The house is on a side road so Nneoma misses the turning twice. She finally gets it right the third time and parks in front of what looks like a mulberry tree.
It is a Victorian, a common type of house in these parts but imposing if all you have ever known is NYC and its box like apartments.
She takes her time getting out of the car. It is the cold, she tells herself, and the morning sickness, but the truth she won’t admit to is that she is afraid.
Two months ago, she had missed her period and that was beginning.
“Norma Jean?” Eze had suggested that night after the first ultrasound.
“God forbid! I am not naming my child after Marilyn Monroe. Besides how do you know it is a girl?”
“Lupita? You should know by now to trust my instincts. It is a girl.”
“What is this? Are you already auditioning my child for an Academy Award?”
‘A man can dream…”
Eze was a scriptwriter for a major TV show. They had met at the Whole Foods on 125th one cold morning. Nneoma loved to go grocery shopping when no one else would be there. She usually accomplished this by going early, before the intrepid Harlem crowd could flood the stores. Eze had been in the store by chance- he lived in Brooklyn and had arrived Harlem too early for a shoot. Whole Foods was warm and open unlike everywhere else that morning so he took advantage. He liked to say he had taken one look at her and known she was the Sam to his Annie, his ‘Sleepless in New York’. He was a hopeless romantic and she had fallen irreparably in love with it all.
“How about Ada?” He suggested again, setting his glass down on the corner table and kneeling between her legs so he could put his head on her belly.
“Olodo. That is a given. She is an Ada.”
“Well Ada what? ”
“ I like Adanma; she will be beautiful”
They could have stayed that way and life would have been perfect but Eze the romantic had had to spoil it all.
‘What was her name?’ He asked, after a few moments of listening to his child’s heartbeat.
She had not needed to ask of whom he spoke.
It had been the first secret she had shared with him. He had never brought it up after that first time, until now. She pushed his head gently away from her belly so he could know he had wounded her in places she wanted forgotten.
“I am sorry,” He said.
She had not answered, choosing to drink her orange juice and kiss him good night with the lame excuse of an early morning at the hospital.
That however had been the beginning of a long hard road of walking backwards to see if she could find the child that would always haunt her dreams.
She rings the doorbell of the home and a woman of the wrong race and age opens the door almost immediately. She is on her way out.
“Mrs Loan is in the kitchen. She said to walk on through.”
If the house had been imposing on the outside, it is even more so on the inside. It smells of privilege and learning. It smells like Princeton and Ivy League education. It smells like pine trees and marshmallows. It smells like wealth without the sorrows that usually come with it.
Nneoma takes her time walking in the direction of what the woman at the door had pointed to as the kitchen. She stops to linger at the photos on the wall. The same child is in all of them. In a few of the photos, she is with a parent, in three, she is with both parents but mostly she is by herself. Nneoma thinks she knows who is behind the camera of the solo photos.
At first glance, Nneoma cannot find herself in the child but as she lingers, she finds her mother’s eyes , her father’s strong jaw and in a photo of the child in a swimsuit at the beach, Nneoma recognizes her own bony knees.
Mrs Loan is blonde and stirring chilli when Nneoma enters the kitchen.
“Juanita didn’t take your coat.” She says by way of greeting. There is a tentative smile as she drops the ladle and wipes her hand on the apron before taking the coat to the front room closet, leaving Nneoma to look around the kitchen. On the breakfast table is a pink notebook with the words ‘My Journal’ splashed on the cover in glitter.
She instinctively knows it belongs to the child in the photos. She wants to steal it and read it later, in the closet where she sometimes went to escape from Eze and to pray, but something tells her Mrs Loan is the kind of person to walk into a room and immediately know something was missing.
Even as she contemplates the book, the other woman walks back into the kitchen.
“She writes a lot. She takes after her father in that.” The woman announces.
Nneoma nods in agreement because who is she to say not. Brian had been her boyfriend for about two minutes. One of those mistakes you make in college. She had never even told him she was pregnant. She definitely could not vouch for his writing skills.
“Well sit, sit, can I get you coffee…? Oh no silly me. Coffee is not good for the baby. How many months gone are you? How about some soothing herbal tea. Nadine loves tea. “the woman rambles on.
Good, Nneoma thinks, she is as scared as I am.
“Her name is Nadine?” she interrupts after a little while.
“Yes, named after Tom’s grandmother.”
Tom is Mr Loan, Nneoma knows. The two-month long search had led her to Mr and Mrs Thomas Loan. And now she knew the child’s name as well. But who was the woman standing in front of her?
“And you are?” Nneoma says, interrupting the woman’s rambling again.
It was intended as a harmless question yet it stops Mrs. Loan in her tracks.
“Is that what you came for?’ She asks quietly, holding a jar of tea in one hand and a strainer in the other.
“I am sorry but I don’t quite understand”
“Yes, yes you do. I am Mrs Loan and Nadine’s mom. That is who I am. I don’t have any other jobs or titles outside that. You don’t get to abandon your own child 8 years ago and then show up one day looking for absolution. Nadine calls me Mom- I am the only mother she has ever known, will ever know. You are a wife, a doctor and a woman carrying an unborn child. I will never get to to do any of those last two things. Don’t try and steal my name from me- my name is Mom. ”
They stay that way for a while, the room so quiet they can hear each other breathe.
After what seems like 8 years, Nneoma rises from where she has been sitting and goes to the stove. It is the biggest one she has ever seen but the knobs are easy to understand. The kettle Mrs Loan had put on for tea is whistling so Nneoma gently takes the tea and strainer from the other woman’s tightly clenched fists and makes them both some tea.
When the tea is ready, she takes the other woman’s pale hand and leads her to the breakfast table. To anyone walking into the room without any prior knowledge, they could pass for friends, women who have somehow stepped out of their comfort zones and found common ground to find friendship.
They sit at that table and sip their tea quietly until it is time for Nneoma to leave.
“Thank you.” She says at the door, as Nadine’s mother fetches her coat.
“I want you to know this visit wasn’t really about Nadine. It was more about my unborn child and I. Spending time with you is a gift I will never deserve. Seeing the way you love Nadine has proved I made the right decision that night 8 years ago. I could never have loved her as fiercely as you do. I was not ready then. But I am now. You have inspired me to do better by my unborn child, my second chance. So yes thank you for the tea but also for more than I could ever put into words.”
She wears her coat and starts to walk towards her car; slowly so as not to slip on the icy pavement. She is almost at the car when she hears Mrs. Loan call out.
“My name is Alexandra; my friends call me Lexy.”
Nneoma turns around to say another ‘thank you’ but the door of the Victorian is closed.
Five months later, she and Eze welcome Alexandra Adanma Adieze to the world.