At Second Chance Adoption Agency Garth Gleeson was facing his worst ever moral dilemma.
Seemingly Mr Walters was not married to Mrs Walters; this meant not only had Mrs Walters, if that was her real name – which he now realised it almost certainly wasn’t – wilfully signed her name to an improperly filled out a legal document, thereby committing unequivocal fraud, which meant she had illegally obtained the child which was currently residing in her care. Mr Gleeson wasn’t an unreasonable man but nor did he choose to partake in unlawful practises. He understood how much the child meant to Mrs Walters so on that side of the conundrum it would be extremely hurtful to her if he were removed; weighing in on the other side of the argument was the undeniable reality that she lied on a Government document, which, in his opinion, was rather damning stuff.
Garth decided to consider his options over lunch, in the hope his vexation might subside.
It wasn’t often that she had the power to leave him genuinely confounded but after that last statement, to her immense delight, he was totally befuddled.
“His real name, hun,” repeated Beth, further smudging her makeup with the back of her hand.
Hearing it a second time did little to shed light on the black patch so Dave did what he did best – “As the no circulars mailbox said to the mailman, ‘I don’t get it’” – and made a joke.
She was enjoying for once having answers that somebody else didn’t: “I’ve discovered our son’s real name, hun,” she struggled to keep from boiling over, “his real name!”
“Yeah, I got that part,” he smiled a confused half grin, “I’m just a little stuck on the … ‘How’ part?”
“Oh my God, you’ll never guess…”
“Oh Dave, it was the most amazing thing…”
“Clearly,” he said reversing the intonation this time.
“Oh Dave,” she fell into him, tears of joy cascading from her eyes, her right hand pressing her smiling son against her thigh.
Dave’s smile couldn’t grow any larger than it already was; his cheeks were actually hurting from the strain. “God, I love you, baby girl – and baby boy,” he quickly added, “but Beth, you have to tell me how this happened.”
“OK,” she stepped back and sunk into the couch, pulling their son down with her. “It started at the hair salon just down the road -”
“You mean, Ol’ Smokey’s?” Dave had quickly ducked in behind the breakfast bar to grab a snack, so was out of view of those on the couch.
“Is that what it’s called?”
“Should be – have you smelt that woman’s breath?”
“Right, yes, I did, thank you, Dave, very clever, now, would you like me to continue?”
“So that old battle axe is cutting our son’s hair – this is after insulting both him and I with -”
“Him and me.”
“- After insulting him and me with her bloody bigotry, accusing our sweet boy of having some brain disease like Down’s Syndrome or something -”
“Sorry, when were we gonna hear that story?”
“Oh, yeah, but that bloody swamp-hag, God, she annoyed me … Anyway,” just like that the smile, along with her ebullience, returned, “she’s shaving up the sides, cutting the top, trimming around the ears and that, and you’ll never guess what I found..?”
“We’ve established that already,” came the voice from the behind her, between munches of a stale biscuit.
Beth carefully brought their son up squarely against her stomach while tilting his head over to the right: “Here,” she pointed to an area on the side of his neck.
“Really, Beth?” Dave queried, leaning forward over the bar, “it sounds like you were observing this hair cut from much too close a vantage point – were you complying with OSH regulations, do you think?”
“Yeah, probably not hun, sorry,” said Beth, releasing the boy’s head, “I had to sit there under him while the swamp-hag cut his hair, that’s why I’m all covered in hair.”
“Thought you were just naturally hirsute,” he muttered.
“You’re lucky I don’t know what that means,” she retorted, again tilting their son’s head, “but take a look at this,” she exclaimed.
“What?” Dave was stretched right over the breakfast bar but still couldn’t make out what his girlfriend was showing him.
“For Christ’s sake, Dave,” she scorned playfully, “pull your bloody head in and come around.”
“What is it?” he said as he wandered from the kitchen area to the lounge, “What did you find that was so amazing that it could cause you to cry your cute little eyes out – in happiness?”
“Come here and I’ll show you.”
“Yeah, but what about the kid?”
“Don’t be a dick Dave, look!” she pointed furiously to a spot just behind the child’s left earlobe.
“What’s that, the mark of the lion – you calling him Leon, or Lionheart or something?”
“Oh, be serious, Dave! This is big! Our son has a name and I found it.”
“Forgive me for not understanding how a simple mark on the side of the kid’s head can reveal half a family tree…”
“But that’s exactly what it reveals!”
He had eaten his lunch while pondering the most ethical solution to his dilemma. He didn’t particularly want to devastate such a fine woman as Beth Walters, but nor did he condone illicit practises of any kind. He knew what he had to do.
Garth Gleeson picked up the phone and dialled a number he knew off by heart.
It wasn’t that he was disbelieving of her, he just had difficulty understanding how this pigmentation smudge told any kind of story: “How?” Dave queried.
“Look,” Beth’s eyes went to the ceiling as she recollected, “I started working for NZ Airlines in October ninety-two, right, long before you were there…”
“Right … Now, on my very first day, they put me on a long haul from Christchurch to Pyongyang, via Darwin, right?”
“Right … Well there was this guy on the plane, tall guy, dark hair, pretty good looking – nothing like you – and he had a baby…” Beth started to tremble with excitement.
“Right … and this baby was crying, like, it was real young, too young to be on a plane, I think, and it would just not stop crying, and like, the father was hopeless, right, and he was pleading me for help, and you know how much I love babies,” her excitement, her exuberance; her outright glee was palpable as she continued, “so I helped, right?”
“Right … and this baby was Asian, right, like, the father wasn’t but apparently the mother was, and he was so cute, the baby I mean, like, and I just adored this little Asian baby and it was that baby, on that plane, that made me fall in love with cute little Asian babies…”
“I think we’ve gone off track,” despite the comment, Dave was beginning to connect the storyline and had to admit, he was feeling the excitement.
“No, we haven’t, you see, because that Asian baby on the plane, he had a birthmark, right behind his left ear, just like this Asian baby-boy, and that Asian baby’s name…” She trailed off, suddenly experiencing doubt over what she knew to be true.
“No, it can’t be, Dave, it’s fate … Fate has brought me the baby that I fell in love with on that plane over ten years ago … It has to be, Dave, I swear it…” Beth dissolved into a mess off streaky makeup and dribbling tears, nuzzling her face into the neck of innocent little baby Kahn.
The phone started to ring.