EDITOR’S NOTE: Baptist Press today continues a 12-part serialization of the novel, “A Scent of Jasmine,” by David Dockery, a member of Pocahontas Baptist Church near Jackson, Miss.
The first day in the hospital was especially lonely for Stephanie. Stephanie’s room was very large for a single-patient room and had a nice window view of a field of green rye grass with scattered pine trees. Dr. Ward had arranged for the very best of accommodations, but Stephanie felt all the more alone in such a big empty space.
Friends from the newspaper came and went during her chemotherapy treatment. All seemed to be busy and in a hurry. With no close family members, Stephanie feared the evening hours the most. Now it was five o’clock, and Stephanie was alone in her room.
“Surprise!” Gail burst through the door with a potted plant. She placed it on a shelf opposite Stephanie’s bed. “I’ll be here to water it every day.”
“What about your job? Shouldn’t you be at work now?”
“I got off early today. We were shorthanded, but Mayor Hardman called the bank and asked to see me in his office. When I got there, he went on and on about how he wanted to help with Johnny’s scholarship fund. He didn’t come out and say it, but I think he wants my job as director. I’ve already formed a scholarship committee and planned a meeting for this evening. The mayor talked so long that I came here rather than returning to work. I’m sure the bank will take the time out of my paycheck, and it’s not like I get paid much as a bank teller anyway.”
Gail hesitated. “Should I give Mayor Hardman the job? He is the mayor and could probably raise a lot more money for Johnny.”
“No!” Stephanie said emphatically. “For Mayor Hardman, it’s all about himself, not Johnny. The mayor wants to use Johnny to get more votes. His opponent in the last election was a friend of mine. He was an honest, hardworking man who used his own money rather than owing special interest groups. Hardman raised a lot of campaign money and bought a huge ad on election day. His campaign sticker was placed on the front page of every newspaper: VOTE HARDMAN FOR MAYOR. It read like an endorsement by the newspaper. I was so mad; I almost quit my job as a journalist.”
“I saw that ad.” Gail nodded. “Thanks for reminding me. I’ll keep my job. No more meetings with the mayor.”
Gail left for her committee meeting, and the room returned to its lonely state. The clock on the wall seemed to stand still until Stephanie heard a knock at the door.
“Stephanie, may we come in?” a cheery voice asked.
“Yes, come in.”
Mrs. Anderson entered. “I’ve come to have prayer with you, and I’ve brought some friends.”
Stephanie smiled at the sight of Mrs. Anderson, who had been her Sunday school teacher through her teenage years.
Following behind her were her daughter, Libby, and an African-American girl, whom Libby introduced as Tameka. Tameka was as strikingly beautiful as Libby and about the same height. Mrs. Anderson and the two girls gathered around Stephanie’s bed, joining hands with her for prayer.
After they prayed, Mrs. Anderson gave Stephanie a big hug. “Libby and Tameka wanted to come stay with you while Paul and I visited our church members in the hospital. When we got here, I sent Paul to make some visits alone so I could stay awhile. It has been too long since I’ve last seen you.”
“It has been a long time,” Stephanie agreed. “Please. Please sit down. This room feels so big and empty when I’m here alone.”
Stephanie sat up higher in the bed, trying to forget the IV needle in her arm. “Mrs. Anderson, it’s so thoughtful of you and Libby and Tameka to visit. My family is gone, and my friends use me as an excuse to leave work during the day. Only Gail Morris comes by after work hours.” Stephanie smiled at Libby’s friend. “It’s nice to meet you, Tameka.”
“Tameka’s my best friend,” Libby explained. “We have lots in common. We both like classical music, hate rap, love to read, and…we’re ALIVE sisters. We were both adopted from Dr. Ward’s clinic.”
Stephanie looked to Mrs. Anderson for a witness before speaking. “I’m glad that times have changed. When I was your age, I was harassed for having a black friend.”
Libby winced. “It’s still the same. A lot of the white girls resent that my best friend is black.”
“And,” Tameka added, “a lot of the black girls resent that my best friend is white.”
“Our friendship costs us something,” Libby said. “But that’s one reason it’s so special. We value our friendship enough to pay the price.”
Libby glanced at her mother. “Mama said that you were her favorite Sunday school student.”
“LIBBY! You know that we don’t have favorites.” Mrs. Anderson turned to Stephanie and winked. “But I did say that.”
“You were my favorite too,” Stephanie said, grinning. “Libby, your mother looped with our class. Each time we were promoted, she was promoted as our teacher. She could read us like a book. When we acted like we were better than other girls at our school, she challenged us to make friends with those who needed a friend. We did, and our class doubled in size. Your mother saw that we loved to gossip, so she taught us how to keep a secret. Each Sunday she told us a new riddle and gave us the answer. She posted the riddle on the church bulletin board and offered a $5 prize to anyone who gave the right answer. No one ever collected the prize, even though the other kids hounded us for the answer. None of our Sunday school class ever gave the answer away.”
“Tell us a riddle,” Tameka requested.
“It’s been a long time,” Stephanie stared out the window as she started reciting:
“Our family owned a circus,
And around the world we’d go.
My brother was born in a French Island town.
My parents named him Jacques Cousteau.
I was born where the shadow of the Matterhorn fell.
But my name I will never tell.”
Libby and Tameka whispered back and forth, starting with the place.
“The Swiss Alps.”
“Actually, the Swiss-Italian border.”
“But the shadow is north in Switzerland.”
“So he has a Swiss name. I don’t know any Swiss names, and he ‘will never tell.'”
“You do know a Swiss name. It’s the verbs!”
“OK,” Tameka concluded. “I was born where the Matterhorn’s shadow fell. So my parents named me William Tell.”
“How did you get that so quickly?” Stephanie asked. “None of us ever got it.”
“We grew up with mother’s riddles,” Libby explained. “Now we can read her like a book. Riddles were mom’s way of making social studies and geography interesting.”
“They solve my riddles so fast,” Mrs. Anderson added, “that it’s hardly worthwhile to make them up. You girls do your homework while I visit with Stephanie.”
Libby and Tameka retreated to a corner with their books.
“Stephanie,” Mrs. Anderson began, “Libby and I will be praying for you every morning and every evening and whenever God brings you to mind.”
“Thanks. I know I should be positive about my condition, but I’m really scared. Libby was a good friend to me when I got the bad news. I’m not sure I could have made it through that day without her.”
“Well, you were a good friend to Libby. Libby was thrilled when she told me that you were going to help find her biological mother.”
“Does it bother you that Libby is so interested in finding her biological mother?”
“No, I would like to meet the woman myself. After Libby gives her a hug, then it will be my turn. No one on earth has ever done more for me than the mother who gave birth to Libby. Libby is not just my daughter; she’s my best friend. Libby and I share our prayer times. We get up extra early in the morning for prayer and also have prayer before bed. We keep a journal to record our requests and thanksgivings. We’ve seen many things happen that could only be explained by God’s grace and answered prayer. Libby and I have prayed that she would meet her biological mother since Libby was seven years old. That adds up to seven years of praying. So please do your best in whatever you can do to find Libby’s biological mother. It will be a wonderful answer to prayer.”
“I did promise Libby I would help find her biological mother. But once I find her, I will need her permission to tell Libby. I can’t imagine that she would say no, especially after all of your prayers.”
“I’m sure that Libby’s mother will want to meet her,” Mrs. Anderson agreed. “Libby is really special. She has wisdom beyond her years. She is fiercely loyal, and she’s the most beautiful girl I’ve ever seen. She and Tameka could be the most popular girls at their school, but they have rejected the in-crowd to associate with other adopted children like themselves. Some uppity parents at Libby’s school told their children that adopted kids had bad genes inherited from their dysfunctional biological parents. Because of such talk, many of the adopted girls were shunned at school. That gave Libby and Tameka the idea of starting a sorority for adopted girls only. Now the ALIVE Sorority is so popular that girls are lying about being adopted just to join. We get complaints from their uppity parents all the time.”
Mrs. Anderson laughed as she recalled, “Last week one spiteful brother told his sister that she was adopted. Instead of being hurt by his comments, she gleefully called Libby to join ALIVE. Libby and Tameka have changed people’s attitudes about adoption in this town.”
“I would like to attend one of their meetings sometime. That would make a nice story for the paper. We’re always looking for good news. How many girls do they have?”
“They have seventy girls between the age of eight and fourteen.”
“Yes, and there are a large number of adopted girls about to turn eight who want to join. They meet in our church gym. Libby opens the meeting with the sorority prayer. She addresses their Heavenly Father and says, ‘We thank You,’ and the other girls shout ‘FOR LIFE!’ She says, ‘We thank You,’ and the girls shout ‘FOR JESUS!’ She says, ‘We thank You,’ and the girls shout, ‘FOR OUR FAMILIES!’ She says, ‘We thank You,’ and the girls shout, ‘FOR WAKING US UP TO SEE ANOTHER DAY!’ Then they cheer and throw confetti. It’s a great meeting and a lot of fun.”
“I never knew there were so many adopted children here.”
“The Ward Clinic has filled this town with adopted children,” Mrs. Anderson explained. “We have a lot of churches here, and the clinic selectively places children with families who attend church regularly. Some families have adopted several children from the clinic. A civil liberty organization threatened to sue the clinic for ‘discriminatory practices,’ but the clinic stayed the course. Dr. Ward called us personally about adopting Libby. It was a day I’ll always treasure.”
“Libby is a pretty name,” Stephanie noted. “Is it a family name?”
“No, Libby was Libby when we got her. The Ward Clinic names its children before they are born. They have a list of acceptable names. Dr. Ward believes a name can help or hurt a child, so they take no chances. The clinic does everything possible to make sure their children reach their full potential.”
Mrs. Anderson’s smile faded. “I do worry about Johnny Whitten. Dr. Ward made sure that Johnny’s aunt and uncle got custody of him after his parents died. But some Department of Human Services’ workers are doing their best to place Johnny in foster care. Most workers with DHS do a wonderful job, but some come to the agency with a political agenda. The workers handling Johnny’s case are demanding an unreasonably strict parental accountability from Johnny’s aunt and uncle. They treat Johnny like he’s a ward of the state rather than a member of the Whitten family. I’m afraid they plan to take Johnny from his Christian home and put him with a family that thinks like they do. Our church and the Ward Clinic have stopped them so far.”
Mrs. Anderson reluctantly bid Stephanie farewell to join her husband on their rounds to see church members. Libby and Tameka stayed to continue their homework. Not long after Mrs. Anderson’s departure, a rap on the door was followed by a male voice, “Stephanieeee.”
“Come in, Alex.”
“Hi. Oh, I see you have company.” His disappointment was obvious.
Alex was tall, with dark hair and brown eyes. He was handsome in appearance, and his casual attire was fashionable and expensive. His hair was combed and sprayed so that every hair was in place.
“These are my friends, Libby and Tameka. Libby and Tameka, this is Alex. He works with me at the paper.”
“Hi,” Libby and Tameka responded together, showing some reservation in their body language.
“I hear that Dr. Ward found a bone-marrow donor,” Alex said. “What luck! Who is it?”
“I wish I knew, but the donor wishes to remain anonymous.”
“That’s even better. Saves you all those thank-you letters.”
“Alex, I’d like to know my donor. He or she is like one in a quarter million. My donor is saving my life. Dr. Ward said there are no other possible matches on the donor list. This donor was my only chance.”
“Must be one of your cousins,” Alex suggested.
“It may be. I wish I were closer to my relatives. I don’t even know who all my cousins are.”
From that point Alex talked a clear streak about his work, about his plans, about his successes, and generally about himself. His next big story concerned government corruption; it would make some heads roll. The more he talked, the more agitated Libby’s face became. When Alex finished talking, he wished everyone good night and departed.
“Do you like that guy?” Libby raised her eyebrows.
“We date. Mostly he’s a friend and colleague from my work.”
Tameka nudged Libby before she could say more.
When Brother Anderson came to take Libby and Tameka home, Libby promised, “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“You don’t have to, Libby. I’ll be OK.”
“I don’t have to… I want to.”
“Libby takes after us,” Brother Anderson interrupted. “Visiting the sick is what we do. We’re real proud of Libby.”
“Aren’t you worried about Libby’s schoolwork?”
“I never worry about Libby’s schoolwork. She’s a straight-A student.”
Soon after Libby and Tameka left with Brother Anderson, an old friend stopped by for a visit. “Stephanie,” she called at the door.
“Phyllis, come in.”
“I’m glad to hear they found a donor for you. We can’t afford to lose one of our best writers.”
Phyllis Worth was president of the Mississippi chapter of a national women’s organization. She was prominent in legislative and judicial circles for the cause of women’s rights.
“Stephanie, I heard some news about you that I want to confirm. I understand you had an abortion at Dr. Ward’s clinic some fifteen years ago.”
“Who told you that?”
“Let’s just say it was someone at your work.”
“I won’t comment on that. It’s part of my personal life.”
“But personal experiences make the best stories.”
“This story is not just about me, and I don’t care to involve the other person. I have no right to do that.”
“Well, let me explain where I’m coming from. We have tried for years to support Dr. Ward in his right to perform abortions. He always refuses us. Personally, I hate the way Dr. Ward patronizes women. He should honor their right to choose rather than play God and talk them out of it. But everyone loves him. We need to make the connection between Dr. Ward’s good reputation and abortion rights. We think that your experience with Dr. Ward could help us with this.”
“I’m sorry, Phyllis. I’m afraid I can’t help you.”
“Think about it. If you change your mind, give me a call.”
Stephanie spent the night wondering who among her colleagues even knew about her abortion…much less would tell someone else about it. And she wondered if the news would make its way to Sonny’s parents or his sister. The thought of Sonny confronting her on the subject was unnerving.
Taken from “A Scent of Jasmine” by David Dockery (OakTara, www.oaktara.com). The entire novel is available from amazon.com, christianbook.com or barnesandnoble.com. Used by permission of the author and publisher. David Dockery is a Mississippi geologist and member of Pocahontas Baptist Church near Jackson. To read the first chapter of Baptist Press’ serialization of “A Scent of Jasmine” by David Dockery, go to http://www.bpnews.net/BPnews.asp?ID=34444. For subsequent chapters, go to BP’s “Search Stories” tab and search by date.