Authors: Dorothy Koomson
That Girl From Nowhere
Clemency Smittson was adopted as a baby and the only connection she has to her birth mother is a cardboard box hand-decorated with butterflies. Now an adult, Clem decides to make a drastic life change and move to Brighton, where she was born. Clem has no idea that while there she’ll meet someone who knows all about her butterfly box and what happened to her birth parents.
As the tangled truths about her adoption and childhood start to unravel, a series of shocking events cause Clem to reassess whether the price of having contact with her birth family could be too high to pay ...
Dorothy Koomson is the author of nine novels including
The Chocolate Run, Marshmallows For Breakfast, The Woman He Loved Before
The Flavours of Love
. She’s been making up stories since she was thirteen when she used to share her stories with her convent school friends.
Dorothy’s first novel,
The Cupid Effect
, was published in 2003 (when she was quite a bit older than thirteen). Her third book,
My Best Friend’s Girl
, was selected for the Richard & Judy Summer Reads of 2006, and her novels
The Ice Cream Girls
The Rose Petal Beach
were both shortlisted for the popular fiction category of the British Book Awards in 2010 and 2013, respectively.
Dorothy’s novels have been translated into more than thirty languages, and a TV adaptation loosely based on
The Ice Cream Girls
was first shown on ITV1 in 2013. After living in Sydney, Australia, for two years, Dorothy returned to England and now lives in Brighton. Well, Hove, actually.
While writing this book, Dorothy developed a bit of a penchant for making jewellery, drinking coffee and taking photos with a real camera.
For more information on Dorothy Koomson and her novels, including
That Girl From Nowhere,
This book is dedicated, with love, to my dad –
sometimes disapproving but
I’ve decided to say my thanks with KISSES (
imple). So …
to my gorgeous family who are everything
to me to Ant and James, my wonderful agents
to all the fantastic people at my publishers, Cornerstone (especially Susan, Jenny G, Gillian, Jen D, Richard, Charlotte, Natalie, Rebecca, Aslan)
to Emma D and Sophie, my great publicists.
A special thank you goes to those who helped with my research, particularly Sarah Marshall and Chris Manby, who also provided brilliant long chats as well as info.
And to E, G & M – thank you for being so amazing in every way. I love you.
As always, I would like to say thank you to you, the reader, for buying this book.
‘You will help me, won’t you?’ she asks.
‘If I can,’ I reply. I wonder what she thinks someone she has just met will be able to help her do when she has a whole family down the hall in the living room who are at her beck and call. ‘What is it you want help with?’
This woman, my grandmother, who has only really been in my life for the past hour, fixes me with a gaze that is determined and a little frightening; woven through with strands of defiance. Maybe I was mistaken; maybe those outside this room aren’t as devoted and loving as I thought. Whatever it is that she wants to do is clearly something they’re unlikely to agree to. She says nothing for a time, and the longer she stares at me with her brown eyes, the colour dimmed by age, the more a feeling of dread meanders outwards from the pit of my stomach. I should not be sitting here having this conversation with this woman. I should have brought her back here and left her to it. The longer I sit here, the longer things are going to go wrong for me.
Eventually, so eventually I thought she was planning on remaining silent, she speaks. Cautiously, haltingly, she says: ‘My time has come. I am too old … too sick … too tired to carry on in this world.’ She pauses but her eyes continue to drill into me. ‘My time has come. I want … I want to leave this Earth. I need you to help me.’
‘Miss Smittson, it’s good to see you again.’
‘You, too, Mr Wallace,’ I reply. I smile at him and shove my hands into the pockets of my combat trousers to avoid having to shake hands with him. I’ve met him twice before – both times I’ve had to do it and both times his hand has been hot and clammy. The images of what he could have done to get it that way were a horror movie that played constantly through my head.
Mr Wallace, in a shabby, too-tight black suit, offers me his hand to shake. I hesitate. The rest of him seems dry and normal, I wonder if he’d accept a hug instead? It would get me out of touching his hand without seeming rude and it’d be altogether better for my mental health. He pulls a smile across his face, sticks his hand out a little bit further. Defeated, I offer up my hand to be encased in his moist, sweaty palm. The touch of him sends a shudder through me and I can’t take my hand away fast enough, but not too fast in case he notices and his feelings are hurt. Maybe he can’t help being sweaty-palmed, maybe he has a condition and it’s not his fault. Maybe the horror movie in my head has got it all wrong and he doesn’t do unsavoury things in his car before he meets clients.
Mr Wallace’s attention strays to the older woman with wavy brown, grey-streaked hair who stands silently beside me. He smiles curiously at us both, waiting for an introduction.
Mum has obviously noticed how reluctant I was to shake the estate agent’s hand so has taken to holding her bag in both hands, rendering them incapable of being shaken when I do the introductions.
‘Mr Wallace, this is my mother, Heather Smittson,’ I say. ‘Mum, this is the estate agent who’s dealing with renting the flat.’
Immediately, Mr Wallace’s face does
. ‘That thing’ most people who don’t know my family do: he double-takes, then rapidly moves his gaze from one of us to the other, wondering why the visuals don’t match the words. After the staring comes the perplexed, suspicious frown and, right on cue, Mr Wallace’s confusion develops on his face until he is frowning very hard indeed at us.
We’re in the car park of a beautiful, reddish-yellow-brick, art deco block of flats on Hove seafront. This is going to be my new home, the place for my fresh start. Everything bad is three hundred miles away and in that place called ‘the past’ while everything good is here, and about to happen in that shiny new destination called ‘the future’.
Except little snags like this, a man who is nearer to Mum’s age than mine, giving us his version of Paddington Bear’s hard stare because he doesn’t understand why Mum is my mother and why I am her daughter. To him, it surely shouldn’t be possible.
Mum suddenly needs something from her handbag, and she pops the black leather rectangle open and starts to ferret furiously through it. Clearly what she is searching for is so important the world might end if she doesn’t find it RIGHT NOW. What she is actually doing is her version of ‘Lalalalalala not happening’, which she does every time she might need to explain our situation. If the handbag thing doesn’t work, she’ll simply wander off, pretending that she doesn’t know we’re in the middle of a conversation.
With Mum making it clear with every root through her meticulously organised bag that she isn’t going to be forthcoming, Mr Wallace returns to me. It’s now my job to explain. I’m supposed to say, ‘I’m adopted’. To let him know that Mum and Dad did the whole white parents taking on black children thing well before various celebs made it fashionable. He stares at me, I stare at him – he wants answers to his unasked questions, I’m not giving them. I haven’t got the energy.
As if someone On High knows I need rescuing, Mr Wallace’s left, inside breast pocket begins to vibrate before the tinny, tiny sound of ‘YMCA’ joins it. ‘Oh, excuse me,’ he says and reaches for it. He checks the screen, grimaces, struggles with himself. ‘I’m sorry, I have to get this. It’s an emergency waiting to happen. Do you mind?’ He’s pressed the answer button and put it to his ear before I even have a chance to react. He wanders away from us, heading across the promenade and towards the blue-green railings that separate land from sea.