or did you lie to me about it? Something doesn’t seem right about this morning, Mom”

“Oh, my dear! I am not hiding anything from you. It’s just that I wanted to give you a surprise”.

Shirley wrapped Jane in a warm hug. It was quite a time this had happened. She reciprocated back by a firm grip. “Mamma, you know what, that nosy friend of yours had poked herself here twice in your absence.” Jane had for a moment forgotten about the suspiciousness of Shirley. Must say, Mothers always had a way in diverting their babies.

Shirley took advantage of this situation and hushed Jane to go upstairs and prepare some coffee for her. Both of them left from there while Shirley quietly slid something under the table behind her. By the time they went up, Samantha was also there in the living room and she was happily shocked to see Shirley there. After some discussions over a cup of coffee and the pie that Mrs. Evans had shared, Shirley asked the young ladies if they were excited for their gifts. To which both were affirmative.

“But aunty, there was one unexpected….”, Samantha was interrupted even before she could complete.

“I have taken utmost care of your choice of gifts and I assure you that you will not be disappointed,” said Shirley in a higher pitch.

“Ouch! Mom! You sure have got louder probably due to your pandemic duties,” pointed Jane pretending to close her ears. A light laugh followed while Shirley heaved a sigh of relief that the focus had shifted. She would surely have to take care of it before these adventurous girls got into a hunt.

“I’m taking charge of the kitchen before I get an emergency call,” Shirley said walking towards the kitchen. She was sure this would also give her the much needed time to ponder over the unexpected arrival for Jane.

It was supper time. The three sat down on the dinner table for a delicious meal cooked by Shirley. Jane looked lost while she twirled the fork in the spaghetti.

“What’s up Jane?” asked Shirley and Samantha in unison. “Is it the …?” Samantha was about to mention the box. While Shirley was busy preparing supper, Jane had managed to slip in the basement and found the box that Shirley had attempted to hide but she didn’t pick it up.

“Shush! Sam. Not here. Let’s take a stroll. I want to tell you something.” Jane whispered.

“Okay,” Sam responded. After a few minutes both the girls made an excuse for a stroll and we’re soon out of sight of Shirley and the house.

There was a nip in the air. The bare branches of the pine evaded the sanctity of the moonlit sky. Few chimneys here and there, smoked out Christmas delicacies. The girls walked in silence admiring the beauty of the season. Somehow verbal commotion would disturb the silent music of winter. They looked at each other as if agreeing in unison.

Jane was the first one to break the silence of the moonlit night. “Sam, Mom has been really hiding something from me. First, we found the suspicious gift, then I found it missing this morning. Around the same time, I found Mom in the house and that too in the basement. It was her who had picked up that gift and hid it in the basement.”

“So, what are you planning next Jane?”

Inquired Sam fiddling with a twig that was lost from its family of foliage. They both sat down on a cold bench on the pavement. “Now tell me what’s bothering darling?” Sam gently poked that single twig into Jane’s double layered clothing.

“STOP IT, Sam!” Jane irritably pushed her friend aside.

“Oh God, you are still thinking about it. It’s just a gift dear. Like all the others Aunt got it for you. She must have wanted to surprise you. That’s all.” Sam tried to reason out. But Jane’s face didn’t show that she was convinced.

“Alright, let’s do one thing. Why don’t you ask Aunt about it? I’m sure she has a good reason to tell you,” Sam declared.

Regretting her rude behaviour towards her bestie, Jane started to speak.”Since the time I remember my mother never hid anything from me. I won’t find peace until I find the secret of that gift. Sam, I need to rush now back to Mom. I can’t wait for two more days till Christmas to hear the truth. Are you coming”, she said with her eyes gleaming in excitement.

Saying this Jane turned on heels towards home with framing and reframing the question in her mind. “Oh, wait for me you silly girl.” Sam ran the last few steps to be beside Jane. As they reached the door, Shirley was busy with her work, “Now what took you two so long. Come on, let’s sit together.”

“Mom, let me not run around the bush and come straight to the point. Is there something you are hiding from me?” Jane asked in a firm tone to Shirley.

“Oh no my dear, why will I do that? Are you talking about urgent care duty? I didn’t lie about it. I just got a reliever ,that’s why I came home for Christmas”.

“Mom, this is not about it. You very well know what I am talking about,” Jane said in a stern voice this time.

“Nothing you should worry about.” Shirley said avoiding eye contact with her daughter. “Mom, if there isn’t anything of the sort, I would like to see the gift,” Jane demanded. “Presents are to be opened on Christmas Day, haven’t I taught you that.” Shirley tried to convince her. But Jane wouldn’t budge. She stood with hands folded in front of her mother waiting for her to reply.

“What are you so desperate for Jane?” shrugged an otherwise calm Shirley in a bid to hide her anxiety. “If you are becoming that overexcited toddler to open the gifts, then go for it. Who is stopping you?”

The situation had started heating up amidst the cold winter night with the moonlight shining through the satin curtains.

“I have no more interest in these gifts but the one which is not here. And yes I am no longer a four year old who can be tricked.”

Jane was feeling guilty about her rude behaviour towards her mother- her world. But she knew in her heart that something wasn’t right and she couldn’t lay her finger on it. She only wished her mother would pour her heart out to her only daughter.

“Mom, forgive me. But you know you can share anything with me without thinking twice. There isn’t anything in this world that can come in between us.” As soon as Jane blurted the last line Shirley broke into tears.

And she left from there only to appear after a couple of minutes with that much hyped box and the card. She handed it over to Jane. “This will end all your questions only to raise an umpteen more. This is just not an ordinary Christmas gift or a card but a significant part of our past. But before you proceed with it, promise me that you will trust me and my decisions like you always do.” An old forgotten chapter from their lives was about to be revealed.

Jane was curious as well as shocked on seeing the box. She stood there appalled by her mom’s statement and curious to know what lay ahead. With trembling hands she put courage to carefully open the box. The handwriting on the card took her attention again. Failed attempts were made to rewrap the box. Finally,she was here with the letter in her hand.

“Dear Jane, seasons greetings to you my child.” Before jumping ahead she took a look at Shirley. Who in the world would care to call her a child with a Christmas gift? If at all there was somebody who cared, where was the presence all these years? What was special this year that this guest of her life had made a cameo? She went back to the letter as her anguish wasn’t verbal and though Shirley could sense it, she stood still not offering her empty explanations.

“You won’t be knowing me. I am sure your mother would have never even mentioned my name to you let alone talking about me. There is a sharp possibility that you won’t be reading my letter this year too like all the twenty some years in the past that I have written to you.” At this point Jane shook her head in astonishment and let herself fall on the couch. Shirley didn’t move a bit as this reaction from Jane was expected. Sam thought to leave as it was their personal matter.

Jane’s temples were throbbing. The living room seemed frenzy. She dared not read ahead. Not a word nor a letter. Her happy family bubble would soon collapse. Only she, as of now, would be responsible for it.

Shirley was standing there unnerved. She knew it that one day this moment was bound to come. On one hand she expected to be taken off the burden of hiding the truth from Jane. On the other hand she was afraid of losing the only and the most beautiful relation she ever held. This year had been full of uncertainties and this moment was no different. Jane gathered herself to read further.

Despite the Christmas chill, suddenly everything felt like it was on fire. Jane’s hands were trembling, yet she knew that she would have to gather courage to proceed further. She looked around, her mother, her support through life’s ups and downs sat watching her from the kitchen table. Shirley didn’t want to prejudice Jane now that the secrets were almost out. So she decided to give the girl some space and absorb everything on those pink pages before she was summoned for clarifications. “I have waited every year for a reply,” Jane continued reading.

“But didn’t get one. No, please my dear, don’t get me wrong. I’m not accusing you, neither Shirley. All I wanted was to see you again. Because the last time you were a little bundle of joy wrapped in pink handed to me by the nurse.” Jane looked up from the letter with a confused look.

“Mom…Mom… where are all these letters this is talking about? I want to know the complete truth and not half baked. Please give me all those letters”, Jane looked at Shirley with pleading eyes.

“Ah…yeah…give me a few minutes. I have saved all of them for you. I will get them,” Shirley said as she slowly dragged her body towards the staircase.

Soon she returned with a box and in there lay bundles of cards and letters addressed to Jane. Some of them had turned yellow with years. Jane carried the box into her room, sat on her bed with the bated breath, and began reading the first letter.

Date: 25th December 1996

Dear Jane,

Merry Christmas my Munchkin. How are you my little one? I know you’re tiny to read this but one day I hope you read this and comprehend.

“Time has wings for sure. I couldn’t believe it’s been a year since God gifted us with our little princess. He proved once again that he couldn’t be so cruel after he took all your brothers and sisters to heaven.”

***

Summer of 1994

Shirley was shrieking in pain as she was informed of her fifth miscarriage. Jenny, Shirley’s mother had already informed James, Shirley’s husband and he was on his way.

James arrived and was at once shown in Shirley’s room. The heartbroken couple nursed each other’s wounded heart. “Shirley cannot try for another child. It will prove dangerous to her life. I would suggest you ponder other options.” The doctor advised James.

James didn’t know what the doctor meant by ‘other options’. Once they both had reluctantly considered the option of adoption but finally none of them could happily accept it. They weren’t that old and hence gave it one more chance. For the couple had faith in the dictum Where there is even a single Will, there are Ways of doing it. This time it was an all-good trimester, only for that one jerky ride to the parlour. It had turned their life topsy-turvy.

One single ride turned their life upside down permanently. They had to bay abode the other of your brother or sister. Shirley just couldn’t bear the pain and was in depression. James too couldn’t handle his emotions this time. Now they were left with no other option as the doctor has strictly warned them not to even think of another chance. For heaven’s sake please work out on other options.

“What are the other options Doctor?” Shirley was uncontrollable as tears raged like a broken dam. “We don’t want to adopt and that is a final decision. I want my own flesh and blood, nurtured with love.” She was an emotional mess and the doctors had advised the family to seriously think of distractions else she might be predisposed to suicidal thoughts. A big decision was needed and I had to come forth.

“You know Jane, my Shirley is a strong-willed woman. However, she longed for tiny steps to enter her life. And then one day, one of her doctor colleagues suggested her surrogacy. She couldn’t bear the idea of another woman carrying her prized treasure. And that’s where I came knocking on her door for help and bringing that ray of hope in her life. “

Jane dropped the letter and froze with this revelation.

She needed more courage before she could read further. In a moment all her life felt like a big lie.

***

While James got busy at work, Shirley sat all day near the window knitting. She would stare aimlessly at the sky while her hands were busy at work. James also started frequenting the bar more. An affirmative decision had to be taken quickly to save their lives.

A stitch in time would save their life, sublime. Shirley started looking for options around her whom she could trust with her pregnancy. From her friend Cicily to her assistant nurse Sharon, she begged for womby alms to every single woman she knew. But none had the courage to rent out their most pricey possession. Some even started pointing out to her how life with children is miserable. This was God’s way of gifting her with a better, calmer life.

Shirley found resort in her own mother. Earlier when her mother had indicated the interest to be the surrogate, she had thrown that idea to trash. She was a capable doctor but her emotions overpowered her thinking when it came to becoming a mother. She could not sensibly think about things. When she pondered over the proposal, insecurities cropped in.What would the world say?

The idea of her mother being mother of her kin too made her resilient. She was not able to come with practical reality for a long time. But then James pitched in and convinced her for the only option left. It was a big life changing decision for her. But at the end I was happy she agreed to go ahead with me as surrogate mother for her little one

For me dear Jane, it wasn’t surrogacy, it was the prime responsibility of bringing my daughter’s dream come true. Surrogacy meant invasion of my body with all strong medication and that I feared. I hope you understand that it wasn’t the fear to birth a child but the fear that hopefully the body will be able to cope with the changes. I remembered The Lord and was enthusiastic about it. However, somewhere I sensed a form of disappointment in your mother. Pondering over it, I thought it could be jealousy! This realisation was deeply saddening for me but being a mother, I was adamant to weave a way out for dear daughter Shirley.

Suddenly Shirley was a grey image in the watery eyes of Jane. “Why had her mother kept this as a secret for years? How at grandparents’ day Jane had longed to flaunt her own grandparents? But every time Shirley had told her the fake story of their accident. How mean could she be? How cruel to deprive a child of her grandma?” Jane couldn’t bring herself to think.

“She could have set a wonderful example for her peers, for many other women out there looking for hope,Jane continued reading. Unfortunately, her mental health worsened with it. Mental health was not openly spoken about as it is now. She also took a sabbatical of one year from work and we went to stay at an unknown place where nobody would know us. I always found her under some kind of stress until the day you were born.

Jane felt so proud of the way she was born. A Conradie between two strong women, suddenly she could see where that strength and courage of hers to survive odds had come from. Mothers are always giving, something which made little sense to her, percolated to touch the undergrounds of realisations. She missed her grandma but today the loss was compensated with the fact she partly had her grandma as her surrogate mother. The semicircle of her life was completed. The diameters had met.

“Soon after your birth, we came back to our house. And we, rather I, dreamt of living together happily ever after. We always wish our wishes come true but that doesn’t always happen. I will stop here this time once again wishing you a very special first birthday my dear child. Hope I could meet you before your next birthday.”

The first letter ended in the last revelation, that’s what she thought. But another bomb of revelation was yet to be dropped. For now she was a bag of mixed emotions and feelings. The bitter truth with the sweet reality gave her a tough time. She slept the night through tribulations of dreamy affairs.

Next morning with a serene face, she broached the dreaded topic.

She was contemplating. Should be reading the next letter or question her mom for the read one. As Jane descended towards the living room, she saw her mom with swollen eyes. She had cried the whole night. How Jane wished this to end. But she knew she can’t give in now. Quietly, she sat on the table for breakfast.

The pancakes weren’t flavourful without their daily banter. Jane firmly poked her fork into the omelette, “Mom, I need to talk to you.”

“Go ahead.” Shirley replied without looking up from her bread and butter. She knew Jane would hurl accusations at her and point fingers. The grey granny was portrayed so saintly to her. Mother would be the obvious devil.

Shirley had expected this. She knew once Jane comes close to the truth of her existence; she will flood her with questions. Shirley decided that the time has come and there is no turning back. Yes, she made some very tough decisions. Some right and some wrong ones. But come what may she will not allow anyone to shatter the small world she had built after James left them.

“Why don’t you go ahead and read the remaining letters?” Shirley was in no mood to entertain Jane. “Your darling grandmother might answer all your questions.” She looked up and gave a curt nod to Jane. Jane was shocked at Shirley’s coldness. This was the first time her mother behaved so rudely.

Sensing Shirley’s coldness, Jane decided not to poke her mother further. Gulping a cup of coffee, she stood up and left for her room. Jane was gathering courage to read further. At the other end of house, sat Shirley, lost in thoughts. She reminisced about the moment when she held baby Jane for the first time. Tears again welled up in her eyes.

Jane left the room back in her mini world today which was without her mom. She felt empty inside. At the same time there were so many questions popping into her mind. But surely answers were only in letters. So, she again opened the box and reached out for a second letter. It was dated on her second birthday.

“Dear Jane, today its two years of a beautiful life blossomed in my womb. Sometimes I can’t comprehend the ways of nature. When your parents had you, that is everything they wanted, they never had themselves. The minds drifted apart with you dangling in between. What transpired was very ugly and unexpected. But it happened for sure.”

Shirley, a bright medical professional, was now a vulnerable woman. She was in an emotional mess. Even on her mother’s insistence she did not resume her job. She always lived in a fear that the world would blame her and take Jane away to give to her mother. Surrogacy was a taboo topic at the time. This was the prime reason for the drift between her and James and her and Jenny (me).

To add fuel to the fire was her friend Cicily. She kept pestering Shirley to think the unimaginable. Some souls fill up their own vacuums by creating craters in fellow beings. Cicily did the same. She made Shirley doubt her own mother. Initially difficult but later Shirley became the soft earth that Cicily dug with her elbows.

“You were little and might not remember but things went from bad to worse. The simple act of choosing your dress, toys made Shirley go crazy if I did. I know what you are thinking right now, but you need to understand what I’m about to tell you next. A woman who has lost her babies, declared a mess by her husband, mentally unfit to enter the operation theater by her senior doctors start blaming the entire world for being unfair to her. So, you shouldn’t be judging her for any act. And as for me, I have faith in the Almighty one day he will bring all three of us under one roof.”

Yours loving, Grandma.

Jane was in a quandary. Wasn’t it too much of a paradox for a young adult like her to face such a stance in life? Looking up at the woman she worshipped as a mother, she wasn’t sure she had done the right thing. Whatever this letter described Shirley as was unbearable for her. “Unfit to enter the Operation Theatre”…how could she believe that about Shirley. She rushed out of the room, all set to confront her Mom for answers now.

“Mom, can we talk,” Jane demanded.

At that opportune moment, the doorbell rang breaking the stillness that had encircled the two once inseparable souls. Shirley moved from her chair and answered the door only to find Mrs. Evans.

“Shirley, I was hoping for the supermarket…” She stopped in the middle of a sentence and looked aghast. “Shirley, she knows right? Your face says it all,” she said with a serious look. A small nod from Shirley made her suspicions confirmed and Mrs. Evans forced herself inside the house closing the door behind her.

The atmosphere inside was gloomy which even the brightly lit Christmas tree couldn’t light up. Mrs Evans was requested to take a seat. On the table sat the box which had captured her attention the other day. Now it made more sense why the girls were rushing up then. “Mrs. Evans, it is time,” Shirley said looking at her. A hint of happiness could be seen in Jane’s eyes.

“Oh Shirley! My darling.” The tight hug from Mrs. Evans reassured her that all would be okay. Mrs. Evans signalled for Jane to come closer and then all three of them hugged. Unable to control her emotions at this sight Samantha too jumped over them creating the perfect group hug!

“Jane, my dear, listen with patience whatever your Mother says,” said an emotional Mrs. Evans. “Both Jane and Jenny, your grandma have mattered immensely to me, she continued. As the three of them seated themselves near the cheerful Christmas tree, Samantha cheered them up with cups of hot cocoa.

“Mrs. Evans, did you know my mom?” asked a surprised Shirley.

“Yes, my dear! Just like Jane and Sam are soul sisters, your mom and I were besties. When you came here with little Jane, your mother looked for you everywhere. Through her sources she came to know that you were here. By sheer coincidence and grace of God, I was living in this town with my family.”

It slowly seeped into Shirley what her mother had done for her. Mrs. Evan was her secret Santa who Christmas after Christmas took care of the mother daughter duo. What she thought of co-incidences were thoughtful plannings of her mother. How did Mrs. Evans know she loved gingerbread? How did Mrs. Evan drop in during those times of the month when she suffered from migraines? The picture was getting clearer and better.

Somewhere Shirley felt guilty of thinking Mrs. Evans to be a meddlesome woman. Shirley looked straight into Jane’s eyes, probably the first time since the beginning of all of the current happenings.

“Surrogacy, during those days, was a taboo, a social stigma Jane.”

“The mere thought was painful and when your Grandmother volunteered, I was aghast.”

“I was anguished, pained, annoyed with both your Dad and Granny.” Her hands trembled as she spoke, Jane moved a step and cupped Shirley’s hands within hers.

Jane wanted Shirley to continue but she waited patiently until Shirley was able to gather her strength. “Uggh….so you see….” Shirley began, “the very thought killed me from inside. I so desperately wanted my flesh and blood and wanted to bear the agony of childbirth. But God hadn’t even granted me that. I was ready to put my life at stake just to want the tiny life grow inside me. But no one supported me.” Shirley couldn’t stop crying.

“Mom, don’t be so harsh on yourself. You have taught me compassion, kindness towards one and all. You instilled in me the values to be a good human being. You don’t have to bear a child to be a good mother. Mrs. Evans we are grateful to you whatever you have done for us all these years,” said Jane, turning towards Mrs. Evans. Jane paused for a minute to think.

“You won’t understand, Jane. The stigma of not bearing a child and agony of watching my babies leaving my womb without coming into this world is something only a mother who’d faced it would understand. Reluctantly, I had to agree. But then started the whole new tenure of turmoiled nine months. I was jealous every moment of mom’s pregnancy. Nausea, food cravings, your kicks inside her only made me feel insecure and incomplete and in the heart of hearts I hated this change, but didn’t know how to combat my emotions.”

“Do you know, Mrs. Evans, on that sunny day of 2009, when you found me teary eyed on the porch, it was yet another letter from Mom. Jane had turned thirteen that day. It was a milestone birthday for her. The same day Mom told me about how she had slipped and broken her hip. I was full of remorse. I had come too far to go back to her or tell the truth to Jane.”

“Jane, my love, after the day you were born, I was both happy and worried, that you’ll be taken away from me. To top it all, your dad started an affair with my friend and colleague Cicily,and both of them started giving me medicines on pretext of calming pills. But those were heavy sedatives that played with my mind. And without second thought I did unthinkable. I kind of stole you and brought you here. Year by year I got a letter from mom, felt anguished and remorseful but the mere thought of losing you gave me chills and even when she injured herself so badly, I didn’t even bother to go back.”

These revelations were extremely humbling for Jane. Surprisingly all the anger within her seemed to diminish and she went and hugged her mother.

“Mom, please calm down for I feel proud to be born to two incredibly brave women. You, withstood societal pressures, allegations and to top it all, infidelity! Granny, for the love she held for you in accepting to be a surrogate in those times when it was near to impossible. It is time we let go of our past baggage and move forward with life.

“Mom, can we go meet Granny now?”

“But, I don’t even know where she lives.”

At the same instance both of them looked towards Mrs. Evans with hopeful eyes.

“Okay, okay ladies pack your bags. We have quite a ride to take.”

It was evening before Christmas. Jane and Shirley merrily packed for their trip. Just like her friends who weaved their tales about their vacations at grandparents’ house. This time she would have loads of stories to tell them as well. Her joy knew no bounds. Eagerly waiting for the sun to rise Jane neither Shirley slept a wink.

It was a bright Christmas morning. The four ladies set off for the most memorable drive of their lives. Shirley was continuously fidgeting her hand.

“Mom are you nervous?”

“All these years a genius mind like me got so dumb at heart. Hope Mom forgives me for all the foolishness.”

Along with the hearty laugh a line tear trickled down Shirley’s cheek as she reminisced the warmth of her mother’s hug. Soon loud music, laughter and old tales filled the car as the four of them sped down the highway. Jane couldn’t wait for the journey to be over. She looked forward to visiting her birth place and most of all the woman who had the courage to stand for her daughter’s dream. “Mom, I can’t wait to meet Granny and see her reaction when she sees us standing at the door. Mrs. Evans, I hope you haven’t spilled the beans to Granny.”

“Not at all, my dear. I too want to see that moment of surprise and happiness when my pal will finally unite with her family.” Mrs. Evans was happy.

“How long will it take?” Jane was getting restless like a four year old.

“Save your excitement girl, we still have two hours of travel,” teased Samantha. Meanwhile, Shirley was preparing herself for the difficult encounter. Till now she had held her guilt and let it flow through tears alone but now with everyone in front, she was worried as to how she is going to hold back her emotions.

The never-ending journey was coming to an end. Shirley was framing and re-framing her apology over and over again in her mind. Jane, on the other hand, thought of all the moments she would share with her Granny. And as for Mrs. Evans, she was excited about her bestie and the reunion. The car was nearing the lane and Shirley sat excitedly telling Jane about her school, their neighbors, her first bicycle ride, and Jane sat gleaming picturing everything. Mrs. Evans abruptly stopped the car in front of the gate and Jane ran like a small child to greet her Grandma but……

It wasn’t her grandma who answered the door bell. “Yes, who do you want, miss,” came the polite voice from the other end.

“Err…..we want to see Ms. Jenny. She…she is my mother,” said Shirley stammering.

“Jenny! Who Jenny?” the girl replied. Her name was Ellie and she worked as a nurse.

The four of them felt stumped. The plan to surprise Grandma Jenny had fallen flat. Instead it was them who had been blown off their feet.

“Whose caregiver are you, Nurse Ellie?” Shirley questioned without losing a second.

“Well, I’m not sure of her first name but she is old Ms. Patterson as the neighbours address her.”

Shirley’s heart sank. She didn’t want to imagine the worst. She tried to speak but words hardly came out. “Her full name is Ms. Jenny Patterson and she is my mom. Can you please take us to her?” Ellie showed them the way towards the room and what lay on bed was a fragile, weak figure difficult to recognize.

Shirley was now uncontrollable. Jane and Mrs. Evans froze as the tears made their way.

“Mom, it’s me, Shirley,” she managed to blurt a few words. The delicate woman turned towards her but showed no sign of recognition. “How long has she been like this?” Asked Mrs. Evans to the nurse.

“A little more than a year,” she replied.

“But we got no information!” Shirley was filled with remorse.

“Yes, I tried asking her several times but since she suffered with partial amnesia as treatment backfired, she was only able to mention that she has a daughter and nothing more than that,” replied Ellie.

“Treatment….what treatment?” It was Jane who spoke next.

“Yes…she was suffering from anoxia, an ailment where oxygen levels get depleted, and considering her age the treatment wasn’t much successful. I tried looking for her family but couldn’t be successful. The strange thing was you guys never contacted her in a span of eighteen months since I am here.”

“Ellie, Ellie…,” said a feeble voice from back.” Ellie can you please get those gingerbread cookies I instructed you to bake. I feel like eating them today. My Shirley loves them. I wish I could feed them one day to the piece of my heart, my dear..umm..her name..” Jane decided to move forward and give her grandma the best Christmas gift she deserved and had been waiting for.

“Granny….I am Jane….Shirley’s daughter,” Jane spoke softly. The old lady slowly opened her eyes and tried to have a glimpse,”hey do you know where my Shirley is….you look like her”, Jenny was indeed happy, seems life is coming back to her. Shirley, who was standing near the corner rushed to her mother and cried like a baby, “I am sorry for everything mother…..truly sorry.” Oh Shirley you came back from your duty. Look I asked Ellie to bake your favourite cookies and is your darling daughter back from playing…I tell you she is such a naughty girl unlike you.” “Well she always talks as if you and Jane are living with her, it’s her fantasies actually,”Ellie said.

Jane and Shirley stood near Jenny holding her fragile hand never leaving her side. And for Mrs.Evans, she took control of the house and kitchen. Everyone was coping with the situation and was trying to be brave.

“Now, come on you three. It’s tea time already.” Announced Mrs.Evans as she bought a tray with tea and cookies. “Come what may, we are all in this together. Because Family comes first.” She said with a reassuring smile.

“Yes, it’s time to make everything right,” said Shirley. She then made a call. “I won’t be on duty for l don’t know how long as my mother needs me as of now”. Jane too decided to manage her classes from granny’s home. “We won’t be going back unless granny is in a condition to come with us,” declared Jane. “Mrs. Evans and Samantha, thank you for the support you both gave us.”

Things were falling in place. Jenny was responding well to medicines with her loved ones around. Jane and Sam took over what they were best at- decorating the house. Well, it was still Christmas right. The aromas from the kitchen filled the entire once gloomy house. By morning, a bright cheerful Christmas tree, lights, wreaths, and stocking near the fireplace was ready with everyone cheerfully singing “Joy to the World”

The fragrance of mint filled the air. Jenny was feeling a bit better to sit upright on her bed.She was brought back in time as she took the first sip of the mint tea.She looked at Shirley and started talking.

“Oh my dear Shirley, you and your little baby define my world. Never ever think of leaving me.”

“I know, mom. Even if I apologise a thousand times, it won’t lessen my deeds. But I know you are kind enough to forgive your silly girl,” said Shirley.

“Jane don’t leave your granny’s side. I’ll go and have a word with Ellie,” Shirley instructed Jane and left.

“Umm….Ellie could you please show me the line of treatment of mom and the medicines she’s taking.”

The next thing she did was she made some calls to some of her colleagues for a second opinion. While Jane was with her granny they started a conversation.

“Jane, my darling, how old are you now? Did you read all the letters I sent for you? I remember handing over something to Ellie to post.

“Yes, I received your letter this time Granny and after twenty four years of my existence I came to know about a grandmother I never knew existed.”

Given her condition, Jenny gave an entirely blank expression as Jane completed this sentence.

“Are you twenty four already?” Jenny grew a little restless as she spoke. Shirley caught a glimpse and quickly signalled to Jane that she should move away and not continue with the conversation. Jane too got anxious that probable she made the revelation a little too quickly.

Shirley gently patted Jenny’s shoulders saying, “Mom, it’s almost tea time and we have some fresh scones awaiting us.”

After the tea, Shirley sat with Ellie to chalk a plan for Jenny’s day-to-day routine, doctor check-ups, diet, etc and she didn’t want to leave any stone unturned. It was a cold evening with crisp air.

“Okay, look what I found in the attic,” said Mrs.Evans. She stood smiling with a bound book looking old and frail.

“What’s this?” asked the girls with excitement.

“It’s my wedding album,” said Granny in her feeble voice with a blush.

“Oh, wow! Granny, this is a treasure,” declared an excited Jane and Samantha. Granny Jenny smiles coyly and the women couldn’t miss the hint of blush on the wrinkled cheeks. Shirley felt a sense of great relief that here was something to distract Mom.

“Granny! You will describe each of the pictures to us, right!” Jane announced enthusiastically. She spread the picture album in Jenny’s lap and rolled the wheelchair over to the patio.

“Huh, picture what picture!” came the reply from Jenny.

“Hey girl! Didn’t I ask you to bake gingerbread cookies for my daughter. She’ll be back anytime soon. Poor girl is even working on Christmas. Doctor’s life is always tough. And it’s almost time for Jane’s milk,” said granny pointing to Ellie.

Jane froze with the wheelchair still in her hands. Shirley rushed over. “Don’t worry honey, let me take over,” she whispered to Jane.

“Ellie, come over,Mom needs to be shifted to the room. Let her rest, she has been up and about since morning and that is what seems to have tired her out. She patted Jane reassuring her that all was well.

Days turned into weeks and weeks into the month. Neither Jane, Sam, Mrs.Evans, Shirley nor Ellie left Jenny’s side neither hope. Shirley was now planning and making arrangements to take her mother with her where she will be treated by the best doctors.

As they rightly say,
It’s the special bond,
That spans the years
With laughter, smiles, and tears
It’s the sense of trust
Deep within each of us
That cannot be broken
All those years of pain you took
Has now blossomed into a beautiful relationship
A daughter-mother duo
We will always remain
And this knot can be undone.

Jenny got better day by day. She now recognised everyone in her home. She even accepted the fact that Jane is a grown-up adult.

“Mom, I want you to take you with me. There I have the best doctors and now I don’t want you to spend a single moment alone”. Shirley finally picked this topic.

Jenny put up a lot of resistance.

“Let me be here – in this home in my last days of life.”

“You were born here. This place is special.”

“I don’t want to bother you.”

And all such excuses she tried to give to Shirley and Jane. But nothing worked. Shirley remained adamant. And thus the Christmas card Jane received from her grandmother she never knew existed became an inseparable part of her life and the truth of her existence.

“Granny, all my life I saw other kids spending time with their grandparents. Now that we have found you, don’t take this opportunity from me to create memories.This is the house where I was born but that house is the place where I grew up. Don’t you want to take a sneak peek into my growing years?”

Granny didn’t disappoint them. The three generations of brave women set off together to create a new example.

Epilogue

After 5 years

“Mom, Granny I’m home.” Announced Jane as she tossed the car keys in the key bowl. “There she is late again. Aren’t you supposed to take a rest.” Shirley said with a concerned look. “Mommy, relax. I’m fine. And the doctor said it’s progressing perfectly”, She said smiling as she caressed her baby bump.

“Jane dear, you are not alone to hop like a bunny everywhere,” her granny scolded her sweetly. “What if my great grandchild doesn’t like it?”

“Oh grandma! I will now rest in your lap.”

“Already going to be a mother but still a child huh,” chuckled Samantha. “By the way you promised to come with me for my wedding shopping but I guess I am going to take aunt and granny now, and you are resting at home,”Samantha declared.

“Oh, Sam please, I said I am fine, please let me come, pleaded Jane with a puppy face and all of them were having fun teasing her.

Even as she retired to her room, Jane’s laptop was still on and so was her brain. Her big day was fast approaching and they were all equally excited. It was Jane’s brainchild but everyone’s dream and hope for many. On Jenny’s sixtieth birthday next week was the beginning of a surrogacy centre, the first of its kind in the country. Shirley had appointed the experts of this field.Jane had put her hospital management degree to use. The preparations are going in full swing.

“Jane stop running here and there, will you!” Shirley almost scolded her. “Have you forgotten that you’re pregnant!”

“Sorry would be granny, seems like you already started caring for her grandchild more than me,” teased Jane.

“Why not!” replied Shirley.

“Oh by the way, Dave called and asked me if you are taking care of yourself and his baby and I obviously replied in negation, winked Shirley. After a week of preparations came the day. The opening ceremony of the Patterson clinic was conducted by none other than Jenny. Shirley commenced it narrating her own journey and the shame and guilt attached to it. The highlight of the whole project was taking care of the mental health of those concerned. There should rise no other Shirley or Jenny or Jane who missed the love of her grandmother all this long. “Blessed with two mothers”, read the ornament with their pictures which was put first on the Christmas tree marking the celebration of yet another memorable Christmas.

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Contributed by: Sonali Prasad, Sakshi Bhatnagar, Sonam Sahoo, Amruta Wadekar, Saravjot Hansrao, Aparna Salvi Nagda, Aarti Roy, Natasha Sharma 
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