The envelope is by my bed when I open my eyes; a long white rectangle with a starred and striped flag on the front. My lips curve into a smile.
“Happy birthday, Esther.” Mom enters my room with a breakfast tray. “I can’t believe my little girl’s eighteen already.”
She sets it down next to me as I reach up to give her a hug. It’s been the two of us for years now and I know how she’s struggled to keep food on the table. “This is a wonderful surprise.” I say, casting my eyes over the egg and bacon, hash browns and syrupy toast.
“It was your dad’s favourite.” She picks up the long white envelope and hands it to me. “I’m sorry I couldn’t manage the earrings you wanted but I think you’ll like this better.”
Curious, I slide a finger beneath the flap and break the seal from one end to the other. A snowy white page lies nestled within in and I pull it out. Carefully, expectantly, I unfold it and read the top line before tears blur my eyes. “Itinerary for Esther Morrison. Flight ZA4164 departs Johannesburg 18:00 arrives New York...” It suddenly makes sense; all the overtime Mom’s been doing, the exhaustion etched round her eyes.
“Oh. Mom.” I pull her close, sobs and hiccups punctuating my words. “Thank you, thank you, thank you. You must have worked yourself to the bone to pay for this.”
She smiles, a wide arc that fills her face. “I wanted to, Esther. I think it’s time you met your grandma face to face.”
My thoughts drift back a decade to the day Dad died. He’d always been my hero with his confident American accent and dashing good looks. Mom called him a nomad because he couldn’t settle for long. He arrived in South Africa, lured by the promise of safaris and wild animals, bush camps and extreme sports. What he found was love with Mom. She was tolerant of his wanderlust and knew when to release him; to let him go and satisfy his cravings for an adrenalin rush. He was good at what he did and tourists paid high prices to accompany him on his adventures. He died in a rock-climbing accident while visiting his mother in America.
“Does Grandma Esther know?” I ask Mom.
“Oh yes. She can’t wait to meet you. She’s been in on the plan the whole time.”
Esther, my namesake and grandma. Dad inherited his wandering genes from her as we discovered when we tried to contact her a year after his death. She’d moved three times since then and we’d moved twice. In the process, we lost touch with each other. I didn’t really care. I just wanted Dad back and filled my room with American paraphernalia in his memory. I look around at it now. Flags, photos, books, plastic monuments, CDs, posters. My curtains are the American colours and I know the American national anthem backwards.
“I can’t tell you how excited I am, Mom.”
“Don’t forget how you tracked Grandma Esther down. If you hadn’t persevered, none of this would be happening.”
When I was sixteen, a yearning to know my American side of the family surfaced. I wrote dozens of letters and sent copies to all of Esther’s previous addresses and the people who lived in those streets. My daddy was an American by the name of Chuck Morrison. His mother’s name is Esther Morrison. We lost touch years ago and I’m desperate to track down my grandma. Please contact me if you can help.
No one knew Esther but several sent best wishes and then a journalist contacted me. I received your letter and although I don’t know your grandma, I may be able to help. Send a photo of yourself and some family background and I’ll run a feature in the magazine I work for.
Grandma Esther wrote to me a week after our appeal was published. A friend gave me the magazine with your story in. Looking at your photo was like looking at myself forty years ago. I tried for months to track you down but my letters came back unopened. Please send me pictures and news and your phone number so I can call you.
I look up at Mom. “This is the most incredible gift you could ever have given me.”
She smiles. “America’s in your blood, Esther. Go and have a great time with your grandma.”
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