August 20, 2001 12:00 PM

It was a routine FedEx delivery, the kind that takes place millions of times a day. Then driver Darius Simmons, dropping off a package in Winston-Salem, N.C., on July 18, noticed the elderly recipient’s signature. “John Johnson,” he said. “My father’s name was John Johnson.” The man peered back at Simmons, 37, and asked him where he grew up and who he was. Simmons responded, and then Johnson, 74, said, “David, is that you?”

“I knew he was my father as soon as he said my nickname,” says Simmons, who realized he was suddenly face-to-face with the man his mother had told him was dead. “Nobody calls me David but my immediate family.”

Simmons’s mother, Dorothy, who died in 1980, had broken off contact with Johnson around the time Darius, their only child, was taking his first steps. Johnson tried to maintain a relationship with his son, “but she wouldn’t let me see him,” he recalls. “So I thought, ‘Well, there’s no use in me keep coming around here.’ ” Instead, Johnson moved to Washington, D.C., where he worked as a bank courier. He returned to Winston-Salem after he retired in 1991 and was told Dorothy had died and Darius had left town.

In fact Simmons had stayed in the area most of his life, spending three years in the Army before joining Federal Express in 1996. He was delivering a glucose monitor to Johnson, who has diabetes, the day they met. After his shift ended, Simmons and his wife, Cleopatra, 33, who is expecting their first child this month, returned to Johnson’s apartment, where they admired pictures of his many children and grandchildren from other relationships. In the midst of all the photos were three tattered Polaroids of a chubby-faced Darius Simmons when he was about 1. “I carried those in my wallet until they about fell apart,” Johnson told him. “I never forgot about you.”

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