Maya took a deep breath, opened the door, and with a giant, dramatic first step, entered the bookstore as the bell chimed overhead.
She saw no one at first but was greeted by the smell of freshly brewed coffee drifting from the back of the store and wafting among the bookcases. The woman she’d come to meet was likely back there. But, suddenly feeling weighed down at the ankles by cement blocks, she stayed up front and browsed the books in the window display instead.
This was harder than she thought. It was easier when she was screaming at her mom and calling her a liar. It was easier when she spent the two-hour flight from Houston to Tampa, the five-hour layover, and then the additional two hours to her final destination believing that she would finally get the answer to the question she’d been asking since she was old enough to recognize her reflection in the mirror, that the missing pieces of her life’s story would finally be found, and her puzzle made whole. But then she stood in front of that door and reality set in. What if this wasn’t the life she was meant to have?
You didn’t come all this way just to turn back now, she tried to encourage herself, but as her heart fluttered in her chest, she thought about the last words her mom texted her as she boarded the plane.
“Remember, I am your mother, and nothing you learn from this trip will change that.”
In a way, she was right. Sheila Adams, life-long resident of Houston, Texas, would always be her mom, as she had been for the last seventeen and a half years. But Maya couldn’t ignore the betrayal she felt at not being told the truth. To take the DNA test, along with everyone else at the family reunion, and discover that her roots are not grounded in Texas—like her mom’s, cousins’, uncles’, and aunts’—but were transplanted over 1,000 miles away from North Carolina.
She picked up one of the books in the display and immediately recognized the name on the cover. It was the same name on the Ancestry DNA match, the same name on the Facebook page she found, where she was able to get the address to this store. The page did say she was an author. It made sense that she would sell her books in her own store—make all the profits and avoid having to rely only on royalties.
“Can I help you with something?” someone said from behind.
Maya froze momentarily, but the voice sounded considerably younger than she expected. She turned around and met the smiling face of a young employee who looked to be the same age as her.
“No, I’m just browsing.”
“Are you a fan?” She pointed to the book in Maya’s hand.
“Well, actually, um—” Maya quickly dropped the book back onto the table. “Is she here?”
The girl shook her head. “Maternity leave.”
“Oh.” Her voice cracked. She swallowed back the twinge of jealousy rising up in her chest. Seventeen and a half years ago, Maya had to remind herself, and she would’ve been the same age—a senior in high school, looking at colleges, trying to leave behind bad decisions and even worse boyfriends in the rearview as she plowed ahead on this dirt road called life.
This little one would undoubtedly come up under different circumstances, a healthier environment, one could only hope. She—Maya decided for herself that it was a girl too—wouldn’t grow up abandoned. She wouldn’t be denied the opportunity to know her real mom.
“You know, you could be her daughter.”
“I’m not.” Maya said quickly.
“No, seriously. You look exactly like her.”
All her life, Maya had been told she resembled her mom. It was just something people said to be nice, to make small talk, but anyone with eyes that could see knew it was a bald-faced lie. Her tan skin, her kinky hair, her broad nose and full lips didn’t favor a single feature on Sheila’s paler-than-a-paper-plate white skin.
But Sheila would always say, “That’s because your father is Black.”
Maya guessed that could still be true. Ancestry wasn’t as clear on paternity. He apparently hadn’t taken the test, wasn’t in the database. He could’ve been Black, but there was also that 25% of her DNA that lit up the small nation of Taiwan on the map.
It left her with more questions than answers.
One thing was for sure, though—even Maya had to admit—when she found that Facebook page, it was like looking into a mirror.
Lost in her own thoughts, Maya didn’t realize she was once again alone until the employee reemerged from behind a bookcase holding a small pamphlet that looked more like a brochure than a book.
“Here, I think you would like this.”
“What is it?”
“It’s chapbook of poems. It’s not really her bestseller. She says it’s because only one person was ever meant to read it.”
“See for yourself.” She flipped the book open to the first page: a poem titled “To the one I had to give up.”
In a season of graduation caps, Mother's Day flowers, I kissed your tiny little feet, nibbled on your toes, prayed the doctor would find you a happy home. From a distance, I yearned for you— It was my deepest regret— but take comfort in knowing that I have always loved you, and I will never forget.
Tears filled Maya’s eyes as she read the lines of verse. “How did you know?” she said.
The girl shrugged. “Like I said. You could be her daughter.”
“I am,” Maya announced proudly.
And she couldn’t wait to meet her.
© Nortina Simmons
A late entry for Fandango’s Story Starter. Click the link to read more stories inspired by the teaser “Today she would find out if her entire life was a lie…”