Awethu woke to pounding on the guest bedroom door. “Open up, son,” he heard his father say.
“Is he answering?” he heard his mama say.
Rubbing sleep out of his eyes, Awethu stumbled to his feet and crossed over to the door. After giving his head a shake, he opened it. “Hi.”
Both his parents stared at him, as if searching for something.
Awethu shifted his weight, as he rubbed the back of his neck. “Everything okay?”
“You didn’t have any cake,” his mama said.
“Everyone’s back from the beach, and your cousins are hungry,” his father said.
“Right, cake. Yes, that sounds good,” Awethu said, not sure what else there was he could say.
As he followed his parents, he examined their features. His skin tone was darker than either of theirs, and they had smaller builds, both in height and musculature. In fact, he couldn’t think of a single member of his family that looked much like him. His parents once told him that they were smaller due to apartheid. “Better nutrition, bigger children,” they’d said. “We didn’t have that then.”
But that would mean his cousins should be bigger too. Yet Inami was shorter than his mother, and Besana was scarcely taller than his own father, let alone Awethu. Yes, his younger cousins had a lot more growing to do, but none of them were anywhere close to Awethu’s size when he was their age.
“I’m a freak,” he mumbled.
“What did you say, son?” Tata said, glancing over his shoulder.
Awethu spread out his arms. “I was just thinking, here I am at 16, still growing taller, and not one member of this family is even close to my height.”
Mama smiled, and patted him on the shoulder. “We feed you well.”
“Auntie also feeds her children well.”
His parents shrugged, turning back towards the kitchen.
“Yay!” all his little cousins shrieked, as they came in. “Cake! Cake! Cake!”
Besana grinned, and rubbed his belly. “My auntie’s cake is the GOAT.”
His mother smacked him on the arm. “Watch yourself.”
Awethu’s mama turned to him, confusion all over her face. “I don’t put goat in my baking.”
“GOAT stands for: greatest of all time,” Awethu said.
Mama’s confused face transformed to a huge smile. “Why thank you, Besana. That is very nice of you to say.”
Besana beamed, still rubbing his arm where his mama had smacked him.
The atmosphere in the house was good, as people enjoyed the birthday cake. But Awethu was quiet. He knew it was only a dream. Nothing real happens in a dream. Even so, maybe it was his mind’s way of telling him something. As if he’d picked up subtle clues all his life and his mind was now trying to get him to pay attention. After all, he’d always been different to his relatives: darker, bigger, couldn’t get wet. Like a piece of him didn’t fit with his family.
When the last bite of cake was finished, his mouth couldn’t hold it in anymore. “Was I adopted?”
Not a single word, blink, or the sound of a fork scraping a plate. Even the tiniest child in the room was frozen.
Tell us: It used to be common to not tell children that they were adopted, so long as the child was not from a different race. Nowadays, people are generally more open. How would you feel to find out at 16 that you had been adopted?