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May 2021, Basel (Switzerland)

“Maria*, how did you find part of your family again after 27 years?”

Maria stood at the window of her hotel room in Cardiff, glancing outside every minute, then looking back at her cell phone. She was expecting a text message. Her boyfriend sat on the bed. He seemed less nervous, so she was glad to have him with her.
“Shall we wait downstairs at the entrance?” she asked him. “He should have texted by now.”
Waiting like this was driving her crazy. She had been waiting for years, and now the moment had come when they would finally see each other.

What would her father say to that? It had been 3 years since Maria stood in the office of her boss, the senior doctor, and showed him the results of the X-ray. She trusted him, because he always found the right words.
“Yes, you’re right,” he finally said to her. “But check in with the family doctor first, okay?”
She didn’t answer, it was a feeling she couldn’t define. Since her childhood, Maria’s relationship to her father had been volatile. But despite all the challenges, she had really liked him.
“Come here,” the doctor said and took a step toward her, “it’s okay to cry.”
He took her in his arms, and the tears immediately started to flow. Her father had been diagnosed with a malignant tumor.

She can still see it in her mind’s eye … a few months later, when she walked across the snowy bridge in the morning. The city in front of her was silent and completely covered in white. The previous evening, her father had been driven to the hospital in an ambulance, and now she was relieved to know that he was taken care of. For the first time in a long while, she felt this relief. However, she wasn’t sure if this feeling was deceiving.
In the evening, her phone rang, “I’m sorry to tell you that your father’s condition has worsened.”
She rushed immediately back to her car, drove off, and turned on the radio to calm herself down. After a few minutes, something strange happened. A song was playing whose lyrics got under her skin. At that moment, she felt like she didn’t have to hurry anymore. She looked at the radio to see what song was playing and then looked at the clock: 8:35 pm. She didn’t believe in higher powers, but when she held the death certificate in her hands days later, the time of death was stated as 8:35 pm. She would never forget that shuddering moment; perhaps there had been an intensified connection between them after all.

Many years before that, she had learned a secret.
“Do what you want, but stop asking me about it”, her father had said one evening after she had been back home from visiting her grandmother. 12 years old at the time, she hadn’t yet known the significance of that new and uncovered piece of information, but after her father’s death, the desire to finally know the whole truth had grown stronger. That afternoon all these years ago, something had been revealed to her that should have remained a secret.
“That was the same year your brother was born”, her grandmother had said out of the blue as she was talking about the past.
“My brother?”, Maria had asked incredulously, as she had believed she was an only child.

So now she was here in Cardiff to meet her half-brother for the first time. Her boyfriend and she had decided not to wait any longer for the text message. When Maria stepped out on the hallway and glanced to the side, she startled. There he stood, the spitting image of her father. He even has the same way of walking as my father, she thought as they walked toward each other. Then they embraced each other. Maria appreciated how non-judgmental he was towards her. No accusations, no hurtful prejudices. He was only 5 days younger than her; her father had started an affair with another woman at that time, who eventually became Maria’s mother. The mother of Maria’s brother moved to Wales with her children after the separation from Maria’s father, the contact to Switzerland broke off.

Maria’s relatives had known about her brother, Maria confronted them about it, but at the same time tried not to blame them. She wanted to understand the reasons, and if she couldn’t, she at least wanted to be able to accept it. Why this secrecy that divided her family? Her anger was directed mainly at her parents, because Maria had always wanted siblings. Her father had denied many things, and it was important for Maria to stop this vicious cycle.

Two years after the first meeting, Maria invited her brother to her wedding in Switzerland so he could meet the rest of her family, whom he hadn’t seen since he was two years old. She worried about which table he should sit at for dinner. She worried about what it would be like when he met her uncle.
At the wedding ceremony, she kept glancing toward the bench where her brother sat, but she found nothing that could have made her uncomfortable. Instead, he smiled at her.
On the night of the wedding, the DJ made a mistake, because he asked Maria’s father to dance with his daughter. In the end, it was her brother, though, who danced with her. He had never been in contact with their father, because it was only after his death that Maria had gone searching for him and had continued to do so despite her family’s concerns. Now, she still couldn’t really believe that she wasn’t an only child after all. Besides her brother, she also had a sister. How glad she is today to have persisted in her search.
In the end everything went well, and Maria’s uncle proudly patted her on the shoulder after the wedding.

For a long time, Maria had assumed that the 3 siblings had only seen each other for the first time in adulthood. But that wasn’t the case. One day, when Maria was looking through her grandmother’s dusty cupboards, she found a photo showing Maria with her 2 siblings when they were very little. But today no one can remember what it was actually like. Not even Maria’s grandmother. Because when her brother stood in front of his grandmother again after so many years and held her hand, she could no longer speak. It had been her, after all, who had revealed his existence to Maria many years ago. But now the dementia was already too far advanced. Presumably, however, she recognized her grandson, because he is the spitting image of his father.