Anna Patricia Spaulding negotiated the corridors warily as she headed for the exit from her return home domestic airport. It had been a long and tiring trip back from the convention where executives from top corporations rubbed shoulders annually gleaning any information they could get about their competitor’s plans and operations and generally enjoying the company of people who worked at the top levels of the corporate world delighting in keeping up with cutting edge innovation. Anna was proud of her accomplishments considering her humble beginnings. She’d worked on her conservative rural upbringing over the years as she struggled through school supporting herself and opened to the liberalism of the corporate world which she now found exhilarating. Money and power were the mantra of her adopted world.
Now and then she had a twinge of conscience at little contact with parents and family but quickly dismissed it. She regularly sent them liberal money support and thought that was enough substitute for the lack of letters or phone calls. At first they’d protested as they’d all the money they wanted enough to put food on the table and to enjoy the company of family and people of a town they’d dedicated their life to. They craved reciprocal love from their daughter not money. Respect and love were all they needed, and they watched with alarm as their daughter dived deeper into the dog eat dog world of corporate movers and shakers. Eventually her parents had accepted their daughter was lost to their world and used the money Anna sent regularly to help the poor of the town survive. As phone calls had dwindled her parents had tried their best to take the initiative but after conversing with an answering service too often they’d eventually given up and left it to Anna to make a connection whenever she was not working or travelling.
Anna thought of the convention she’d just attended as she negotiated the final stretch of the corridor leading to the luggage collection carousels. Not as much fun as the one held in Rio last year, but she’d picked up valuable contacts for her work despite that. She felt satisfied even though bone tired. The huge room with multiple carousels burst into view and she glanced at the numbers leading to the one already disgorging luggage from two flights. Hers was number five she recalled so she headed in that direction and glanced at the display again. Her flight was not unloaded yet, so she pulled back to watch things away from the milling crowd. With a few minutes to spend waiting her eyes scanned the room. It was her habit, always alert to opportunities or situations. In today’s travel world it paid to be alert.
There was a roar of disapproval from the crowd as multiple carousels suddenly stopped working. Those whose luggage had not yet appeared began loud complaints as airport workers rushed to inspect the cause of the shutdown and throw what was available through the luggage exit doors. Finally, an impersonal voice from the public address system confirmed there’d been a breakdown in the electrical system and personnel were examining the cause. Anna shrugged, it was all part of travel and complaining about it didn’t speed a solution.
She resumed scanning the room and then she saw her. Sitting in a corner with a child on her lap was a young woman. Anna’s practiced eye sized her up. A bit shabby but neat and tidy. An inner voice spoke to her urgently. It was directing her to go and speak to the young woman. Normally she’d have dismissed this, but the voice was urgent. She shook her head in puzzlement and headed over to greet the woman involuntarily.
The young woman watched her guardedly as Anna approached. Anna spoke to break the ice. “Hi, my name is Anna are you waiting for your luggage too?”
The young woman burst into tears and the voice inside Anna said, “Comfort her!”
This was a situation Anna had never faced before. The corporate world had hardened her but something inside was playing with her emotions and she didn’t know what to do. She sat down next to the woman and involuntarily reached out for her hand. It was a strange situation and she sat quietly while the young woman slowly recovered her composure. Finally, when she sensed the woman had recovered she spoke again.
“I’m sorry I upset you, is there anything I can do to help? Can I retrieve your luggage for you? If you let me know your flight number and give me your tags I’ll be happy to help.”
The young woman sighed and removed her hand. “I’m truly sorry and I’m afraid there’s nothing you can do to help. No one can help me now. Thanks all the same. My name is Mel.”
The voice in Anna’s head spoke to her again. “Help her!” Anna was beginning to feel very uncomfortable about this inner voice. Perhaps she’d pushed herself too much at the convention and her mind was playing tricks on her. But the voice persisted. “Help her!”
“Mel I want you to explain to me what help you’re in need of as a voice inside me keeps telling me you’re in need of help.”
Mel looked at her suspiciously. “What voice and why would you do that? You don’t know me.”
Anna shrugged. “I don’t know Mel, please tell me what’s troubling you.”
Mel sighed, what did she have to lose. She’d nothing with her and the baby needed attention. So, the story poured out about the abuse leading up to her fleeing for her life today while her drunken husband slept. He’d been a good man when she’d married him, but she’d watched helplessly as he became withdrawn, secretive and addicted. She couldn’t go to her parents as he’d find her there and it would put them in danger too as she’d learned he now had connections with the underworld. She had enough to take a bus somewhere and had come to the airport to think through her next moves as he’d never think of checking there but now she was here she was beginning to realize the hopelessness of her situation. Perhaps there was no alternative but to go back and face the daily abuse. Tears came to her eyes again as the hopelessness of it all came to mind.
There was a loud clank, and carousels began moving again. Anna glanced at her carousel display and noted her luggage was on the way. “Mel don’t leave, I’m going to collect my luggage and come back here. You’re coming home with me!” She couldn’t believe this was coming out of her, but the voice seemed to whisper approval and reassurance.
The next few hours passed by as if it were a dream. The taxi ride to her inner-city apartment with companions she still didn’t really know. Her quick trip to the supermarket to buy food and baby supplies arranging for it to be delivered. A trip to her favourite upmarket store to buy clothing in Mel’s body size. She purchased without any restraint or thought of the cost. This was not like her at all and she reflected on her life of plenty and the strong faith upbringing she’d discarded along the way. A yearning built in her for the simplicity of her growing up years and tears came to her eyes as she thought of how her lifestyle must be distressing her parents. She thought of her siblings who’d settled around the area of her hometown and the work they did. They were not as rich and powerful as she was in her chosen profession but was she as happy as they were with their stable family relationships. She’d fought her way to the top, but for what?
These thoughts continued as she wended her way back to the apartment eventually loaded with things she’d purchased on impulse. Sam the doorman rushed to help her out of the taxi and up the elevator to her apartment then returned quickly to his post at the front entrance looking with amazement at the fifty-dollar tip in his hand. She’d always been pleasant but not always generous with her tips
Mel cried as she unpacked dresses and personal effects which Anna had wordlessly handed to her. The supermarket items had already been delivered with generous supplies for the baby. She spontaneously ran and hugged her benefactor. “Why?” was all she could say.
Anna retreated to her favourite chair overlooking the lights of the city that never slept. On impulse she reached for her cell phone and punched in a number.
“Welcome back Anna!” boomed the voice with sounds of merriment loud in the background. “You missed the corporate Christmas party, but we’re having a get together on New Year’s Eve and I’ve put your name down to join. You never miss out on a good party.” Paul was obviously having a good time somewhere.
“Paul I need a favour. I’m taking a few days off to visit my parents and will be there to celebrate the new year with them. Can you cover for me while I’m gone?”
Paul laughed. “You make this request from the hard driving executive who never takes a holiday? Sure, I’ll likely move into your plush office overlooking the city and not give it back when you return.”
Anna laughed. “I’ll personally throw you out on my return Paul. Don’t push your luck.” She disconnected and sat thinking not too sure what to make of the afternoon and evening. Everything had been normal until she inadvertently noticed Mel and the baby at the airport.
Anna picked up her cell phone again and punched in her parent’s home phone number.
A surprised voice at the other end of the line spoke. “Is that you Anna? What a wonderful surprise.”
“Mom I’d like to come home tomorrow and spend time with you including the New Year celebration. Would that be convenient? I have a friend and her baby who will be coming along with me if that’s OK.”
“Anna you don’t have to ask. You’re our daughter and we’ll always be happy to see you. Bring your friend it will be nice to have a baby in the house again.”
“Thanks Mom, we should be there by tomorrow evening. I’ll rent a car.”
She then phoned her favourite car rental company and arranged for them to drop a car at the entrance of her building at precisely eight am.
Anna relaxed looking out over the city from her favourite chair. After a few minutes she got up and went to the guest room where Mel was feeding the baby.
“You need to get up early tomorrow morning as we’ll be leaving to visit my parents for a couple of weeks. We should be downstairs at eight am as the rental car will be at the door in the loading zone and they won’t wait if we’re late. So, prepare whatever needs to be taken for the baby and be ready for a several hour trip back west. I think I bought everything you’ll need for the baby but if there is anything else you need I can have it delivered. Perhaps you should have an early night.”
Mel nodded and then involuntarily rushed over to hug Anna who stiffened at this unaccustomed expression of gratitude. In her world you had to be alert and suppress emotions. It reminded Anna of the hugs that were given in abundance during her growing up years and she yearned for their return. Maybe money and power didn’t give all the satisfaction she’d imagined all these years after all. Mel withdrew silently and went to the guest room to prepare for whatever sleep she could get. A mother is on call constantly including nights.
Anna got very little sleep that night. She alternated between happiness to discover she had a heart for those in need and irritation that Mel had intruded into her predictable lifestyle. The crying baby awoke maternal instincts she first felt uncomfortable with, but then she began to dream of a home and a husband and family of her own. She eventually fell into a fitful sleep but her inner clock woke her at precisely the same hour she arose each day, this time nursing a headache. She showered and emerging packed and dressed for the journey before heading for the kitchen. To her surprise she found the table set and food cooking on the electric range.
“I hope you don’t mind me taking the liberty of using your kitchen?” Mel searched her benefactor’s face anxiously.
Anna smiled appreciatively. “That was very kind, and the food looks delicious!”
At precisely eight am the car arrived and they quickly loaded. Anna signed papers and received the key. They negotiated early morning city rush slowly and after an hour were on the freeway heading west. Mel slowly warmed to her benefactor and Anna discovered their growing up years had a similar rural childhood. Both Mel and her husband were from good families and Mel had no idea what had changed him to the monster he was today. But she was glad to be free and have a couple of weeks to think through the future for she and her child. Over and over she thanked Anna for rescuing her until Anna began to feel embarrassed at her reluctance up to this point to offer help. Slowly a warm feeling enveloped Anna as she relished the joy of giving rather than getting.
Several hours later it was a softer Anna who greeted her parents warmly. Her parents noted the change of attitude with happiness immediately and Mel and baby were folded into the family as one of their own after learning of her background and present situation.
Anna watched her parents with new appreciation. Suddenly her corporate success seemed to lose its shine. There’s nothing wrong with power or money if it doesn’t rob one of their humanity though. Anna decided to take stock of her life. From here on she’d embrace her talents and success but leaven it with a different philosophy in life that included acts of kindness such as that shown to Mel at the airport several days ago. It felt good to do good. Perhaps finding a good man to share life with wasn’t such a bad idea either?
Mel was having such a good time she’d temporarily forgotten the need to plan future moves. But as New Year eve came closer and she realized this dream had to end she retreated into silence. Everyone noticed the difference. Anna understood the fear this poor young soul with baby to support must be enduring. She approached her Mother.
“Mom would you be able to give Mel and the baby shelter for a while. Keeping her in New York with her dangerous husband looking for her doesn’t seem like a good option. I’m happy to send money for her support and try to figure out some way to help her get a divorce. I know people who could deal with that very well.”
Anna’s Mom smiled and patted her daughter’s arm. “Anna we don’t need money she can stay here as long as it takes. You’ve been quite different on this visit and we want you to know we like the new Anna very much. We are so proud of you and your accomplishments.”
Anna nodded. “I know Mom, I really haven’t been a good daughter to you, but things will change from now on.”
Anna and her Mom sought out Mel to break the happy news she’d be staying here where it was safe for her. Mel sobbed and hugged them both.
New Years eve was a grand meeting of the clan. Anna’s brothers and sisters were there to celebrate with their families but there was an extra person there whose face looked familiar when he arrived. Hugh Simpson saw Anna and his face lit up with pleasure.
“Hi, I haven’t seen you since we used to go out together in High School. I was miffed when you went off to boarding college and left me behind. I hear you’re a big shot in New York now.” He extended his hand in greeting.
Anna smiled. “Well you deserted the town soon after and went goodness knows where. Not sure about being a big shot, there are lots of shots in New York. What are you doing for a living now Hugh?”
“I teach in a university in Houston, Texas.”
Anna nodded in approval. “Now who is the big shot?”
They both laughed and began to catch up on their respective careers since High School days. Anna recalled the warmth of their relationship in those years at High School and wondered if they’d have ended up together if she’d stuck around. She glanced around.
“Where’s your wife? I want to meet her and tell her all your secrets.”
Hugh laughed. “Yes, you would! Unfortunately, I’m going to deny you that pleasure as I’ve been too busy with PhD studies initially, writing, research and teaching to take the time to look for a wife but I’m taking a Sabbatical this coming year to travel and enhance my knowledge.
Anna’s heart skipped a beat. Suddenly she wanted to rekindle their relationship. He was handsome as well as being smart, but he probably had lost interest in her by now. She’d walked out of their relationship to fulfill her dream, but the dream was not fulfilling her today.
“Where are you going in your travel plans?”
“Only to Japan for a year I’ll be on leave from the university in Houston and thought I’d study the way Japanese manage industrial production. They have some innovative cutting-edge ideas emerging. It will be useful when I return to Huston to teach again.”
Anna thought about that for a minute and the conversation lapsed. Then she spoke. “We have an office in Yokohama.”
Hugh spun around to study her face. “Too bad you love New York so much or you could transfer there for a year and we could see Japan together.” He watched for her reaction.
A battle raged in Anna’s mind. The satisfaction of being part of the executive team in head office New York fought with the glamor of a year in an exotic country with the man she realized she’d always wanted.
“I’d love to Hugh, but they couldn’t spare me from head office.”
“How do you know that if you don’t ask? Look Anna, I passed up on celebrating New Year’s Eve with my family as I always do each year just to see you and now I’ve seen you I want to clarify something and it depends on the answer you give me as to whether its worth my while staying this evening. I can’t wait for ever so am just going to blurt it out and get ready for a hasty retreat if the answer is negative. I’d always hoped we’d get married some day and have taken the trouble to find out you’re not involved with anyone else. Maybe there was a reason. So how about it? Could you love me, and would you say yes if I asked you to marry me?
The voice had been silent for several days since she saw Mel at the airport. Now it spoke again in a whisper. “Say yes!”
Again, she obeyed the voice and felt a happiness she’d not experienced since leaving her loving family behind to make a career in New York.
“Yes Hugh, the answer is a definite yes!”
Hugh shouted out to Anna’s family who’d been part of the planned conspiracy since she returned home for a visit. “She said yes, Anna and I are going to be married!”
There was a thunderous shout of approval as the family gathered around to offer their congratulations.
© Copyright 2019 Ian Grice, “ianscyberspace.” All rights reserved
The above image is in free public domain taken from shutterstock