Short Story: Brown Package Delivery (Cathy Olaso)
Brown Package Delivery
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The newborn wailed softly in her mothers arms, her cries barely a noise, as if she'd known from the moment of her birth, only seconds ago, that she should be hidden from the world.
Yanmei pushed dark, damp strands of hair from her face and smiled at her second child. Shed told herself that she wouldnt, but after the long, grueling hours of laboring alone this seemed like compensation. It was a miracle they we're both still alive.
The sixteen-hour delivery wasnt the only thing Yanmei had endured in silence. The past nine months had also been spent in secrecy. The village couldn't know a child grew inside her womb.
The shadow of Yanmeis husband, Fu-han, framed the concrete doorway, his dark eyes peering inside their crumbling home. Yanmei stiffened, drawing the infant closer against her.
"The rooster will crow soon," Fu-han said. "You must start the journey before the village rises."
He crossed to the straw mat Yanmei rested on and placed a cup of tea and a small bowl of rice beside her. Pungent steam mingled with the sweat beading Yanmeis forehead. Too weak to eat, she laid back, letting the baby nuzzle her breast.
Fu-hans voice was gentle. "You know what must be done."
Yanmei nodded grimly, her spirit broken. But she had given in to her husband and agreed it would be done this way. From the first day that she'd told Fu-han about the pregnancy, he had insisted demanded that she not bring the law upon them.
The government allowed one child per married couple in China, and Yanmei had already borne a son, four-year-old Jiang.
She looked down at her suckling child. Dark fluffs of hair, black as a ravens wing crowned her daughters head. Delicate cheeks, pink as cherry blossoms rounded her soft face. Yanmei shuddered at the betrayal she couldn't escape.
Fu-han was right. A second child was illegal. If the officials discovered their crime, a steep fine would be imposed. They would lose their home, their rice fieldstheir honor. They would all starve. For a second, Yanmei wished she'd let the old village woman perform the ritual that would have prevented all of this.
The thought faded into warmth as the infant succumbed to sleep. The life Yanmei nestled was precious. So precious that she'd done everything she could to protect it.
When the bindings no longer concealed Yanmeis condition, Fu-han told the villagers his wife had gone north to care for an ailing sister. Yanmei went into hiding, and Jiang took her place in the fields beside his father.
"The child will be warm in this." Fu-han handed Yanmei a scrap of brown paper left over from the market. The scent of scallions and bean sprouts lingered at the edges.
After Fu-han had convinced her to eat, he helped Yanmei to her feet. He would not meet her eyes as he cleaned the blood and dressed her. Yanmei swallowed past the lump rising in her throat. Fu-han suffered too.
Walking two hours on remote paths led Yanmei to the orphanage in Nanping. Weak and dizzy, Yanmei caught her breath outside the tall, blue building, determining if she could go further. In the sunrise, the walls of the orphanage glistened like the waves of the sea.
The brown paper crinkled and Yanmei glanced at the package in her arms. For a moment she let herself believe she carried a scrap of pork for the evening mealnot the fragile body of her newborn.
Again, her heart clenched. Yanmei wept heaving sobs that wrenched through her. A scooter echoed in the distance.
Yanmei peeled back a corner of the paper hiding her daughter. Large, onyx eyes blinked back at her. She kissed the infants forehead, breathing in her scent. Through eyes still blurred with tears, Yanmei pulled a red silk scarf from the pocket of her cotton pants. Red the color of luck. It had been a wedding gift from Fu-han.
Carefully, Yanmei tucked the scarf inside the brown paper, smiling when her daughters tiny hand clutched the edge of the fabric. This would be the memory Yanmei would keep.
The brown package emitted a soft cooing sound on the doorstep of the orphanage, but Yanmei wouldn't allow herself to look upon her child again. If she didshe couldn't go through with what had to be done.
Yanmei rang the bell, then hobbled into the litter strewn alley, her body swollen and sore. After a few minutes, the door opened, revealing a young orphanage worker Yanmeis age.
Yanmei shook with grief, collapsing against the wall when the cherished brown package disappeared behind the wooden door.
Part of Yanmei died that day.
* One Year Later *
Jenna Anderson sat in a wicker rocking chair bought new for the nursery. In her arms she cradled her adopted daughter, Meili. That had been the name the orphanage in Nanping had called the little girl for the past year and it didn't seem right to change it.
Sleeping for most of the journey, Meili had arrived in America less than twenty-four hours ago. She grabbed at her new mothers cheeks and smiled.
Jenna smiled back, tucking unruly strands of black hair behind Meilis ear before ruffling the red silk scarf, it's beauty and softness a thread of her daughters past.
In her mind, Jenna pictured Meilis mother looking very much like the girl on her lap. What had her life been like? What pain had she suffered? Would she be pleased Meili had come to America?
Meili clutched the scarf. "Wode," she squealed, tightening her fist around the shimmering fabric.
Wode. Mine in Chinese.
"Wode," Jenna whispered with glistening eyes. "You will always be hers and mine."
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