“I still don’t think this is a very good idea”, Walter overheard his father say to his mother. “Brigitte, are you listening to me?”, he went on. Walter could see his mother’s head absent-mindedly nodding. “Of course, dear, let me just focus on these tickets for one moment. I think our seats are not together.” Walter smiled at his parents. They were older than most other parents he knew, apparently, they had him late in life. In moments like this, where they were travelling on an aeroplane, it made him chuckle how old-fashioned they really behaved. Walter had gone off to find some food for the three of them but had returned empty handed. Their small local airport was completely shut, theirs must be the last flight of the day. His father was now studying the flight tickets, having put on his reading glasses and taken them out of his wife’s hands. “No, darling, look, we’re all together. A, B and C.”, he exclaimed triumphantly.

“But, Otto, have a look at the numbers. They’re different.”, Brigitte answered exasperatedly. Walter laughed out loud now, and both of his parents turned to him, slightly startled. “Oh, son, could you check our tickets please? Mama thinks they sat us apart from each other.” Walter nodded smilingly, took the tickets, and had a quick look. The seats were indeed apart from each other. He knew he needed to make this less of a big deal, so his mother wouldn’t panic and then in turn make his father nervous. Soothingly, he went to stroke his mother’s arm and explained: “Mama is right, we are sitting apart. But it doesn’t matter. The flight is just a little over three hours, isn’t it? Don’t worry about it.” His mother looked at him with big eyes. “But, Walter, you shouldn’t sit alone, you’re a child.” His father scoffed. “Brigitte, he is almost 15. He’ll be fine.” Walter smiled at his mother encouragingly and with fear in her eyes she smiled back at him. He knew she was just worried, but it did annoy him that she held him on such a tight leash sometimes. He hoped for some time to himself in Spain. Maybe he could go explore the beaches and the mountains without his parents. They wouldn’t have the energy to walk as much anyway. And hopefully they would want some alone time with his big sister. Elke had been living on the Costa del Sol for almost 15 years. She had left pretty much around the time that he had been born. She had been very young, probably no older than 16. Walter couldn’t imagine leaving his hometown, leaving his parents as soon as next year. He had always wondered why she had left. But his parents had been tight lipped on the subject since he could ask questions.

Walter didn’t have many memories of her. He knew she was beautiful. The photos around the house of Elke showed an always smiling, sun-kissed, blonde girl. He had met her only once. She had come home one year for Christmas. Walter had been quite young, but he still could recall her warm scent. He had instantly felt safe with this stranger that he called family. He remembered his mother crying for days when Elke went back to Spain. He had never seen anyone as sad. Hopefully this trip to Spain would give all of them some clarity on the level of relationship they had. And Walter wanted to ask his sister why she had left in the first place.

When the small family landed at Malaga airport, the sun was shining so bright, Walter couldn’t see anything for some moments when leaving the aeroplane. When he heard his mother shriek in delight, he turned to what had enticed her excitement. He could just about make out a woman with long blonde hair and huge sunglasses on her small face. This must be Elke, he thought. She had come to greet them on the runway. His parents had pulled her into a group hug and Walter ended up standing awkwardly behind them, not knowing whether to join or not. Astounded, he watched thick tears run down Elke’s face. She must have missed their parents, just as much as they had missed her. Why hadn’t she come home? When they released her, Elke searched for him. Walter waved at her self-consciously. When her eyes landed on him, they widened in shock. He smiled almost apologetically. “You’re a man!”, she exclaimed and threw her hands over her mouth. Brigitte started crying all over again and Otto had to embrace his wife and lead her a few steps away. Walter took a step towards Elke, unsure of what to do next. With a happy sigh, Elke widened her arms and hugged him tightly. “You’re so tall. I can’t believe how tall you are.” Pulling back there seemed to be something unsaid in her gaze and Walter wanted to ask her about it. But with a head shake, Elke seemed to banish her own thoughts and started to organise their trip to her house. They needed to collect their bags and make their way to her car. All the unsaid things could be addressed later, Walter hoped.

A week later, Walter already had a good tan from all his time at the beach. His parents spent most of their time inside Elke’s apartment, acclimatising to the heat and Elke was at work most of the time. So, Walter had time to explore the coastal village by himself. He loved the place. It was a cosy whitewashed village, with a vibrant centre of artists with their easels, families with their children and fishermen with their colourful boats. Every day, Walter had asked his sister to spend some time together, but she had always declined. Now, he knew her days off were due and he hoped she would agree to explore another village along the coast with him. At dinner that evening, he took up his courage and asked her at the table. He saw his parents exchange an anxious glance. He didn’t understand what was up with them. Ever since they had gotten here, his parents had avoided him. They seemed normal, talking to him about sweet nothings, never committing to anything, always keeping to themselves. He had shrugged it off as them needing time to arrive fully, but this look pushed him over the edge. “What?”, he asked in a hostile tone, staring at his mother. “You are hiding something from me, aren’t you? All three of you. You’ve been so strange, ever since we got here.” Walter saw Elke shoot their mother a warning look. Slowly she shook her head. “Ok, either you tell me what is going on, or I leave right now, and I won’t be back.”, Walter threatened his family, knowing full well he had nowhere to go.

Elke got up from her seat and took her plate to the kitchen. Heavy silence spread over the rest of them. Walter felt like he would explode any second now. He needed answers. This was unbearable. “Papa, please!”, he pleaded with his father, knowing he was the weakest link in this. “Talk to Elke”, Otto said gruffly and got up as well. To everyone’s surprise, he walked out the front door. “Otto, where are you going?”, Brigitte shrieked. With panic in her eyes, she followed her husband, grabbing keys on her way out. Just before the door closed behind her, Walter could hear his father say: “She needs to tell him the truth.”

When Elke appeared back in the dining room, she looked at him for a long time. Walter blushed, he felt exposed. He knew something big was coming and he wasn’t sure he was ready for it. Despite that he said to her: “Tell me.” She nodded, pulling out a chair and sitting down. “I don’t know where to start.”, she admitted after a deep breath. “Just tell me.”, Walter repeated.

“You are my son.”, Elke said, her eyes transfixed on a napkin in front of her. Walter shook his head. That wasn’t possible. Elke was his sister. Her blue eyes met his blue eyes. “I am your mother. Brigitte is your grandmother and Otto is your grandfather. I had you when I was 15 and I didn’t know anything about raising a child. So, I left you with my parents and stayed away as much as I could. I never wanted you to find out the truth. But it has become too hard to stay away. I want to know you. And I want to spend time with them before they go. They have gotten so old; I was shocked at the airport.”

Walter didn’t know what to say. His thoughts were racing, and his heart did the same. He started to breathe rapidly, and he looked at Elke for help. She saw the inner turmoil in his eyes and got up to walk over to him. She took him into her arms and rocked him back and forth. He stayed rigid in her warm embrace. “I’m sorry. I wish I had been stronger back then.”, she whispered into his ear. With a sigh, Walter relaxed into her arms. The arms of his mother. Here, he felt safe.