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How I Met My Mother

To Mum, who deserves the truth

 

One fateful day, precisely twenty years ago, the phone rang, and I answered hesitantly. “Charlotte, this is your mother,” an articulate voice said.

 

Reflecting back, the last fight had been especially bad; Dad had removed his belt, and I was still tightly gripping the glass shard when the gendarmerie unlocked the washroom door. “Sixteen-year-olds do need discipline,” the police officers had expressed, sympathising with my father. “I leave no marks,” my abuser shared, complicit.

 

After “the event” there had been heated talks of admitting me, against my will, to a mental asylum. Finally, my paternal grandfather had weighed in. “Let the girl see her mother, Kay,” he’d concluded. Grudgingly, my father had produced Mum’s stolen address book, then dialled her younger brother.

 

***

 

I was ecstatic. I never imagined I was going to see my mother again. A cheap ticket to Kuala Lumpur was booked, followed by long, painful months of waiting and the grueling French baccalaureate. I counted the days with bated breath.

 

That peaceful summer evening, the night before my departure, we drank under the garden pergola. It was my best friend’s eighteenth birthday; a small gathering of close family and friends. Rana’s uncle handed me a long-stemmed glass. I’d never drunk champagne before; I’d never really drunk before. But given the circumstance, the pending reunion with my long-lost mother, I willingly intoxicated myself.

 

I reminisced about the last time I saw her. It was London, circa 1990. I was 9. Shortly after, my father had taken us “on holiday”, away from my mother. Neither Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs or my mother ever found us. We’d emigrated to the South of France with taxpayer money.

 

In my new home, gaslighting became a method of control. “She abandoned you,” my stepmother constantly repeated, like a mantra. “You need to accept Faysa is your new mother,” my father had summarily declared. I looked at the twenty-something gold-digger with ambivalence. They never broke me.

 

 

Note: After our kidnapping, my mother had two options: fight or surrender. Either choice came with great pain. Mum had petitioned the judge to oppose us leaving the country. She lost. She could have applied for another hearing. She didn’t. She gave up her West London terraced-house, and bought a one-way ticket to Malaysia.

 

***

 

My plane flew above Hong Kong. Four hours later, the British would hand over sovereignty to the People’s Republic of China and I would land sober in Subang International Airport. Unfortunate things could have happened to me: a naïve, white girl who’d pinned her hopes on a stranger. But that summer, God had other plans. Only Princess Diana would find her way to an unexpected death.

 

I fussed with the photograph nervously. “Would I recognise her?” I worried, scanning the arrival hall. In my vision, a woman’s head bobbed, up and down, above the crowd. As I crossed the line dividing passengers and loved ones, I heard an excited voice announce: “That’s my daughter. That’s my daughter!”

 

The Malaysian crowd responded with grace. A buoyant circle of well-wishers gathered around us. Suddenly, my mother’s arms surrounded me. The embrace lasted for what seemed an eternity.

 

***

 

From correspondence recovered at my Grandfather’s Shiva, dated October, 1997.

Dear Grandpa,

I hope you are feeling better, and you are your cheerful, busy self again.

Since I’m back from Malaysia I feel a lot freer. Perhaps Dad doesn’t understand me, but I’ve at last found meaning to my life. Thank you for your support during these hard moments. In return, all I can assure you is a special place in my heart.

Lots of love,

Charlotte xxx


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