Madeline scurried past the village souvenir shops, perspiring under the Yunnan Province’s oppressive humidity. Usually toiling in the family’s potato field, she had been granted a reprieve to fish for their supper. A sharp stitch in her side caused the young woman to stumble and weave into a produce cart.
“Steady, girl; slow down,” she reprimanded, realizing that at this stage of her pregnancy, it was not wise to overdue, “wouldn’t that be ironic, if I were to loose this precious baby while trying to save her!”
Bile rose up in Madeline’s throat as she continued on to the outskirts of Tri-Long, close by the Lancang Jiang (Nepong River). Here she put down her pole and bucket, seating her awkward body on the moist bank.
Adopted as a youngster from a Chinese orphanage by an American missionary couple, Madeline had a safe and loving upbringing in America. Bright and gifted, she was awarded an internship at a prestigious university where she excelled in biochemistry. Buried in her studies and research, she had not expected to fall in love, until the day a Chinese national visited the laboratory and became impressed with her work.
Madeline, lonely since her parents’ deaths, was drawn to Chang, who showered her with his attention. The couple married three months after their first date. A wedding, if not of her dreams, beautiful in its simplicity, followed at a quaint little chapel snuggled between rolling country hills not far from the university. Chang’s parents in faraway China and hers gone, guests consisted of the Justice of the Peace’s son and daughter acting as best man and maid of honor. Madeline’s eyes, shiny with unshed happy tears, were complimented by Chang’s dazzling smile, much like two stars winking at the sun.
Madeline became pregnant a month later. Overjoyed, Chang planned a delayed honeymoon trip to China. Madeline had been excited at the prospect of meeting his family and experiencing the land of her birth! Sadly, soon after their arrival, slowly but surely, like a beautiful flower fading in autumn’s chill, things began to change.
“Darling, just try to be more docile, like my mother. We prefer the old ways.”
“I suppose next you will bind my feet and have me walk ten steps behind you,” she had retorted.
This was just one of many skirmishes. But the worst of all was yet to come. Madeline’s world crashed around her as she overheard her husband consorting with his mother.
“We will have a grandson, Chang?”
“Yang is bringing the machine soon and we will know. But you must have the oneander plant on hand just in case it is a girl.”
“She is Chinese and so she understands this? She knows a female is unaccepted?
“Do not worry, e-nu. If a female, it will sicken and die. Madeline will get over it.”
Madeline’s pounding heart sucked all the air out of her body, shriveling her spirit into an empty, forlorn shell. The ensuing conversation revealed Chang’s stone-cold manipulation of her from the very beginning.
“It was so easy, e-nu. Madeline was lonely and vulnerable, with no one to question me--just the right combination for success!”
Soon after this, Madeline clandestinely went to a clinic to find that she was, indeed, carrying a baby girl. Her eyes were opened further when the technician offered to “give her something”, thinking the baby unwanted, and was told about China’s one-child policy. She could not vouch for the safety of her unborn daughter if she stayed any longer.. What Chang did not know was that Madeline had a girlfriend, Kalaya, in nearby Thailand, a friendship cultivated through their mutual participation in the Nakhon Thailand International Triathlon a year ago.
Courageously, Madeline slipped quietly into the river, letting the slow current buoy her until she floated miles downstream, eventually recognizing the familiar triathlon route. Then, she valiantly swam, her body remembering the breathing technique necessary for long-distance swimming. Every few miles, she stopped and floated to rest her aching muscles before continuing.
“Chang will not be able to follow my trail here. Thank you, God. Grant us safety, and I will dedicate my life to you.”
As dusk approached, Madeline stroked to the Thai shoreline where Kalaya’s shadow burned against the horizon, a sweet welcome to two reclaimed lives.
After returning to the States, Madeline continued her research, using her income to open an adoption agency that specialized in placing unwanted babies from third world countries into safe and loving homes.
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