My great-grandmother’s only knowledge of her mother was a small boat carved from wood. On the boat were the words our darling always. But Great-Grandmother had never really been anyone’s darling. As an infant she’d been found in a basket on the steps of a hospital.

That hospital was in a port city. During the years she spent in the orphanage there Great Grandmother created a story of her impoverished parents stowing away on a dangerous voyage to a new world.

They loved me so much they would never risk taking me, she told herself. So they put the toy boat with me in the basket to show that, one day, they’d sail back.

Mum said Great Grandmother was still waiting for that boat to return to her, even on her deathbed. ‘Perhaps that’s what death looked like to her,’ Mum said. ‘That funny little boat coming into port at last.’

And then, because it was my fifteenth birthday, Mum handed me a tiny package. I unwrapped the tissue paper and read our darling always for myself as I cradled Great Grandmother’s boat in my cupped hands.

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