Chapter 43

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"You're all set, Mademoiselle Laurent," Stephanie said. "Nervous?" she asked, kindly.

Stephanie had just finished Maude's makeup, and they had talked a mile a minute as if they had known each other forever.

"A little," she admitted. "It's a good kind of nervous though. The rehearsal and acoustics went well, so everything should be fine."

"Nagui, the host is very kind, funny, and beloved. I'll let you rest now. Don't ruin your makeup, but break a leg!" Stephanie called out as she left the room.

Once alone, Maude removed the wooden box from her bag and caressed it fondly. Never had she felt closer to her mother than she did at that very moment.

She ripped open the sealed envelope, took out the key, and proceeded to unlatch the box.

Clic went the clasp, and the carved lid was lifted.

There was a letter.

Maude closed her eyes for a second and reopened them as she steadied her breath. Her hand trembled slightly as she took the piece of paper, yellowed by time and read.

My dear Maude,

If you are reading this letter, it means your father and I are no longer of this world and that my dear friends Robert and Marie-Antoinette Ruchet have raised you.

I want you to know that your father and I love you very much. As I look at you sleeping in your crib next to me, I wonder if I will ever have the strength to leave you.

I must be strong for I must go save your father if I can. I pray that our family be reunited soon. But my hope is waning every day that your father remains imprisoned in Africa.

I am writing this letter to you my beautiful daughter to explain why I must leave for now.

As Robert has probably explained, I, Danielle Laurent, was born in France while your father, Aaron Williams, was born in Nigeria in West Africa. His prominent family had to flee Nigeria in 1967 when the war began devastating the country.

When the war ended and now a young man, he returned to Nigeria to fight for human rights and the advancement of democracy. He had to leave his family behind and was no longer in touch with them when I met him.

We met and married in Nigeria in 1990.

I have been a human rights lawyer for a couple of years now, and I have travelled all over the world. But the day I met your father was the most beautiful day of my life. As Robert has probably told you, it was love at first sight. Robert, who is my closest friend as well as the best human rights lawyer I have ever met, introduced us at a party given by International Amnesty. Although Robert returned to France a few months later, I decided to stay with your father.

Since then, we have been inseparable. Through all the dangers and trials we have stayed together, fighting against corruption. Recently, we were trying to bring to trial an important official, one of the most corrupt Nigerian officials, Kunle Yetunde. He is also a friend of the current President of Nigeria. We were so close to finding tangible proof of his corruption that he felt threatened and ready to go to extreme lengths to silence us.

A few months ago, I learnt I was pregnant. Aaron wanted me to be safe during the pregnancy so I came back to France three months ago. He was supposed to follow me a month later, but he was captured by Yetunde's men and has been imprisoned for two months now.

His men have been looking for me as well which is why I gave birth in anonymity and have given you my maiden name.

I must return to save your father. I have connections in France and Nigeria and if we work together we should get him out of jail. In the meantime, you will stay with the Ruchets. I hope to be back in a couple of months, but if that proves impossible, Robert has promised me to care for you as he would his own and I have complete faith that he will. He will tell you how brave your parents were and how they fought to make this world a better place.

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