THE CHOSEN ONE

THE CHOSEN ONE

From Chicken Soup for the Mother's Soul

The Chosen One

Not flesh of my flesh

Nor bone of my bone,

But still miraculously my own.

Never forget for a single minute,

You didn’t grow under my heart,

But in it.

Anonymous

It was my all-time favorite story. “We’d looked after kids for years, but after a while they had to go back to their parents. Now we wanted our own baby, one we could keep forever.”

I was usually sitting on my mother’s lap when she started the story, but as I got older, I liked to sit opposite her so I could watch her face. I’d seen some of these other kids in the photograph album: black, brown and white, looking wistful, staring straight ahead, leaning against the dog. In the most recent pages, laughing straight into the camera, was a plump, happy baby, and that was me.

She’d continue, “It was November 1947, and bitterly cold—in fact, it was the coldest winter for over 100 years. The train was already standing at the station when we got there, puffing out big clouds of steam. We hadn’t been anywhere for years, because of the war, so after we got in, we could hardly sit still, we were so excited. We didn’t even mind the cold too much; it all looked so beautiful. It seemed as if the whole country had been frozen. It was white everywhere.”

My mother always stopped here and smiled, and I imagined a snowy fairyland, trees shrouded in ice, stalactites dripping from roofs, snowflakes in bright constellations on the train windows.

“At last we arrived and took a bus to a big house. The matron was expecting us, and gave us a cup of tea to warm up. Then she took us around. There were dozens and dozens of babies! Roomfuls of them! Boys and girls, some with fair hair, some with dark. There were blue-eyed babies and ones with brown eyes, like yours. We looked around for a long time—there were so many, and lots of them were very pretty. Your dad and I just didn’t know how we were going to choose.”

If I was sitting on her lap, she would squeeze me then as she looked down, kissing the top of my head. If I was opposite, she would have a faraway look, lit up by the memory. I couldn’t wait for the next bit, and wriggled like a worm.

“Suddenly,” she continued, “we came into a new room, and there, in the second crib, we saw you. You were sniffling up at us, as if you’d been waiting for us your whole life, and we knew immediately you were the one we wanted, that we’d been waiting for you, too. We thought you were the prettiest one in that whole house, with your lovely brown skin and thick black hair. They told us your name was Susan and you were four months old.

“ ‘Is this the one?’ asked the matron, and we said, ‘Yes, this is definitely the one.’ We wrapped you up and went back to the station. On the train, people kept coming up to us. ‘Oh, what a lovely baby. Is she yours?’ they’d ask, and we’d say, ‘Yes, we just went to choose her.’

“ ‘Well,’ they’d say, ‘you chose the best one by the look of her,’ and we’d say, ‘Oh, yes, we did.’ ”

I would snuggle down, scrunching my toes, feeling very special. Sometimes I even felt sorry for the children of ordinary births. For years, whenever we got on the train, I thought the couples we saw whispering together in the compartment were going off somewhere to get a baby of their own.

We chose you must be the sweetest words in any language.

Sue West

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