Editor’s note: Wendy Guerra is a Cuban-French writer and contributor to CNN en Español. Her articles have appeared in media around the world, such as El País, The New York Times, the Miami Herald, El Mundo and La Vanguardia. Among her most outstanding literary works are “Ropa interior” (2007), “I was never a first lady” (2008), “Posar desnuda en La Habana” (2010) and “Todos se van” (2014). Her work has been published in 23 languages. The comments expressed in this column belong exclusively to the author. The following story is a fictional account that the author gives to CNN’s audience at Christmas. See more at cnne.com/opinion
(CNN Spanish) — Have you ever been in an orphanage?
You don’t have to be prejudiced. Everyone is different and the life of an orphan doesn’t have to look like Oliver Twist’s.
I do not doubt the good intentions of my parents or of those who, in rare circumstances, decided to take me out of China, to later appear at the door of an orphanage, on the outskirts of Perpignan; wrapped like a parcel in a woolen blanket. Accompanied by a letter written in Mandarin, which I still have, they abandoned me to my fate, on the other side of the world, placing me in the hands of dear people, who, to this day, gave me the greatest treasure, my true home.
I am different from my family. It would only be enough to look in the mirror to notice it: my straight black hair, slanted eyes and body, so short that it could be drawn in a single line, contrast with the European appearance of my mother, a shapely and blond woman, beautiful as the Helena Fourment by Rubens, which I discovered during my last visit to Vienna.
When we go out together, people look at us and wonder why we are so different. In flying over the big differences lies the genuine beauty of a relationship.
How I would like to know what plans the universe has for me, where I come from, and, above all, what life has in store for me in the future.
Like every December, we return to France on vacation. My parents, Pascal and Marianne, work as diplomats on the islands. This is how my life goes, between the bustling VI district of Paris, to the peaceful tranquility of Fort-de-France. From my Parisian room I can see the Seine and even a bit of the Panthéon, and from the windows of my room on the island, the graceful fragment of Mount Pelée, which definitely dies into the sea.
Pascal’s mother, Petit, my paternal grandmother, often takes me to the department store I enjoy most in the world: Lafayette. It is there where I choose my trousseau, my notebooks and even the perfumes and soaps that I give to my parents.
My grandmother is one of the best beings I have ever known; if she spends the year traveling from one place to another she is only to accompany me, so that she never feels lonely or melancholic. This Christmas, the gifts should be austere, because Mom warned that by giving me a grand piano, my grandmother should not incur an additional expense.
When I got to the lingerie department, Petit insisted on buying me at least one silk pajama; The lady who served us received an urgent call and called a young Asian woman, an apprentice designer, who, just looking at me, made me shudder.
Seeing us face to face, my grandmother was perplexed. Petit did not come out of her astonishment, because she could not determine who was who.
“My name is Li,” the young woman whispered, and when she did so, it was me who was speaking, or perhaps my reflection.
–I am Liú –I shook his hand, expanding myself in the echo of his intonation.
Neither of them could believe it. Li took my arm and led me to the mirror. We looked at each other and laughed at the same time, making similar gestures, immediately noticing that we both dressed in a similar and very particular style.
-You are adopted? Li asked. In what year were you born? Where?
–In the year 2000. Where…? I answered with a question, and by doing so, I knew how little I knew my own history.
Grandma Petit got very nervous, and she immediately took me out of the store, without time to buy anything. “My life is a Chinese tale”, I thought when I discovered that my parents did not know the truth of my origin either. They weren’t sure where I came from, but the letter in Mandarin, the one they never wanted to translate, might explain everything.
It’s a new December, three long years have passed. I am of legal age and I have returned to Paris for good. In Lafayette they are dressing the mannequins in lavish party dresses. Walking into the store, I found Li running the entire operation, decorating the windows with trees, oranges, flowers, cages, birds, and shadow plays, which contrasted beautifully with the traditional lights of the Christmas season. When I greeted her, I felt a strange throbbing, a deep heartbeat, that particular and endearing way with which her presence enveloped me. I didn’t forget her, how to do it, it would be like forgetting myself. We are so similar that, just by looking at each other, we know what the next gesture will be, the next pause, even the complete sentence that accompanies questions and answers:
-I’ve been looking for you.
“In a way, me too,” I tried to explain.
-I have learned Mandarin and I have translated a letter that…
“I’ve also learned Mandarin and translated mine,” I interrupted.
Li opened her beautiful suede bag with oil-painted flowers, and handed me a sheet written by hand, in Chinese ink. I, for my part, took from my backpack the printed and crumpled version of the same letter.
“Dear Liú and Li:
I have been employed by your parents for over twenty years, Mr. and Mrs. Zhang, who, unfortunately, have died along with your grandparents. The family was trapped in a fire at a rice warehouse in Zhaitang village, Mentougou district, on the outskirts of Beijing. It is here where they were both born, on December 30, 2000. Less than a month after they were born, I give them to my sister Wú. She cannot have children and is married to a Frenchman, Monsieur Moreau. Both have the best resources to raise and educate them in France. If I write two letters, it’s just to make sure that if they separate them, they’ll know who their parents were, where and when they were born. Be happy and have a useful and prosperous life.
How did we end up in an orphanage? Why did they separate us? Why was my sister never adopted? Because I do? For that, we didn’t have answers yet, but doesn’t having all the answers make the life of a human being boring? We went out into the street holding hands, looked up at the sky and gave thanks for the miracle of Christmas, the one that brought us back three years ago and now. My parents welcomed us home, and upon learning everything, they determined that my sister Li would move in with us. When my grandmother Petit found out the truth, she cried and regretted not having had her with us since the first day I came into her life.
–The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now –Dad said, remembering a Chinese proverb, which in turn, he had heard from his grandfather.
-Merry Christmas! –said my sister, giving me a family tree drawn by her, where only our names appear, and that of our biological and adoptive parents. From now on, our mission will be to find and fill together the rest of the branches of the tree, decipher and write this Chinese tale, the true story that dictates our origin.