"I saw my mommy walking to the court with a hoodie on and a scarf covering her face. She looked almost like someone that was poor. People were cursing at her … and that broke me. This is the woman who was there for me every day, making lunch for me and my friends when we came from school, and now here she is on television being called a criminal." The kidnapping of baby Zephany Nurse from the cot beside her mother’s hospital bed made headline news. Desperate pleas from her parents to return her safely went unanswered. For seventeen years, on her birthday, the Nurses lit candles and hoped and prayed. Living not far away from the Nurses, 17-year-old Miché Solomon had just started Matric. She had a boyfriend. She had devoted parents. She was thinking about the upcoming school dance and the dress her mother was going to make for her. She had no idea that a new girl at her school, who bore an uncanny resemblance to her, and a DNA test, would shake her world to its foundations. Miché is now 22. This is her story – for the first time – in her own words. Told with astonishing maturity, honesty and compassion, it is also a story of what it means to love and be loved, and of claiming your identity.
This is an extract is taken from Zephany by Joanne Jowell published by Tafelberg. The book retails at R260.
The DNA results were out. Leanna cried, Marshionette cried. I was quiet.
After a few minutes, they said, “Your parents would like to meet you.”
My parents. But I already have parents. I know my parents. Oh, they mean Zephany’s parents.
I’d already met Morné – that time at McDonald’s – so I had an idea of him. But I also felt that maybe I should give these people a chance; they didn’t deserve what happened to them – I mean, I was stolen and things could have been different today.
So I said, “Okay, I’ll meet them.” I was a brave-heart outside, but angry and disturbed inside. In just over 24 hours, my whole world had changed.
We went to Bellville police station, to one of the rooms. It was quite big in there. I grabbed hold of Marshionette; I just wanted her to be with me the whole time because she was my support. She’d say, “How are you feeling? It’s going to be okay.” I told her I was fine, but inside I felt like, What the heck is happening? What am I supposed to do now?
I tried not to give it too much thought, I was just basically going with it. I told myself that I’d figure it out afterwards.
When Miché saw Celeste, Miché was just clinging to me, sitting tight. She didn’t even want to meet them alone at first. She told me: “I don’t know those people. You sit here the whole time with me, please.”
Celeste came into the room and Miché said to me, “This can’t be my mom, there’s something wrong, she’s too young; she looks like a child.” Celeste was looking so nice, dressed like a young person; beautiful, I must say. And then they introduced themselves and started to talk. It was a bizarre situation. I think Celeste was on her nerves; she couldn’t stop giggling. She was like a child, just as Miché said.
Celeste and Morné walked into the room. They cried when they saw me and hugged me. I hugged back but I felt nothing, absolutely nothing. It probably showed on my face. No, I’m wrong – I didn’t feel nothing. What I really felt, and wished I could say was: No, no, take me home, take me to my family, I need my family – I don’t need you people right now, I’m just doing it out of respect because it’s the least you guys deserve. I could have isolated myself from everyone, not met the Nurses, not had anything to do with them. But I was willing to just give them a chance to see what I’m about. They deserve it, they do deserve it.
Celeste was crying and holding me and I’m telling myself, Just go with it, just go with it, just go with it.
We went into a room alone and they spoke. They were very happy, they couldn’t stop crying. I asked if Cassidy was at school, but I couldn’t think of much else to ask. I just had to pretend to be fine, to be excited even.
Today I can tell you that the reason I felt I had to pretend like that is because it’s my mother who did that to them, who caused them so much pain. As her daughter, as the child she raised, I must show how she raised me, because that will show the type of person she really is.
So if my mother did that to the Nurses, then at least I can show them that she also raised a decent daughter. I thought: I don’t expect you to forgive her, but as a daughter I can at least show you she is probably sorry for what she has done, and this is the least I can do.
If, by looking at me, the Nurses only saw the bad that Lavona has done by stealing me, then I myself can represent the good that Lavona has done by raising me.
I remember I phoned Cassidy – they said she was in the school office because apparently the teachers at school were also waiting for the news. I told her, “Hey, I am your sister” She was so excited: “Oh my God! Oh my God! I can’t believe it! I can’t believe it!” She started crying and just switched the phone off.
At that point I told Marshionette that I needed to go to the bathroom. I didn’t really need to, but I had to get out of there. Outside the room, Marshionette asked how I was feeling. And I said: “I want my mommy and my daddy and I want my family; I don’t want these people right now. But out of respect and how my mom has raised me, I’m not going to push them away. Also, I feel sorry for them, for what they had to go through and what they missed out on.”
I was already trying to teach myself to think of someone else: Come on, Miché, it’s not about you anymore, you-you-you
I’m still learning that.
After the meeting, Marshionette asked: “What do you think of your mommy, like your biological mom?”
So I said, “I can’t say much because I feel absolutely nothing.
The only thing I feel is, Ag shame – this is the least I can do. Don’t pressure me to feel more than what I’m feeling right now. Let me just live with it – at least I’m giving partly, I’m not stepping back.’
And then they asked me, “Do you want to see your dad – Michael? He’s in the parking area.’
I replied – and this hurts me up until today – “No. I don’t want to see him. I don’t want to see any of them. I don’t want to see anyone.”
How could I have said no to seeing him? He must have felt so alone.
But I didn’t know if he had been involved, or what he knew. I just didn’t know then what I know now. They told him, “Miché doesn’t want to see you.” Can you imagine how that must have stung? He probably thought: She’s got her parents, she doesn’t need me anymore – what am I? I’m of no use now.
That afternoon, after Morné and Celeste left, we went back to Marshionette’s. I remember my brother called. I didn’t have my phone back, but Marshionette had the numbers of my dad, my brother and my boyfriend. Those were the only three people I could speak to.
More than anything, I felt like I was the one who was hurt, that everyone did me wrong. Okay, my mother stole me. Now how do I approach my old family – knowing you’re not my real aunty anymore, you’re not my real cousin. How am I going to call you Daddy if you are not my real daddy? How is the family going to see me? How am I going to see them?
* About the author
With an academic background in English and Psychology, Joanne Jowell began writing professionally at age 28. Her first book, Managing the Quarterlife Crisis: Facing life’s choices in your 20s and 30s, was published in 2003. Jowell lives between the mountain and the sea in Cape Town with her husband and three children. Zephany is her sixth book.