The Misunderstood Name

A white envelope rested on Mary’s desk and she stared at it all day long. On its front, ‘Marieke Augusta’ was written. She would have to ask her mother if they were related to anyone named Marieke. Mary knew her mother’s name was Maxine. There was no one in the house with that name, and yet there was the envelope addressed to her, from her teacher Ms. Hillis. Briefly she considered returning the envelope to Ms. Hillis, saying she gave it to the wrong student but was overcome by the curiosity of what the envelope contained. Maybe she’d ask Lily about it, she always had the answers their parents couldn’t express in the sign language they tried to learn. Lily would tell her who Marieke Augusta was. The name sounded nice with their family surname. Maybe Marieke Augusta was a nice woman related to them who lived in a land far away, and Ms. Hillis had been teaching for years, she could have had Marieke as a student a long time ago. With too many questions to simply leave unanswered, Mary stuffed the envelope into her backpack and hoped Ms. Hillis would not realize it was a mistake and ask for it back.

The rest of the day, Mary’s image of this Marieke Augusta became bigger as she added details, features, and stories of far away adventures to the name neatly printed on the envelope just out of sight in her backpack. The day stretched on, of course, and time seemed unable to pass by any slower. She couldn’t wait to know this woman. Maybe Marieke was an aunt, or sister, that was exiled from the family, or she left them for bigger adventures than the desert that surrounded them. She could understand why anyone would want to leave the desert before they were swallowed up, like Julien Arden who got caught outside during a sand storm. What she couldn’t understand was why Ms. Hillis would be writing to this mysterious woman. Now Mary wanted to meet the worldly woman who ran away from the desert and their family.

Finally, it was time to go home. Mary stood at the front, searching for Lily before heading home. Her older sister always took her time, chattering with peers so she stood patiently in the air conditioned hallway. Still the name burned, she had to know who Marieke was. Was she the oldest sister, instead of Lily, or their father’s sister? Crazier conclusions popped up until she eventually fabricated a story that Marieke was a secret lover of their father, that met only when he was out driving his truck through borders. However, there was only one way to know. Lily’s jet black hair appeared in Mary’s perphecial vision and they were ready to face the desert heat. Mary didn’t want to wait until they were home so she asked Lily, spelling out the name instead of showing the envelope, she was afraid she would drop it or the temptation to open the envelope became too irresistible. Lily stared at her with an unbelieving expression and she did what Mary least expected. She laughed, the kind of laugh that left her breathless, but still unable to stop. The laughter continued everytime Lily looked over at her younger sister. What is so funny? Mary wanted to slap Lily and demand to know why she was laughing as if Mary was a moron. She sulked the rest of the way home, next to her laughing sister and said nothing more, staring ahead of her towards the horizon. She would ask Mother instead.

Too her mother stared at her when Mary showed the envelope and asked who Marieke Augusta was. She did not laugh like Lily, but still Mary felt patronized. She pointed at Mary. I’m Marieke? Dumbfounded, Mary tried to remember if she saw the name before. She didn’t, but Mother took out a formal looking paper and showed her it was her birth certificate, with her birthday and the names of her parents. She was indeed Marieke Augusta, she was not some woman who escaped the desert a long time ago. Now she saw why Lily laughed so at her, she bitterly bit her lip. Never had she felt so stupid, no one ever told her, always calling her Mary. Why would she not know her own real name? Why would they not tell her? The more she thought about it, the more she hated being deaf in a hearing family. She wasn’t important enough to be told her true identity. But it didn’t matter. She was Mary Augusta, the girl who would escape the desert.

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