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Rated: ASR · Fiction · Mystery · #2277395
Winner. Sometimes a coincidence is more than a coincidence.
I'm sitting at the airport taxi stand, enjoying the soothing sounds of Vivaldi's Four Seasons in my earbuds, when this incredibly beautiful vision in a red dress struts out of Arrivals towing her little fancy suitcase towards the cab line. I kill Vivaldi and pop the buds, hop out and go wait by the door, the better to watch her approach.

Now, right away, I can tell I've given you the wrong idea. You're thinking crimson evening wear, sexy, slinky, low cut on top, slit on the bottom with acres of leg. Sorry, my bad.

This lady is classy, from her wavy black hair, glossy in the spring sunshine, down to her Jimmy Choo crystal strap mules. The red business suit is for sure by some top designer--the pencil skirt and smart blazer combined with a cream blouse is the very definition of "power suit".

But it is her face that catches my attention as she walks up to the stand. The ebony hair frames an oval with clear skin, a small chin, wide soft lips with just a hint of sorrow. She wears little makeup, and the wrinkles at the corners of eyes and mouth tell me she is older than I first thought, perhaps early forties. And those eyes--wide-spaced, large, with the lucid depth and color of a peaty mountain stream--seem to hold all the world's sadness, caught on the verge of tears.

I open the door for her, overwhelmed with my impression of immense tragedy bound by determination and strength.

"Hotel Macdonald, please," she says as she slides into the back seat. Just as I close the door, I spot a little tattoo on the back of her right calf, an odd shape, like the continent of Australia. It stirs a vague sense of familiarity, but I don't have time to think about it. I've got a fare to deliver. I stow her Luis Vuitton carry-on in the trunk and climb behind the wheel.

She turns out to be a chatty ride.

"You look younger than the average cabbie."

"Part time job, ma'am. Lucky to get my license."

"What do you do with the rest of your time?"

"University. Working on a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism."

"Oh, how fascinating! What classes...." For a while we chat about my studies and her work in the related field of communications. Despite the power suit and snazzy luggage, she is in no way distant or arrogant. The conversation is open and easy and eventually turns personal, and we talk of our background and family.

"I was adopted," I tell her, "at around three or four. My little sister and I were separated, and I haven't seen her since. My adopted family was great, though."

She is silent for a moment. "How odd," she says. "I was in an abusive home and rebelled in foolish ways. By the time I was 18, I had two children, a boy and a girl a year apart. I had to give them up. My son was three, my daughter two. It tore me apart. I've worked hard to rebuild my self and my life, but there has always been that huge hole in my heart. What a strange coincidence. I'm Janet McMillan. What's your name?"

"Pleased to meet you. I'm Chalmers." I point to my license clipped to the passenger sunvisor.

"Oh." Her flat tone shows disappointment. Guess she was hoping for another name.

Still, we both sit quietly, wondering, as I pull up to the door of the Macdonald. I open the door for her, set her suitcase beside her and we stand there looking at each other. The same height, the same hair coloring, the same eye color... just like about 40% of the population.

Finally she opens her purse and hands me $60 and a business card. "I can't talk right now. I have a meeting. But please, call me. Around five."

I do not have the feeling of being hit on. This is not a cougar seeking young meat. I take the generous tip and the card and nod, then watch as she strides into the lobby.

There is no time for reflection. Before I can even move to the taxi lineup, a guy strides out, parks his bags beside me, and climbs into the back seat. "Airport, fella, quit gawking at the ladies and get a move on." Sure, jerk, whatever you say. I load the bags and head out. The cabbie at the stand gives me the finger for stealing his fare, but what could I have done about it?

This guy is also chatty, bitching about the lousy flight, the lineup at customs, the rude agents, my slow driving, the backwardness of the city compared to his home town, the number of red lights on our route, and on it goes. He pays by card (no tip), snatches his last bag out of my hand and stomps into Departures. Once I'm in line, I pull a little bottle of spray deodorant out of my glove box and give the car a symbolic spritz to get rid of his stench.

Throughout the afternoon, my mind is nibbling around the edges of the map of Australia on that lady's leg. Why is it so familiar? I've never been to Australia. Never wanted to go to Australia. Never had anything to do with Australia beyond watching Crocodile Dundee.

As the day winds down, a short hop brings me to the Airport Renaissance just after five o'clock. I dig the card out of my wallet. Janet McMillan, Communications, Marfair Marketing. I dial the number.

"Janet McMillan, hello."

"Ms. McMillan, this is Chalmers. You asked me to call."

"Yes. Well. You know, the coincidence of my having given up my little boy and girl, and you and your sister having been adopted. It was really strange. I know it's impossible, but still, a mother wonders... Could we get together for coffee, or a drink, or maybe dinner? My treat. Please don't take this the wrong way, it's not...I mean I'm not...."

"I know, it's okay. I guess we do need to talk."

While we are talking, I have been fishing in the wallet for the only family photo I have. It shows me and my sister in shorts and t-shirts, sitting on a bench, Shelly on my right, with our backs to the camera but smiling over our shoulders. I stare unbelieving at the photo.

"I'll meet you at the Macdonald in seven minutes. I've got something you'll want to see.""

In my head, I hear Vivaldi. The allegro movement of Spring swells in my heart, and my heart swells with wonder and joy. On the back of Shelly's right calf is a birthmark shaped like Australia.

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