I lift the foil lids and place the contents in a decorative pattern on my favourite plate. It‘s a good plate; oval in shape and large enough to accommodate a man’s size meal.
Today Hong Kong Kitchen has won over Posh Fish. I had not deviated from my norm; fried rice, sweet and sour chicken balls, King Prawns and mushrooms. Of course I know it will take me two sittings to eat everything, but that isn’t the point. What is important is that it is a real meal that did not involve me cooking.
I pour a can of lager into a glass - I can do posh - load up my tray and move to the sitting room of my grotty flat, turn on the TV and sit down to eat alone - again.
I am not a moaner. Life had dealt me a winning hand, but I had managed to play it all wrong and lost. The result is that I live alone, have not had sex for months, convincing myself that there are more important things in life, and am becoming the person I had dreaded of being in my youth; a sad, lonely git with no-one who cares.
Remote in hand, I zap aimlessly as I concentrate on the tastes of the Orient. In fact I am particularly enjoying a deep fried King Prawn when my attention is diverted. What had that reporter said? Surely I had heard wrong?
“That was an appeal by the parents of 24 year-old missing mother of two, Aisha Bridger. And now to other news.”
My fork drops from my hands and almost breaks my favourite plate. Other news!!!! No, I want to hear this news. I want to see the parents of Aisha Bridger. Go back I scream.
But no the television doesn’t respond. It moves to the next story. My meal is ruined as I flick to other news channels; waiting for them to give me the information that I am so desperate to hear.
Aisha. Not a common name. Twenty four though that’s how old she would be. And if she has two children; then they are my grandchildren; though they didn’t know me.
Great! So now my appetite has gone. I place my half-eaten meal back in the kitchen – but not my beer - and begin a prolonged search for further information on the news item.
I need to know. Was it my Aisha: the daughter who I had loved and lost when her mother had run out on me? Was that man who had sat beside her mother the bastard who had shared her love – the love that was rightly mine?
Emotions rise. I take a sip of the lager. I should be the one speaking about Aisha. She was mine. She had my genes. She was part of me. She was the best part of me. Another man was claiming my daughter as his. Fuck you. Fuck you she is part of me; she is mine.
Aisha’s mother had loved me once; until she had caught me out. She hadn’t even accepted my plausible excuse that the woman – well to be honest young girl – had virtually raped me. I was a young man then, and my cock ruled my head. Why else would I have been in our bed with her? Besides, was it my fault that she refused to give me blow jobs? I bet her husband wasn’t told that!!!
Calm down, calm down. I take my lagers to the computer; worry makes me even thirstier. The story has made the online news, but they have not posted pictures. I type in Aisha Bridger and wait on tenterhooks. Good old Google. Not such a common name; there are over twenty listed.
I don’t realise I have started crying. All those years; twenty-two years to be exact. At first there had been anger and the need for revenge; pure unfettered hate for the woman who had taken my daughter away. Then there were the nights when all that filled my head were images of our memories. So few memories. After a while the hurt got so bad, that no one who cared for me dared to use their names in my presence.
Once again I think of her mother. If she had loved me she would have waited. She could have looked after my Aisha until my return. She loved me once; forgave me many times. She had stood by me up until the judge sentenced me to five years; mind you his wig did make me laugh. How can you not laugh when some prick in a stupid moth-eaten rug decides your future? If only someone had told him that this was 20th century Europe - not America, I might have seen my girl grow up.
Five years just for cashing a few cheques! That was not fair. I hadn’t even made any money from it. Fucking caught in the act. Was it the embarrassment that had made her do a moonlight flit? I would have made her moon – fuck the light part!
The first ten Aishas are American. I get to the last one and am not overly surprised that she is not my Aisha. By the time it dawns on me to go to Friend’s Reunited, I have opened another can and start losing heart.
I think of all the lies she must have been told. That was why she hadn’t come looking for me. Had to be. Of course her mother must have told her some horrendous story. She might have been told that she was the result of a one night stand, that I never wanted anything to do with her or that I was dead. All these theories (and many more) have been with me for twenty years. Hidden away because they make living painful.
If it was her, then perhaps her mother would now be feeling a tiny bit of what I have been feeling for all those years. The not knowing. I take particularly macabre delight in that thought. Wrong I know, but I do anyway.
Okay, so she had warned me not to get involved. That wasn’t the point. I did it for us – what was wrong with that? All she had to do was keep in touch; wait and I would have got back on the straight and narrow. One bad deed does not make a person a criminal. Of course this was my third bad deed and she knew it. But still. I chose her over others. Wasn’t that enough for her?
I look at the clock. Another two hours before the main night time news. Two more hours of suffering.
Then it hits me. How would I know if it was her? I don’t know what she looks like. It was not as if she would still be wearing her favourite blue dress I had bought her those twenty years ago. Panic starts anew. I try to move the hands of the clock telepathically. Put me out of my misery.
I take another swig of my lager in a futile attempt to calm down. What I need are facts. Okay I know she had been christened Aisha, she is twenty- four. There it ended - that is all I know about my daughter for sure.
I walk to the bedroom and begin a frantic search which actually also serves to help me de-clutter. I read articles in newspapers I have saved but not got round to reading. Eventually my fingers curl round the one photo I have managed to preserve. Her big beaming smile greets me. I rarely look at this picture. Too painful.
What did she look like now? How did she speak? Had she ever thought fondly of me as I did of her? Did she hate me? None of these questions would ever be answered.
Of course I had lost my daughter. She had ceased being my daughter years ago; if we ever met again, all she would be was a person who carried my genes. Only my genetic traits, nothing else. Nothing she has learned from me. I take my old photo and sit down on the sofa with my remaining can.
Thankfully the headlines begin. Aisha’s story ranks number three, after a train crash and a Government crisis. I beg the newsreaders to hurry up and put me out of my misery. I swallow my lager as the minutes tick slowly by; whilst thousands of hornets swirl around building up to a crescendo inside my head.
And then Aisha’s parents appear. I laugh: a healthy if somewhat maniacal laugh. They were white - both of them. The picture of their daughter comes on the screen. She is a beautiful woman, a beautiful white woman. No trace of my brown genes. I instantly feel sorry for her and start crying all over.
And that’s it - crisis over for another few years. Time to go to the offie and get some more cans.