Maria Franceschi, 48, sat in her luxurious café in Beijing. She looked into the skyscrapers that had covered the sky of the city. Thinking of learning some words in Chinese, she installed a language app on her phone.
“There is a post for you in our New York office,” Jane, her secretary, said. “Because they’ve marked it as confidential, I advised them to ship it to Beijing.”
“Confidential? Okay, thank you, you’re such a proactive person,” Maria said.
“You can use this new app in Mandarin. It shows written pronunciation too,” Jane said.
“Did you enjoy your stay in London or Hamburg?” Maria asked.
“I guess, both,” Jane replied.
They stood and took their belongings and had a walk for a few minutes.
Maria said she would like to see the outskirts of Beijing. Jane agreed. On the way, they talked about some new ideas. One idea was adding digital notebooks to the list of their manual ones.
“I never knew that these cafes would be worth as much as our notebook business,” Maria said. “I wish my Dad didn’t leave us. I wish I didn’t lose contact with my Mom.”
Jane was silent for a few minutes.
They were on a cruise in the waters of Beijing City. The weather was smoky and dusty. After a few minutes, they walked inside the cruise’s hallway to order some drinks.
“Please, Ma’am, try not to think about the past events. The doctor advised you to make yourself busy with the present moment and let the past remain in the past,” Jane said.
They grabbed the drinks and talked about the new prospects of their notebook printing business. The cruise was so crowded and loud that they couldn’t hear each other. Although they were close to each other, they had to shout.
As it became darker, Maria suggested they go to the Citi Hotel — a five-star hotel at Beijing’s center. They called the driver. He took them to the hotel.
While talking to Jane, Mary received a text message from an unknown number: “Hi! Did you open the parcel?” the text message said. She became a bit worried and asked Jane to google the country code of this number. “Italy, Ma’am,” she responded.
“Who sent me a confidential parcel from Italy? I have no one left there,” she murmured with herself.
Pondering about the content of the message, she arrived at the hotel. She ran and took the elevator.
“Is everything alright, Ma’am?” Jane asked. “I need to check this number,” Maria said. “I will be in the lounge soon. See you.”
Maria went to her room and took a small black notebook from her bag. She went through all the numbers and information in the notebook.
The notebook was four years old, but it looked like she bought it yesterday. A smooth black rubber covered its top, and a thin layer of moleskin covered its upper and surrounding parts. She didn’t buy it because she produced such notebooks through her own company. She established the Small Black Notebook LLC in 1997 to keep the dreams of her Mom and Dad alive.
After going through the notebook, she found out that the number belonged to her paternal uncle Mario. She was in awe. She dialed the number, but they didn’t respond.
She was under a lot of pressure and called Jane for help. “You remember telling me about the parcel that is on the way from New York,” Maria said. “Where is it now?”
Jane called the New York office and advised one of her subordinates to update them about that confidential parcel’s whereabouts.
“They will deliver it by 9:00 a.m. Beijing time,” the secretary said.
“9:00 a.m.!” Maria said. “I can’t wait. They’re not picking up the phone either.”
Throughout the night, Maria neither slept nor ate anything. The more she thought about the text and the parcel in New York, the more it worried her.
She believed it gave her some clue about her Mom’s whereabouts. She lost her three years ago in 1994, in Rome.
It was 7:00 a.m. Maria received another text from the same number, “Write ‘received’ or ‘not received,’” the text appeared.
She called the number, but there was no response again.
She told Jane to make sure the parcel that was delivered, did not have any explosive material. For that, they called the hotel security team and asked for further advice.
“No worries, madam, they undergo comprehensive airport check,” the hotel’s security personnel said. “I can open the parcel for you when they bring it.”
It was 8:45 a.m. The last fifteen minutes went like fifteen hours. It was 9:00 a.m., but they did not deliver the parcel. Maria was more upset and worried.
Around 9:11 a.m., the mail carrier did the delivery. The security person took and opened it. Upon opening it, Maria saw her Mom’s photos that the security guy took out of the parcel.
“OMG! Mom, I knew it! I knew it! You’re alive,” she screamed out loud. “Thank God my Mom is alive. I can’t believe this.”
Jane thanked the security person. He went away but didn’t get any clue about what he saw. Jane was also a bit surprised to see the reaction of Maria after opening the parcel.
She took the parcel and went to Maria’s room. Maria held her Mom’s photos in her hands. Her eyes were full of tears. Jane touched the other two envelopes inside the parcel.
They were super thick, as if her Mom or the person who had sent the parcel had sent some physical goods too.
“Let me open it. Kindly sit down, Ma’am,” Jane said.
They opened the first envelope. It contained a bundle of money wrapped with paper. In a piece of hand-written paper glued at the top of the envelope, it read “$20,000.”
The second envelope contained a short piece of note: “My lovely Maria, I promised to make $20,000 available to you before I die. I hid in the suburbs of Venice and pledged myself that I wouldn’t show you my face until I make your dream true. Now you can establish your notebook business.”
Maria was in total despair. She moved her hands to make sure she is not asleep. After grabbing the phone, she dialed the number, but there was still no answer. She replied to the message and wrote, “I received the parcel. Please, Mom, pick the phone up!”
Maria fell to the ground, unconscious.
Jane called the hotel reception and asked for an emergency number. The girl in reception called the emergency number, and they took Maria to the hospital.
After a few minutes, she felt better, but the doctor advised her to stay until evening.
In the meantime, Maria told Jane to cancel their New York flight, which was on the weekend, and instead book a trip to Venice.
“But you don’t know the whereabouts. Is your Mom in Venice or somewhere else in Italy?” Jane asked.
“They texted me she is with us,” Maria said.
“With us?” Jane asked.
“With my paternal uncle who lives in the suburbs of Venice,” Maria said.
The next day they were on the plane, departing to Dubai and then to Venice so that Maria unites with her Mom after three years. On the plane, she asked Jane to turn her laptop on. She drafted some emails to the police authorities in Europe and the US, telling them she has found her Mom.
“The time went faster, unlike the other day,” Maria said.
“Yeah, that’s the bad thing about time. When you’re sad, it’s different. When you’re happy, it’s different,” Jane said.
Upon arrival, Maria’s relatives and her Mom received her at the terminal. Maria cuddled her Mom for over five minutes and screamed.
“Why did you do this Mom, why?” Maria asked. She repeated this sentence tens of times and continued to cry.
They went to the house of Maria’s paternal uncle. She did not know about her uncle as she left Italy when she lost her Mom on Christmas Eve of 1994.
Maria asked Jane to bring the parcel. Jane got it and took out the $20,000. She kissed her Mom’s hands and gave her the money back. “You know, Mom, I fulfilled the dream of my Dad. I founded the Small Black Notebook LLC and also used my Dad’s moleskin textures in these notebooks,” she said.
“How did you earn money? Did you sell yourself?”
“No, Mom, I sold not myself but my ideas. I didn’t get any loans. I received a grant from a company that needed fresh ideas. That’s how I pitched this. They collaborated with me.”
She took her small black notebook and gave it to her Mom. “This is my company, Mom,” she said. “We sell these notebooks in over 46 countries around the world.”
“God, I thank you for giving me my daughter back. I thank you for letting her dream and her Dad’s dream come true. Thank you for helping me find her address and phone number,” her Mom said. “Thank you, Mario. It would have been an impossible task without your efforts.”
Maria asked Jane to send an amount of $20,000 from her bank account to any charity foundation around the world.
“Take this money too, my daughter,” Maria’s Mom said. “No, no, Mom,” Maria said. “My money is also your money. Or do you think I am not your Maria?” she burst into laughter and cuddled her Mom.
Maria told Jane to discuss the cost and timetable for establishing a café in Venice, Italy, with the planning team. “I don’t want to leave my Mom alone again in my lifetime,” she said.
“Accept me as your sister too,” Jane laughed. “I want to stay here and discover the wonders of Venice for months.”
“You’re my daughter, Jane,” Maria’s Mom said. “I didn’t have one daughter with me two days ago, but now I have got two.”
They laughed and went to the dining room because Maria’s uncle had cooked an Italian pizza as big as a snooker board. It was not round but rectangular.
“You know, Maria! Your Mom sold her jewelry. She even sold her wedding ring. I had some money too. That’s how we established Mario Pepperoni,” Maria’s paternal uncle, Mario, said. “She said that once our profit exceeded $20,000, inform me.”
Maria started crying.
Her Mom said that she would tell her about everything she did for her during these three years. “I knew it would be much easier for me to find you,” her Mom said. “That’s because I would go to the police and say: Hey! I was reportedly ‘lost’ in 1994, but I came to my relatives in Venice … Well, I tell them everything.”
“I searched your name over the internet, Maria,” Mario said. “And your photo appeared. Your Mom was super excited. And then everything worked like a domino effect, you know.”
“[C]reate a fiction story about someone who unexpectedly comes into $20,000. Whether it involves a mysterious inheritance, a lotto win, or random circumstance, the details are entirely up to you — the only requirement is that at some point in your narrative, whether it’s a major plot point or a minor detail, your story must include a small black notebook.”
“Grand prize: $20,000
Second place: $5,000
Third place: $1,000.”
“Plus, ten runner ups will receive a year of Vocal+ membership for free (a $120 value).”
Originally published at https://vocal.media.