As the last lecture of the day came to an end, I packed my books, hoisted my bag over my shoulder and, with a sigh of relief, made my way out of the lecture hall to join the stream of students headed for the campus gate. The thought that it was Friday, with the weekend stretching ahead, put an extra spring in my step. I didn’t have plans, not specifically, but knew something pleasant was bound to crop up. I mean, I had only just started dating Steve so it stood to reason he’d call to take me some place before the weekend was over. I smiled to myself. Just thinking about Steve had that effect on me. I had no idea, none whatsoever that, in the next few minutes, my life was about to change in a way I could never have dreamed.
I stepped out of the building, onto the pathway that meandered over the lawn towards the exit gate. I was more than halfway there when I heard someone call my name. I turned, wondering who it could be, and there was this guy walking towards me. No one I knew. Tall, dark and... well, not exactly stop-you-in-your-tracks good-looking, but definitely easy on the eye. The kind of guy girls tend to look at twice when meeting for the first time. The kind of guy I may have looked at with more than passing interest had I not been going out with Steve. He didn’t look like a student. Too well dressed for that. Or a lecturer. Too young for that. So what was he doing here? And, more puzzling still, how did he know my name?
I was beginning to think I’d made a mistake and that he’d been calling someone else when he called again. “Jasmine... Jasmine Meyer?”
I frowned as he drew closer. “Yes? What do you want?”
“A few minutes of your time. Please. ” He put a hand in his pocket, produced a card and held it out to me. “I’m Ben Bosman. Here... take my card. As you see, I’m a private investigator.”
It was the last thing I’d expected. He looked way too young to be a P.I. The private investigators I’d seen in movies or TV were all old, forty at least, sometimes more. I took the card a little reluctantly, read it then, more puzzled than ever, handed it back. The card confirmed the fact that he was Ben Bosman, of Crossbow Private Investigations (Pty) ltd. His address and contact details were displayed in small print below his photograph.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “But I don’t understand. What has this to do with me?”
“If you give me a few minutes, I’ll explain.”
I glanced at my watch. Exams were coming up, time was running out and I was anxious to get home to finish my assignment. “Look, there’s some mistake. I think you’re mixing me up with someone else. This has nothing to do with me.”
“Ah, but it has. There’s no mistake. I’ve checked the facts quite carefully. So please... listen to what I have to say. It won’t take long, I promise.”
I gave it some thought. He looked a genuine sort of guy but you can’t go by looks, and I’ve read enough thrillers and seen enough movies to know you can’t trust everyone. For all I knew, he may have been a conman. Or worse. The thought of turning on my heel and walking away did enter my head but, the more I thought about it, the more ridiculous that seemed. What harm could he do on a crowded campus, in full daylight? In the end, curiosity got the better of me. I had no idea what he wanted, but one thing was certain. Someone had hired a PI to investigate me. The question was who? And why? Why on earth would anyone want to investigate a very ordinary eighteen-year-old girl who lived an unexciting life with middleclass parents, in a middleclass home, in a middleclass suburb in Johannesburg? It was a question that needed an answer and there was only one way to find out.
“Okay,” I said. “I’m listening. So, what do you have to tell me?”
He looked around, scanning the surroundings. “Is there somewhere we can sit? Somewhere private. Grab a cup of coffee, maybe?”
I pointed to the big, white building on our left. “The canteen. There it is, over there.”
Ben led the way across the lawn, into the canteen. He gazed around then waved me to a table in a quiet corner. He waited till I’d seated myself, then pulled up a chair and sat opposite, leaning forward. When he spoke, his voice was low and earnest. “This is probably very confusing, but—”
I cut him off with an exclamation of impatience. “Please... get to the point. What exactly is this about?”
“Okay, okay, I’ll cut it short. I’m here because... well, because a woman called Sylvia Redman hired me to find you.” He paused, eyes questioning. “Does the name mean anything to you?”
I shook my head. Not only was the name meaningless, but nothing he’d said so far made sense. “Find me? What on earth are you talking about? Why would anyone... this woman Sylvia... why would she hire a private investigator to find me?”
Ben cleared his throat. “I’m not sure of the reason. I can only tell you what she told me.”
“Well, go on. What did she say?”
“Sylvia Redman told me the person she wished to find was adopted. That was my assignment: Trace and make contact with a young woman who was adopted at birth, eighteen years ago.” Ben paused and his eyes searched mine. “You do know you were adopted, don’t you?”
“Adopted? Of course—”
I broke off and gasped as the implication of what he’d said hit home. Of course I knew I was adopted. I’d known that, like, forever, because Mom and Dad had made no secret of the fact. From as far back as I can remember, my favourite bedtime story was about a couple who wanted a baby so much, who longed for one to love, who waited and waited but, for some unknown reason were not able have one of their own. Then, one day, a very special baby was given to them by a woman who was unable to care for it herself. The reason for this was not fully explained and it never occurred to me to ask. The couple was Mom and Dad. The baby, of course, was me. I was shown a photograph of a young-looking mom and dad smiling down at a tiny newborn in a beautifully-decorated crib. Album after album followed, with photos to mark my first step, my first birthday, my first day at school and every other milestone in my life. Now, suddenly, here was a woman, a total stranger, stepping out from the past to find me. It could only mean one thing.
“Oh, my God! Is Sylvia Redman my birth mother? Is that why she hired you to find me?”
Ben shrugged. “She didn’t say and I didn’t ask. Clients tell me as much as they think I need to know. If I went around asking questions about their personal lives, I’d soon be out of a job. That’s the first thing I learnt when I joined Crossbow Private Investigations . My uncle owns Crossbow, and he made sure I got that drummed into my head pretty dammed fast. All I got from Mrs. Redman are dates, the name of a nursing home and adoption agency, stuff like that.”
I clasped my hands together. “Oh! But what do you think? Do you think she’s my mother?”
He allowed himself a small smile. “Ah... that’s a different question altogether. I deal in facts but if you want to know what I think, the answer is yes. I’d say it’s more than likely that Sylvia Redman is your birth mother. But, hey, that’s just my opinion, mind.”
My thoughts whirled. The fact that I was adopted had never been a big issue. Mom and Dad were the best parents anyone could ever wish for and, unlike other adopted kids I knew, I’d never given serious thought about searching for my birth mother. But I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that there were times when I wondered what she was like, where she was and whether she ever regretted giving me up. Now, it seemed, I was about to find out. It was a mindboggling thought. “What’s she like?” I asked.
Ben smiled again and I was conscious of his eyes on me as he spoke. “Rich. Very rich. Her husband is Edgar Redman, the CEO of Redman, Marcus and Brandt, one of the big names on the stock exchange. They live in a mansion in the best part of Johannesburg.”
For a moment, I was too gobsmacked to speak. The answer was so far from what I’d expected that it took a while to sink in. The first question to float into my head was, why would a woman as rich as that give up her baby? Few mothers give up a baby if they can afford to keep it. The answer, of course, was that she may not have been wealthy at the time. Circumstances change. She may have married Edgar Redman later on in her life.
“But what’s she like?” I asked again. “Really like? As a person.”
“Hard to tell. I only met her once and then for no more than half an hour. But she came across as one smart lady, I can tell you that much.”
“Do we look alike?”
He considered, drumming fingers on the table, then shook his head. “Not that you’d sit up and notice. She’s got blue eyes; yours are brown. And her hair... well, that’s fair like yours but I wouldn’t bet on it being natural. Sylvia Redman is a good-looker, no two ways about that—good figure, great makeup, designer clothes—the kind of woman who stands out in a crowd. The kind of woman who spends a lot of time in the beauty parlour. And the gym. She takes good care of herself, that sticks out a mile.”
“Why do think she waited so long before making the effort to find me?”
Ben shrugged again. “Who knows? But whatever the reason, that’s her business, not mine. As I said before, I don’t get involved in a client’s personal stuff. I do the job I’m paid to do, no more.” He dug in a pocket and, all businesslike, brought out a notebook and pen. “Now then... Mrs. Redman’s message is that she’d like to meet you as soon as possible. Tomorrow, if possible. So, if you’ll give me your address, I’ll come pick you up.”
I sat back and took a deep breath. Things were moving fast, too fast for my liking, bringing on a panicky feeling that I was way out of my depth. “Hang on, that’s what she wants. But I’ve got a say in this too, and I’m not sure... well, I’m not sure I want to meet her.”
Ben’s jaw dropped. Such a possibility had obviously not occurred to him. “But, surely—” he began, but I cut him off.
“I need time to think. I’ve got my mom and dad to consider. They’re the only parents I’ve ever known. They’ve been good to me and there’s no way I’ll upset them. There are other things too...” I let my voice trail away, then added more firmly. “This is not something I want to rush into. You can tell Sylvia Redman that.”
There were other things to consider. My boyfriend, Steve, for example. Steve was not only the best-looking guy I’d ever seen, but one of the smartest. His grades were always way above average. On top of that, he came from a family that could trace its ancestry all the way back to the Huguenots—and were proud of the fact. I’d heard him boast about his family tree more than once. Steve and I had only been out a few times, and I hadn’t gotten around to tell him I was adopted. Not yet. It was something I meant to do, when the moment was right, but somehow that moment never seemed to come up, and I kept putting it off. No reason really, just a feeling he might not approve. When—or rather if—our relationship got off the ground, there’d be time enough. At least that’s what I kept telling myself. Now... well, if I went ahead and met my birth mother, there was no way I’d be able to keep such momentous news to myself.
And then... then there was Conrad. I’ve known Conrad, like, forever. We’re cousins. His family and mine live in the same block so we practically grew up together. We’re also best friends. Or were till Steve came into my life. Since then... I don’t know... things have been kind of different. Still, when faced with a problem, Conrad is the one I turn to. I missed his company and it struck me now that he was the one I wished I could talk to. Conrad knew my background, knew everything about me. He was the one I could rely on for best advice.
Ben’s voice interrupted my thoughts. “I’m sorry if I gave the impression I was rushing you. The reason I pressed for tomorrow is because Mrs. Redman seemed so anxious to meet you. I got the impression it was urgent.”
“Urgent? What do you mean?”
“Just that. She didn’t give a reason, but she was anxious, I can tell you that. Walking up and down, telling me more than once to get moving and do whatever needed to be done to get results. She didn’t actually tell me to hand out bribes, but made it clear there was no need to spare expenses if that’s what was needed to hurry things up.”
I tossed my head. “Well, it’s taken her eighteen years to decide whether or not she wants to meet me. It won’t hurt her to wait a bit longer.”
Ben leaned back and smiled. “Take your time. As much as you want. I’m in no hurry.”
We fell silent and, for a while, sat wrapped in our own thoughts. Mine were full of questions—how old was my mother when I was born? What awful circumstance had led her to abandon me and sign adoption papers? What had prompted her to make contact with me now, after all this time? And, if Sylvia Redman was my mother, who was my father? Where was he? What was he like?
Ben stirred at last. “I’ll tell Mrs. Redman you have no wish to see her, if that’s what you want. I don’t mind one way or another. It’s your choice entirely.”
For a moment, I was tempted. It would be good to walk away, get on with my life and put the whole disturbing incident behind me. But the questions kept going round and round in my head and I knew I wouldn’t rest easy till they were answered. And the only person who could answer them was Sylvia Redman.
I hesitated a while longer, biting my lip, then took a deep breath. “Well... I must say I’m curious and... well, I don’t suppose a one-off meeting will hurt. Okay... Tell Mrs. Redman I’ll meet her. You can pick me up tomorrow at nine. I live at number five, Merrivale street.”