It was a total shock. The telephone rang and on picking it up a voice asked, "Mrs. Rawinsky?"
"Look, I know this might come as a bit of a shock, but I think you're my mother. My name is Noel Vane."
I nearly fainted. "Dear God, after all these years."
As I struggled to respond the images of that time eighteen years ago came back, flashing before me with lightening speed.
Michael Vane...I was so young and he so experienced... the pain of child birth...holding the child... feeding him at my breast...and they took it away from me.
"Its best," said the hospital chaplain, and my parents, relatives and friends. All of them told me, "It's for the best. You're so young, your whole life before you. You don't want to be saddled with a child at your age."
So I signed their papers and saw them take my baby son away, leaving me with a great gaping emotional wound that had never healed completely.
They took my child away and I wasn't supposed to know whom he went to, but I heard; heard the social worker whispering.
"His father's taken him. His wife forgave him. They have no kid's so they've taken him."
"Is that allowed?"
"She signed and it went through all right."
"Poor kid, it's been bloody hard for her."
"Shouldn't have let him get into her knickers."
"Suppose so, but I wouldn't mind him trying to get in to my knickers; bloody nice looking guy."
So Marcia Vane had "forgiven him" and taken my baby.
All that was so long ago, but hearing that never before heard voice on the telephone, there it all was, as if it was only yesterday it had happened.
"Mrs. Rawinsky, are you still there?"
I was jolted back into the present; "Yes, I'm here." "Am I right that you are my mother?"
"You are Noel Vane...? I mean your parents are Michael and Marcia Vane?
"Parents by adoption, yes; but I think you're my real mother."
My brain cleared enough for me to think intelligibly.
"How...how did you find me? They're not supposed to tell you things like that."
"They've changed the law. If someone is adopted and wants to know who their real parents are, they have to tell you."
Of course, I'd been away for so long. I met Pyotr Rawinsky at a conference where I was working as a translator. Dear gentle, loving Pyotr. He was representing his government and I met him quite by chance in the corridor during a break in the session.
I had heard of love at first sight and had always thought it nonsense. When I experienced it, I knew it wasn't nonsense. We looked at each other and in a moment knew.
We said nothing then, and walked on, but for the rest of the conference he sought me out, finding any excuse to talk to me; and I made sure I was well in his way.
After the conference was over he returned to his country; a land of mountains and flood, but his letters came almost daily. He was considerably older than me, but I knew I was in love and certainly he constantly wrote of his love for me.
His proposal came by letter, but before I accepted I wrote to him of my affair with Michael Vane and the consequent pregnancy. I wanted nothing hidden, and if what I had done was unacceptable to Pyotr, then now was the time for me to know.
He wrote back immediately, and the letter consisted of only three words; "I love you."
It was enough. After months of bureaucratic wrangling I joined Pyotr and we were married.
I knew that Pyotr occupied a position of some importance in his country, but had no idea of his actual wealth. It was only when we were married and I met many of his friends and colleagues, I realised that I had married someone who in a country with a monarch as head of state, would have been an aristocrat.
I had not even seen our home before we married, and was therefore astonished and a little overawed when I saw the house seeming to cling to the side of a mountain. There were servants who scared me at first; I was still only twenty two and they seemed so haughty and remote.
In fact we spent little time in the house as Pyotr took me everywhere with him as he travelled the world on his government's business. "Took me everywhere" except once. That one time when he said, "Darling, it's a lightening trip and I'll be rushing about so much, I don't think you should come this time." I agreed, but oh God, I wished I hadn't. If only I'd gone with him!
He was on the way home when the plane blew up in mid air. "Terrorists", they told me. "It wasn't your husband they were after. They weren't really after any of the passengers. It was the country who owned the airline they were striking at.
Whatever or whoever they were striking at, it was my husband, my dear, lovely Pyotr they killed. We had just ten years of marriage; ten wonderful years of love and passion; and in seconds it was all over.
The voice on the phone went on, "You were Sarah Wells before you were married, weren't you?"
"Then you are my mother."
"I don't know...Yes possibly...I can't really say.... Why are you calling me?"
"I want to meet you."
"But we live so far apart."
"Yes, but I'm backpacking for a year and I'm in your country now, as a matter of fact I'm in the city where you live."
After Pyotr was killed I could no longer stand living in the house were we had loved. I moved to the capital and had been living there for three years.
"You've gone to a lot of trouble to find me."
"Yes, I've wanted to meet you ever since I found out I was adopted. Can I come and see you?"
I hesitated. This could be some sort of trick. I was a wealthy woman and had received plenty of offers from men since Pyotr's death. I was no longer the innocent I had been when Michael Vane seduced me.
Even if I had wanted to remarry I soon discovered that the men who pursued me wanted one of two things; my body or my money; or to be fair, some wanted both. What they didn't seem to understand, and Pyotr had, was that I had more to offer than money and a body.
If I had the slightest desire to remarry, it would have to be with someone who appreciated what Pyotr had understood and loved in me. After all, Pyotr had taken me without my having money, and as for my body, many would have called it "second hand goods."
Now there was a disembodied voice claiming to be my son. What was he after?
"Please, the voice went on, it really is important for me to meet you." There was something in the voice that touched a chord in me. In all the years since I had seen my baby taken away, that moment had often come back to haunt me. I would be asking myself, "Where is he now? What is he like? Does he look like me? Is he a good or bad person? Would he love me and me him if we were together?
The endless curiosity about what had become of the child I had carried in my young womb now took over. My travelling with Pyotr and meeting politicians, business men heads of departments and all the hangers on had given me a shrewd insight into the scheming ways of the powerful and not so powerful. If the disembodied voice became a fleshly presence to me, I felt I should soon know what his scheme was, if any.
"All right," I said, "I'll meet you. Can you lunch with me at the Coronal Café tomorrow?"
"Yes, I'd love to."
"Have you got pen and paper handy? I'll tell you how to get there."
"It's okay, I'm stopping at the backpacker's hostel a couple of streets away from the Coronal, and I went past it yesterday. What time?"
"Twelve thirty be all right?"
"How will I know you?"
"Just look for a guy around six feet three wearing a dark blue shirt. What about you?"
"If the weather's fine I'll wear a green dress, or if not a red coat." I gave a little laugh; "Since we're meeting at the Coronal, I'll wear a little posy of flowers."
"Wonderful; good night mother."
That nearly had me undone; "Mother!" I had never been called that before. A mother who had never heard her child say, "Mother."
I put down the telephone and found that I was shaking. There was something both frightening and yet overwhelmingly exciting about meeting the child I had given birth to and never seen since. I suppose I was a little hysterical and I began to laugh and cry at the same time.
I tried to picture what he would be like. He had said he was tall; his father was tall. Would he be good looking like his father? Would he be as charming as his father – the charm that had opened my legs to take him in?
What would Noel think of me? Would he be pleased I was his mother? Would he see me as attractive...a mother he could be proud to be seen with in the Coronal?
That night was not a good night for sleeping, and when I did drop of in the early hours I had nightmarish dreams of faceless young men, babies and a dead husband.
In the morning I spent a ridiculous amount of time preparing myself for the coming meeting. I checked myself time and again in the mirror. "Do I look all right?" "What will he think of me?" "Will he like me?"
At ten minutes past twelve I got out the Porsche and drove to the restaurant. I was early, but Noel was earlier and was waiting for me in the foyer. From the first moment I saw him there was no doubt. He was the image of his father; tall and handsome.
He saw me and came to me.
We shook hands in a ludicrously formal manner.
Suspecting that the Coronal was not a place he could normally afford I took control and we were led to a table in a secluded corner.
While I had no doubt that Noel was who he said he was I still wanted to ask him for proof of identity, but he forestalled me.
He smiled a charming smile that was a reflection of his father's. "You'll want to be sure who I am."
He produced passport and international driver's license with his photograph on it. He also produced some rather battered photographs of himself with Michael and Marcia. These seemed to confirm that he was who he said he was, my son.
I decided to play it very cool and not let my emotions take over.
"You must have gone to a great deal of trouble to find me."
"Not really once I found the adoption papers when I was twelve. After that I kept wondering about you; what you looked like; did you ever think about me. When I made up my mind to find you it was only a matter of following a paper trail."
"It still must have taken some effort. Why did you want to find me?"
"Curiosity," he replied. "I often wondered what you looked like and what you're like as a person. If you don't mind my saying so, you look a lot younger than I expected."
Yes, well, I was very young when..."
"I was born?"
I changed tack a little bit and said, "You look very like your father."
He laughed, "Is that good or bad?"
Before I could answer the waiter came to take our orders, but as soon as he had left Noel took up the question again.
"Good or bad?"
"Your father is, or was, a very handsome man."
"He still is."
It was Noel's turn to change the direction of our talk.
"Why did you have me adopted? Didn't you want me?"
"Noel, I was very young and people kept telling me it was best I had you adopted."
"Best for whom, you, me, your parents?"
"All of us, I suppose."
"You were under age when you got pregnant, weren't you?"
I felt a hot flush diffuse my face. "Yes Noel, I was but I'd rather not talk about it."
"My father could have gone to jail for that, couldn't he."
So he knew that it had been Michael and me.
Look Noel, he didn't go to jail and he and Marcia adopted you, and I really don't want to talk about it anymore."
"Sorry, mother. Did you ever think about me?"
Hardly a day had gone by over all those years I had not thought about him. I wanted to cry out to him, "Of course I've thought about you...wondered about you," but I managed to stay cool and simply said, "Yes, I've thought about you."
"Did you want to see me...are you glad I've found you?"
"Yes, I'm glad."
The food arrived and for a while conversation slowed down, with me asking the odd question about how long he was backpacking for and where was he going next. I learned that he was taking a year off before he went to university and that he had been travelling for two months so far.
"Of course," he said through a mouthful of chop, "My main aim was to come here and find you." When we finished the meal a feeling of awkwardness seemed to come between us. Neither of us seemed certain what to do or say next. Finally I broke the silence by asking, "Would you like to come and see where I live?"
"Yes, I'd like that very much."
We went out to the Porsche and I saw Noel's eyes light up.
"My God, that's a beauty; even dad couldn't afford one of those."
"They are rather expensive. It belonged to my late husband."
"Your 'late husband'? Is he dead?"
"Yes, he died three years ago when the aircraft he was travelling in was blown up by terrorists."
"Three years ago? I can remember that, it was in all the newspapers and on the television news. I had no idea, I'm so sorry."
There was no further conversation during the drive as Noel's attention seemed to be split between the car and the passing view. On arrival at my house he seemed almost as impressed by it as he had been by the car.
Once inside the unease between us continued, so I decided to take the plunge and asked, "Now you've found me, is there anything you want me to do for you?"
It was Noel's turn to blush and in doing so he turned a knife in my stomach. His embarrassment turned him from the young man I had so far seen him as, into a little boy."
"Y-y-yes, there is, mother, but it isn't something you can ask, not of anybody."
"Here it comes," I thought. "Now we get to the heart of the matter. He won't want my body, so he'll want money." I decided to push the matter and get it over with.
"Come on Noel, you've got me all curious now. What is it you want to ask from me that you can't ask from anybody?"
"Well, you know that people say that if your own mother doesn't like you, who can?"
"Yes, I've heard that said."
"You're my mother."
"You want me to like you?"
"A stupid thing to ask of anyone isn't it. I mean, people like you or they don't, but you can't ask them to." "For what its worth, Noel, from what I've seen of you so far, yes, I like you."
"Would you want me as a son?"
"Noel, whatever is the trouble? Didn't Michael and Marcia like...love you?"
"They were fine, really good parents, especially mum. I think there was always a bit of a distance between dad and me because I reminded him of...of..."
He tailed off so I finished the sentence for him; "You reminded him of me?"
"So what's so important about me liking you?"
He seemed to grow angry at my question.
"Damn it, from the time I discovered I was adopted I wondered about you. Wondered why you gave me away...why you didn't want me...like...love me. I know it's foolish to think like that, and you've explained, but that's how I felt. I needed to know why you let me go. Okay, mum and dad tried to explain, but I had to hear it from you."
I let my guard down at last and the tears came.
"Oh God, Noel, I've thought about you all these years. I've longed to see you but we both had our lives to live, and I didn't dare crash in on yours."
"So I've crashed in on yours?"
"No, no, it isn't like that now. You've done what I didn't dare do, even though I've known where you were all that time. I gave you away, and if it's any consolation to you I've bitterly regretted it so often, but what can I say now. You said you want me to like you; can I ask an even harder thing of you? Can you forgive me?
I broke down completely and sobbed uncontrollably. Noel came and knelt beside me.
"Mother...mother...I didn't come to upset you...I just wanted to see you...to let you know what you made, whether you think I was worth it or not."
I felt his arms go round me and I buried my face in his chest. He spoke on.
"It's not a question of my forgiving you, if it were, then yes, of course I forgive you. Perhaps I shouldn't have come."
"No please, don't think...don't say that Noel. I'm glad, very glad, you've come. You're lovely...all I could have wanted you to be, but let's give ourselves time to get to know each other properly."
"I'd planned to move on tomorrow, mother."
"Not if you don't want me to. My visa will run out eventually, but I can stay around for a while if you want me to."
"Stay, Noel. Come and stay here. Let's find each other."
"I hoped you'd say that, but didn't dare think you would, mother. I thought you might think I'd come to blackmail or beg some money from you."
He laughed and said, "Of course, I didn't know how well off you are or I might have thought of it."
Still sobbing I gently slapped his face and said, "Well, you young beast, if you want some money you can have it."
"Hey, you are behaving like a mother; I've just got my first slap from you. Do you think I should report you for child abuse?"
I managed through my sobs to laugh with him.
"In case you're worried that I might be a mercenary cad come to fleece you, then don't worry; mum and dad keep me well supplied."
"Well, you can save some of that money by coming here; it's free board and lodgings."
"Mother, that's wonderful...I don't mean the board and lodgings, I mean, being here with you...having you all to myself."
He paused for a moment looking at me speculatively. "I won't be getting in the way of anything, will I? I mean, there's no one around who might object to my being here?"
"Of course not, darling" – the term of affection slipped out unbidden – "and if there was and they objected, I'd send them on their way."
For all the interest I had received from men, there had been no one sharing my bed since Pyotr, and I guessed there never would be. I seemed to have been unlucky in love and didn't want to risk another loss.
It was still only early evening so it was decided we would go to the backpacker's hostel, pick up Noel's gear and put it in the car, then drive to the Coronal for another meal. As the restaurant was more frequented during the evening I telephoned to ensure we would get a table.
It should have been a celebratory occasion but since the police were very keen to book drink drivers, we contended ourselves with one bottle of wine. We waited until we got back to the house, and I opened a bottle of champagne that we let our hair down a bit.
The alcohol loosened us up, and we began to talk about mothers and sons loving each other, and the close bond there seemed to be between them. Noel wanted to know if it could ever be like that for us, but from what I can recall, we arrived at no conclusion.
As we made our way to bed I showed Noel where to find the toilet and shower, and at my bedroom door he kissed me on the cheek and said, "Goodnight, mother, sleep well."
"Good night Noel," I said, mentally adding, "My son."
"My son! I have a son!" I hugged that thought to me and touched my vagina with one hand and my breast with the other as being the place from which I gave him birth and the place where I first fed him. No doubt with the aid of the champagne I went in to deep sleep, and if I dreamed, I am sure they were happy dreams.
I woke next morning to the distant sound of a hissing shower and a baritone voice trying to sing a tenor aria from some Puccini opera and not succeeding very well.
"Noel...Noel...my son was showering and we had the whole day in front of us. What to do? Where to go? What to talk about? It didn't matter just so long as I had him near me.
Would he grow to love me...be pleased to have me as a mother? Would I love him and be proud to have him as my son?
I had missed his babyhood, his childhood, even most of his teenage years and we had only the time allowed by his visa to get to know each other. I had to make each moment count.