All her life, Kamila had wanted to find her birth family. She hoped that retirement would give her the much needed time but a prognosis of incurable cancer put paid to that. They say curiosity kills the cat but not in Kamila’s case – it keeps her alive. As her own future shuts down, the past, that she had half-heartedly researched until she realizes that death is imminent, begins to open up. She discovers that her parents come from Switzerland and India. And that’s just the beginning…
This is the story of one woman’s quest for her origins – and some of the unexpected insights that lit up her path.
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Being born under a gooseberry bush is what English parents told their children in answer to the question ‘Where am I from?’ I come from a family of four adopted children. Here I describe coming home to my new family. Ellen, my sister, tells how she first saw me in the children’s home before I was adopted.
I was born under a gooseberry bush on Hampstead Heath. Patrick came into being underneath the clock at Waterloo Station. Ellen’s first few months were spent on a circular journey travelling, somewhat unnecessarily, from London to Birmingham and back again. And I never got to hear about Tim. This is our story.
In 1952, I crawled out from under a gooseberry bush onto my new father’s lap, bouncing and chuckling. I was a lively brown-eyed baby with wisps of blue-black hair, enjoying all the attention from a trio of women sitting opposite on our Tube journey home. My father was a handsome thirty-two-year-old with an unruly cow’s lick. It was the longest journey I’d ever made, from north London to Bickley in Kent where my new family waited. At Victoria we changed onto a steam train hissing away which must have been startling for six-month old me. The train left whistling with a high pitched ‘wooo’, and once it got going the wheels made a repetitive sound as if they were saying, ‘You’re going home. You’re going home’.
Ellen, my sister, recalls how she first heard about me. Although she was only five at the time, she remembers quite a lot.
‘There was something in the air at home. The parents were talking about a new baby. Would you be a boy or girl? We went to your nursery in Highbury. I don’t think Tim and Patrick came with us. The parents went to the ward to look at you and left me playing with this wonderful metal horse which you could sit on. When they brought me to the ward I didn’t want to see you as I was more interested in playing with the horse.’
About Kamila Zahno
Living in north London with her cat, Kamila Zahno has enjoyed a long career working as a consultant for local and central government, as well as the voluntary sector, researching and evaluating socio-economic policy.
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