She knew there was no one else she would rather have by her side. It didn’t matter how they came to be parents, just so long as he was the father and she was the mother.
They discussed their options. The first possibility and indeed the most viable option; much as the concept disgusted her, Beth could be artificially inseminated. The main issue she took with this was that after spending however long on a hospital waiting list – reportedly anywhere between one and seven years – then another nine months with a baby on board, she could be as old as sixty by the child’s eighteenth birthday, which meant Dave would be retired and Beth’s dreams of being a fit, agile parent for her teenage child would be lost. No, in her opinion, if they were going to have a child, it had to be laid before her eyes within the next twelve months.
Of course this dramatically lessened the options although there was still something else, and the beauty of this new plan, they were even afforded the liberty of outlining their criteria.
They could choose the age of the child, they could choose the gender of the child, they could pick the hair colour, skin colour, height, weight; by going through an adoption agency they could basically choose their perfect kid.
Unsurprisingly the adoption process was not quite as straightforward as Beth had hoped. She found a lot had changed since the days of Oliver Twist; there was no big room full of sleeping babies and there was no big glass wall through which to view the aforementioned infants. The 2004 adoption process had become much more formal – computerised too. Where Beth had naively expected to walk into a modern day orphanage and walk out with the baby of her choosing, she found the bureaucracy involved was quite suffocating. She was required to go online, as yet a skill she’d scarcely had the inclination to learn, register with the agency so they could perform rudimentary screening to ensure she was a person of suitable and indeed, law-abiding stature, before developing a profile of her spouse and herself. Beth was sure that this was one of those forms where it is acceptable, even expected, that applicants should fib a little, just so long as the total of your lies do not amount to anything that might alter the lives of anyone around them.
Therefore, for the benefit of some poor child who had yet to be fostered, she became Mrs Dave Walters, currently an employee of NZ Airlines, 172 centimetres, 64 kilograms, blonde hair, hazel eyes, etc; married to Mr Dave Walters, also current employee of NZ Airlines, 181 centimetres, 82 kilograms, brown hair brown eyes…
Next, she filled out the Preferential Criteria form. Dave wasn’t present so she was really enjoying herself: Preferred Sex of Child? it inquired; Male, she typed. Preferred Nationality of Child? it inquired; Beth looked quickly over her shoulder before typing, Asian. Preferred Age of Child? it inquired; Beth did some hasty arithmetic before typing, 7. She stared for a long while at the number wondering if she was making the right decision. 7 was pretty old for a kid to be joining a new family, but by that age they’re generally past all the little niggles of younger children so are much easier to handle; but it’s still pretty old. Perhaps she should change it to something younger. Something like 4 or 3 might be better. No, the way Beth had planned it, if the child was 7 and she was 33, it would be as though she’d given birth to him when she was 26, like she’d wanted. It would be perfect. It would be just like she was a normal mum. It would actually be better than perfect because she wouldn’t actually have to give birth to him. No, it was going to be spectacular.
She submitted the form.
The shocking news report was being broadcast across worldwide television and radio: “North Korean Police have uncovered what can only be described as a grotesque child conditioning programme in the country’s capital, Pyongyang.
“According to sources, Korean boys, infants as young as only a few months old, over past years, have been abducted and brought here, to this makeshift prison, to be honed and shaped, their minds broken down and manipulated, their skill sets developed in the realm of weaponry, and maybe the most gut-wrenching, in hand to hand combat, for no other purpose, for absolutely no other intention, than of becoming warriors, in the burgeoning North Korean army.
“At best estimate, over two hundred thousand male children, ages ranging anywhere from one to sixteen years old, were released from this unimaginable horror, yesterday set free to go and rejoin the mourning families from whom they were taken, so many years ago.
“Sadly though, where there is triumph there is so often tragedy, and the great sorrow here is that, there still remain perhaps five or six thousand children who, for whatever reason – maybe they were so young at the time of abduction there are no records, or perhaps the biological parents have passed away – authorities have been unable to reunite with the rightful caregivers, so for these couple of thousand lads, life will never, even after such an unfortunate beginning, be the joyous place, it should always have been.
“On a related note, although formal assessments are not able to be performed, the military services of North Korea, with a total population of around twenty-four million, are purported to be, or at least, close to being, the fourth largest in the world.
“Although this reporter has to candidly assume that when one of the smaller land masses in the world propagates a population of twenty-four million, of whom approximately half would be boys, and runs a conscription programme specifically targeted at said boys, your military contingent is going to grow rather large, rather rapidly, so given a few years, who knows?
“This has been Thomas Mackey, with Three News, reporting live from Pyongyang, North Korea, goodnight.”
It was almost six months before they heard anything.
Beth was beginning to give up hope of ever having her perfect son. She hadn’t told Dave that she’d requested a child of the Orient of course, just that she’d requested a son. He’d asked how old their son would be; she’d be unclear in her response. He didn’t seem too bothered anyway. She’d asked him about it, about what kind of child he wanted to adopt; his answer had been almost ignorant: “Doesn’t matter to me,” he’d said, “kid’s a kid.” When she’d urged him to elaborate his words had been anything but ignorant – “I don’t believe that any kid is born with a bad attitude, or born with a poor ability to learn, or desire to accomplish … I believe these things are largely taught … They are instilled in a child’s mind through the actions, the love and the nurturing, and the support of his parents … Baby girl, you could adopt the most ill-mannered baby boy in the world and I know, given a couple of years, you’d have turned him into a gem.” – no, his words had been beautiful.
The phone call finally came in April of 2005. Beth answered it, expecting it would be Dave’s mother, calling again about their plans for Easter. Instead she received a pleasant surprise: “Hello,” she greeted with forced cheer.
“Yes, hello,” said a gravelly tone, “am I speaking with, ah, Mrs Bethany, ah, Walters?”
Beth felt her heart skip; there was only one reason someone would be asking to speak with Mrs Walters: “Yes,” she said excitedly, “this is Mrs Walters, how may I assist you today?”
“Mrs Walters, I’m glad to have got hold of you,” the voice fell abruptly silent.
“Yes,” Beth prompted, “and why was that, sir?”
She could hear the speaker tapping on a computer keyboard until eventually he spoke: “Mrs Walters, my name is Garth Gleeson, I’m from the Second Chance Adoption Agency.”
Beth started trembling so much she was at risk of dropping the phone.
“According to our records, Mrs Walters, you have put your name forward to foster a child through our services -”
“Yes!” Beth blurted. “Yes I did.”
“Yes,” said Garth, “you did, Mrs Walters.” Another long pause ensued; Beth began to wonder if he had posed a question she had missed.
“Yes, I did,” she said again, willing herself to be steady; to be calm.
“The problem,” Garth Gleeson said suddenly with unnecessarily high volume, causing Beth to tremble even more, “Mrs Walters, is that in the course of our regulation background check,” Beth’s breath caught in her throat, she had no idea they performed background checks, “we, how should I put this, we, failed to turn up, anything at all, on one, Mrs Bethany Walters.”
Beth’s pale skin was covered in a cool sweat. “Oh,” was all she could manage.
“Of course, Mrs Walters,” Garth’s tone changed, “this is no fault of yours – clearly our computer records need updating.”
Beth began to sob silently, “Oh,” she repeated.
“Mrs Walters, this small technicality is neither here nor there, I can assure you of that,” Garth Walker took a prolonged, distinctly audible inward breath. “The main reason for my call today is regarding your potential adoptee.”
On the other end of the line Beth was a mess; so many torrid emotions flooding so freely through her fragile being were taking their toll. “Yes,” she prompted.
More keyboard tapping, more paper riffling: “Mrs Walters, you requested an Asian boy of, or around, seven years’ old, is this correct?”
Beth was shaking so much now she had great difficulty just holding the phone to her ear: “Yes,” she answered in a whisper, “yes please, sir.”
“Are you alright, Mrs Walters?” the abrasive tone softening, “I understand the child fostering process can be a tumultuous one, but you must understand, we must be thorough…”
“No, please go on, sir, I’m fine, really.”
“I’m glad, Mrs Walters, because between you and me, after checking over your application, I can assure you, you and your husband will have no trouble adopting with us.”
“Oh, thank you, Mr Gleeson, that’s so kind of you to say,” Beth gushed, “thank you, thank you.”
“Honestly, Mrs Walters,” she could almost hear Garth reading her file, “from what I see here, you and your husband are the exact kind of people we like to foster our children to – stable family environment, both with good jobs – as someone who has seen both sides of the spectrum, believe me, Mrs Walters, you two are a breath of fresh air.”
“Oh, thank you Mr Gleeson, thank you, thank you, thank you, you have no idea how happy you’ve made me.”
“Maybe not as happy as you think, Mrs Walters, there’s still the reason for my call,” the gravelly foreboding had returned to his voice.
“Oh,” Beth trembled, “oh.”
“No, no, nothing to worry about, it was more just a courtesy call to say that the agency is currently experiencing a shortage of seven-year-old, orphaned boys of the Asian persuasion.”
“Yes, you see, Mrs Walters, Asian boys are the ones everyone wants … Had you requested a girl, however…”
“So, is there still a chance, I mean for a boy?” Beth asked feebly.
“Oh yes, Mrs Walters, I should say so, and as soon as we find one who meets your criteria, you are among the agency’s first choice.”
“Oh, thank you, sir,” she said, brightening. “Um, how long do you think it might take?”
“As I said, Mrs Walters, Asian couples are tending to keep their boys – I couldn’t interest you in a seven-year-old girl..?”
“Thank you, Mr Gleeson, we’ll keep waiting,” Beth said, before returning the phone to its cradle and quietly sobbing herself to sleep.
He came home to find his dearly beloved curled up on their sofa looking as though she was in an advertisement for their couch’s amazing comfort and henceforth, sleep-ability. On closer inspection though Dave saw the long black mascara streaks covering her supple cheeks, and wondered what could have been the catalyst this time. He understood his long-time girlfriend was prone to meltdowns but they usually occurred when he was around, which now he thought of it, didn’t say such wonderful things about his nature. He carefully sat down beside her bottom end, leaned over and kissed her beautiful forehead. She awoke and immediately pushed herself up for an embrace. He tenderly rubbed her back as, now from a sitting position, she allowed her frail figure to be enveloped by him. He kissed her hair, savouring the faint strawberry aroma, before softly asking, “Hey, baby girl, what’s been getting you down?”
“It’s not fair,” Beth blubbered in his ear, personifying her pet name.
“What’s not fair this time?”
“They don’t have an orphan boy for us.”
Dave couldn’t help laughing. He laughed hard.
“What’s funny?” she asked with forced indignation.
“Baby girl,” he said after recomposing himself, “I don’t know if you realise just what a selfish, spoilt, entitled little brat you sound like right know, but the fact you are sad because there are no children in the nearby vicinity who aren’t, paints you pretty damned poorly.”
“Hey, that’s alright, I know you didn’t mean any disrespect, besides, what about those poor little Korean kids, eh?”
Beth tensed. How did he know? How could he possibly have known she’d been interested in an Asian child? Had he somehow found out what she’d been up to?
“What’s up with you now?” Dave broke into her inward panic, “You look crook all of a sudden.”
“Oh, sorry … What did you mean, Korean?”
“Have you not seen the News? Massive story about those belligerent bloody North Koreans … Apparently they’ve been conscripting young boys into their army for years …They released a whole bunch of them the other day … Can’t imagine what some of them are like, they reckon some o’ the poor bastards have been there since they were babies -”
“What?” Beth was horrified. “Are you serious right now? They’ve been forcing babies to fight?”
“Not the babies,” Dave laughed, “but word is that they were bringing the babies up as warriors to one day fight in the army.”
“Well,” she was still aghast, “how old would they be when they did have to fight?”
“Not too sure babe,” but Geoff at work was saying that in the armed forces in Asia, it’s not uncommon to have fourteen-year-olds wielding guns and the like.”
“Oh, that’s terrible, we should do something.”
“Well shit Beth, I know how much you love to help and that, but what exactly would you propose to do?”
“We could help those poor children who were in the army and now have nowhere to go and no one to love them…”
“That’s not actually a bad idea … It would be nice to help them, eh.”
“Yeah Dave,” Beth was suddenly excited, “let’s do it … Let’s adopt a Korean kid!”
I can hear them around me. Day and night, I can always hear them. They don’t try to be quiet at all, and why would they be? They have nothing to fear, they have nothing to hide from. Mostly I hear their voices and that’s what really puts the shits up me, is their monkey chatter. So my plan isn’t going quite how I thought it would. I thought these little yellow monkeys would have pissed off by now. I have no idea how long I’ve been down here, but it feels like half an eternity. I reckon the monkeys are starting to get wise too, starting to sniff me out maybe, because in fairness, I do stink.
Still keeping the pride, K.