It was Mrs McGinty who first alerted Jenny to the unusual name at the end of an eye opening article on 'the role of women in the war in Iraq'. She flapped a copy of The Inquirer, a prestigious magazine highlighting investigative reporting, over the tea cups between Jenny and herself.
"Mcdougall!" she announced. "Not a common name and I seem to hear a faint bell ringing with the first names....Melinda Leigh..........unusual spelling too.... Mc Dougall often has just the one l you know?"
Jenny paused politely and said, "hmmmmm..........maybe, but what about it?" She slapped her forehead mocking herself, "oh, you mean it's the same surname as Alvin. What a dream that would be....finding his mum but wow Mrs G that's pushing it don't you think?" she added as the old lady continued to look seriously at her, as though SHE was the one losing her marbles!
"No matter," said Mrs McGinty, "how's the party coming along, I'm bringing my Pavlova pudding, Alvin's favourite," she said, deftly changing the subject.
The preparation for a celebration, after the announcement at the final school assembly that Alvin McDougall Allers was elected Head Boy of his school of over 1500 learners for the forthcoming year, was in full swing. The headmaster, who had become a friend of Jenny and Clive's over the years, had congratulated them with obvious delight. "It was a massive 100% vote of confidence by teachers, learners and the school board," he crowed. "What a boy! AND how far he has come,'he glowed and added, "AND what a future lies ahead of him!" They raised their teacups and laughed out loud and said "here's to our Alvin."
"And here's to you two who made it all possible," remarked the headmaster.
'Ours,' he had truly become. From junior school he had championed the underdog. He had no truck with unkindness let alone bullies and used clever words instead of his fists to bring the perpetrators down. His added gift was that he befriended those who had been unkind and gave them a chance to be part of something better.
He often succeeded and had started a youth group after school especially for the lonely kids. The youngsters who returned home to empty flats had something to occupy them.
Mrs McGinty had an ally in her search, even more than one!
Her domestic Rosie, was friendly with Agnes who had worked in the home of Jenny and Clive since they had moved in at least 15 years before. In a typical South African way, the two domestics were part of a close knit group of 12 people who ran a 'Zulu bank'. They met regularly in the open green space under a shady tree on a Saturday afternoon and apart from discussing the 'ways of the world' they operated a financial scheme.
"What is it about exactly, Agnes?" Clive had asked, concerned that she might be 'fleeced' by untrustworthy members. "Aren't you afraid that when the first one has taken all their money they might disappear and not pay in for the rest of the year?" he asked with a frown on his face.
She laughed and slowly shook her head......."there's no where that they can escape to Mr Allers. We have eyes and ears EVERYWHERE. No one would dare!" and she was right.
They met for the cash payout once a month. Agnes kept the black notebook up to date. "Each member has to pay in R200 a month and then we draw our names out of a hat and each month one member gets the whole R2,400 to put in the bank or buy a bed or a sofa or a fridge.............a dream come true for us who never see that much money all at once." she smiled broadly holding up her finger as though testing the wind......"no cheating allowed."
And so it was that Mrs McGinty had access to a tribal network of information.
Her ever faithful Rosie and Agnes had vague memories of a domestic who had worked briefly for the McDougall family before they did that moonlight flit, abandoning Alvin like an old, useless suitcase They had shaken their heads in amazement that people could have behaved in such a reprehensible fashion.
"Not in our culture," they affirmed, "someone is always there for the widows and orphans."
So began the search for Mildred they thought her name was. "Her surname was Ndlovu and that is the 'Elephant' and it belongs in Northern KZN" Rosie said......"my cousin's mother in law is an Ndlovu," she added.
"We'll ask," they assured her. And ASK they did.
When a neatly dressed Mildred Ndlovu appeared at the back door of Mrs McGinty's house one day she was only surprised that she had been discovered a neighbourhood away and in only eight days!
"Yes, I worked there when they had money to pay me and I remember that poor missus. She was in a terrible car accident and was 'dead' for a long long time....in the hospital.....but then she come back alive, but she never came back home. The little boy was alive but his daddy was all the time drunk and he went away.........but I was gone because there was no paying me and I don't know what happened about the baby. Was he called Alvin? No, I don't know that for sure. But yes for sure I knew he was there...........the old lady before she died looked after him."
"Now Mildred think very carefully and tell me if you remember the mother's name?" Mrs McGinty asked not wanting to put any ideas in her mind. "Do you remember anything?"
Mildred smiled wryly and wrinkled her nose, " I do remember that I heard people, so many in that house, saying a name like 'Melly' and I remembered because my sister she also calls me Milly sometimes....when she wants money," she added darkly. "Have I helped you ma'm" she asked politely as she accepted a parcel of food and a coat that Mrs McGinty thought she would like. "Yes, indeed you have Mildred," replied the old lady delighted with the way her investigation was proceeding. ''Now don't you be a stranger, come and visit again for some tea."
With the help of her lawyer friend she sent a letter to the magazine offices of The Inquirer and a week later she had a phone call from the said Melinda Leigh McDougall.
'''Oh my word," she gasped, "yes, certainly I can come to see you. I vaguely remember the neighbourhood. Yes, I'll see you this evening at 7."
And so Alvin's mother was found.......brought back from the dead as it were.
"My son............." she gasped, her face losing all its colour, " My son? My boy Ally?" tears began to cascade down her face. Her mouth made an ugly shape as she sobbed on Mrs McGinty's shoulder, wetting it thoroughly. "And he's been alive all this time.............." she moaned in a deep voice that expressed years of pain. Mrs McGinty remembered how Alvin had keened for his long lost mother when he had been abandoned in that long ago ghost house.
"I was unconscious for weeks after that car smash I was in," she said amidst hiccups and sniffs and blowing her nose. "when eventually I came around I fell into a black depression and I went into a psychiatric facility for almost a year. My husband visited me once and disappeared. The police told me several years later that he had died of an overdose....drugs and booze." She burst into fresh tears, " I had only the vaguest of recollections of having had a baby, the depression was totally consuming and the drugs rendered me a zombie. The message from my husband was that he he had died........and to think I simply accepted that." She shook her head sadly. "I think that in my depression I think I deserved to be punished."
Gradually over several cups of tea and a small glass of pick me up sherry Mrs McGinty was able to comfort Melinda with a brief history of his adoption by her best friends Jenny and Clive Allers. Sitting on the edge of her chair she whispered, "do you think they will let me see him? Get to know him?"
"They are the most loving, generous people on the planet and I just know that they are going to welcome you into their family. And they have brought up your boy to be the same," she said kindly. "Leave it to me and we will get a meeting set up.
So the day circled back to the day when Mrs McGinty was looking eagle eyed through her lace curtains watching as the photographer arranged this small group of people for an untypical family photograph. She had exclaimed out loud to Freddy her Fox terrier that, wonder of wonders something good, indeed VERY GOOD had indeed come out of the McDougall household. That ghost house that had been refurbished years before. this family was made whole at long last.
There they were, all 5 of them in a family photograph celebrating the fact that Alvin McDougall Allers was head boy of St Anthony's school. That was the official reason for the photo shoot but unofficially is was a welcome to the family for Melinda Leigh..... Alvin, his biological mother directly behind him and his adoptive parents on either side with his siblings in front.
Their eyes, shiny with unshed tears, smiles stretching from ear to ear, said it all.
"Now we truly have brought Alvin full circle," thought Jenny happily as she tossed back her hair and turned to look at the woman who had given them the remarkable gifted of remarkable boy.
Their eyes met and the love that they both felt for their son cemented a relationship that though still new had deep roots and huge potential.
"Say 'head boy'," said the photographer, and predictably the happy family burst out laughing, captured forever celebrating new beginnings.