Brown Package Delivery
By: Catherine Olaso
The newborn whimpered in her mother’s arms, her muted cry 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. She’d told herself that she wouldn’t, but after the long, grueling hours of laboring alone this seemed like compensation. It was a miracle they were both still alive.
The sixteen-hour delivery wasn’t 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 Yanmei’s 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 Yanmei’s forehead. Too weak to eat, she laid back, letting the baby nuzzle her breast.
Fu-han’s 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 infant. Dark fluffs of hair, black as a raven’s wing, crowned her daughter’s 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 fields … their 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 bitter thought faded into warmth as the newborn succumbed to sleep. Yanmei rested her cheek against the little one’s head and closed her weary eyes. The life she nestled was precious, so precious that she’d done everything she could to protect it.
When the bindings no longer concealed Yanmei’s 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 offered Yanmei a scrap of brown paper left over from the market. The scent of scallions and bean sprouts lingered at the edges. The coarse wrapping crumpled in her trembling hand.
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, his touch gentle and grievous. Yanmei swallowed past the lump rising in her throat. Fu-han suffered too.
“If the burden is unbearable … I will take the child,” he said, finally meeting her gaze. Heartbreak ached between them.
“No, husband. Your absence in the field will be noticed.” Yanmei steeled herself for the task she alone must endure.
Walking two hours on remote paths led Yanmei to the orphanage in Nanping. Weak and dizzy, she 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 meal – not the fragile body of her newborn.
Again, her heart clenched, and she 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 infant’s 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, she tucked the scarf inside the brown paper, smiling when her daughter’s 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 did, she 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 moments, the door opened, revealing a young orphanage worker close to Yanmei’s age.
Yanmei shook with grief, collapsing against the wall when the cherished brown package disappeared behind the wooden door.
Part of Yanmei died.
~ Two Years 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 two years 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 mother’s cheeks and smiled.
Jenna smiled back, tucking unruly strands of black hair behind Meili’s ear before ruffling the red silk scarf, its beauty and softness a thread of her daughter’s past.
In her mind, Jenna pictured Meili’s 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? Sorrow for a woman she’d never met edged Jenna’s joy.
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.”