‘Ludwina.’ On the verge of slumber she heard her name. She looked back, to the right and back again. Why did it happen every time her eyes shut? She could not expect the air hostess who had just passed by, in a peacock-patterned outfit, to know her name. She looked to her right again. A woman’s head above the silver border of a cashmere sari was the only thing her eyes could catch. The woman’s eyes, behind her glasses, seemed to capture nothing other than the black and white print of the book she held. Ludwina twisted and straightened her back. It was just the start of the journey – from new home to the old home, from one mother to another. The woman on her right leaned on to the seat and closed her eyes. Ludwina was afraid to close her eyes. It was a horrible feeling to hear her name being called when there was no one here she knew. Her eyelids were becoming heavy.
‘Ludwina.’ She opened her eyes again. She grabbed a mint, popped it in her mouth and pressed her eyelids down as hard as she could. A tear squeezed out of the gap under the eyelid, dampened the darkness inside her. Someone was muttering something in her ears, words which were not clear. She listened as if listening to her own heartbeat.
‘The cure for everything is salt water,’ she heard Bixen say and somehow saw the words floating in black and white.
There were shades of remoteness in everything: the smell of cinnamon in Mrs Fernando’s kitchen, the taste of crushed betel leaf in the mouth that turned into red spit, the bulkiness and the prickliness of the jack-fruit tree. The smell of its ripe flesh slipped away from her dreams. Now it was all achromatic Odense, all Shrovetide and the tune ‘Boller op, boller ned . . .’; all the saltiness of Skagerrak. Food for her hunger; hunger for love for her mother for which biology had no definition.
Mrs Fernando was her short-term care person during her stay. Her English was better than the rest of her family. She must have thought Ludwina would be staying with her longer, indulging herself in the awakening pleasures of the tropics. Rambutans, jambus, ripe jack-fruit and the bamboo steamers stacked beside the stove for string hoppers, all of these made her feel so welcome. Ludwina was kept busy introducing and explaining herself at least once each day to these acquaintances. The excitement lasted till they finished the trip to Kurunegala, a city away from the capital, with a rock in the shape of an elephant.
Mrs Fernando had expertise in finding the biological mothers of the children who had been ‘exported’ overseas. Her experience in the birth and death registry and her wide circle of acquaintances through all avenues had helped her to become successful in this leisure activity after retirement. There were no hidden costs involved in her work. It seemed utterly for her own satisfaction although the small gifts from overseas were never turned down.
The month she spent on that island in the ocean named after India was like surviving in a newly invented world before its quick end. Ludwina had to get used to the new patterns and rhythms almost instantly. The deep-rooted dream she had allowed her to pass by the barricades caused by her upbringing. The dream that had been nurtured for seven years to see her roots, most of all her biological mum. She wished to bear and balance the messiness on her shoulders. It was hard to contemplate what sort of untangling she would have to do. It reminded her of the maze in Odense, where she used to play and get lost in with her friends.
Ludwina could never forget meeting her biological mum. A woman in her forties, in a traditional Lankan style outfit, stood in front of her at the village headman’s office. She cried when she heard that Ludwina was her daughter. She hugged Ludwina then apologised with the only English word she seemed to want to say to Ludwina. ‘Sorry.’ Then she spoke her own language and Mrs Fernando translated.
‘My husband knows I had a child and I gave her for adoption because he agreed to marry me but I had to get rid of the child. My husband looked after me well and I have other children from him. I am sorry I have to let you go. I have to . . . yes I have to . . .’
The woman stretched her arms wide. Ludwina put her arms around her mother, feeling the wonder of the same blood and the smell of her genesis – a beginning as well as an end.
Her name was still echoing alternatively with Bixen’s words – “the cure for everything is salt water”. She opened her eyes and saw the others tightening their seat belts. The woman in the sari had just finished a drink. Ludwina reached for another mint in her bag, underneath the front seat. Gradually the city beneath the wings of the plane began to appear. Then the wheels made a noise of friction on the ground.
In the waiting lounge, she took out her phone. There was a message which said,
Looking forward to seeing you, my love.
Only then did she realise how hurtful it must have been for her mum and dad to see Ludwina in a silent grump, absorbed in her roots far away. She muttered to herself, ‘I am not yours’. Ludwina was burdened by holding her churning thoughts of separation from her biological mum. But now everything was over.
It was like a thin lightning streak that traversed from head to toe.
Ludwina checked her wrist-watch, which her Mum had given her on her last birthday. Her necklace tangled inside her blouse reminded her of her Dad’s warm wishes last Christmas. They have given more than that, their caring and sharing the whole world. She slumped into an empty chair, texting. Then, last thing, she keyed in Love you Mum.
Darshi Ranmuthu is an early childhood educator and short story writer. She studied three papers for her Diploma in Creative Writing with Whitireia New Zealand in 2014. Her short stories have been published in the 4th Floor Literary Journal 2014 and New Asian Writing. Her favourite food is pavlova.