Is little Mercy the girl Madonna wants to be a sister for David?
This little African girl whose mischievous eyes and sparkling smile are said to have won Madonna's heart.
But last night the star's alleged plans to adopt 20-month-old Mercy James ? a child she calls her 'smiling angel' ? were shrouded in mystery and confusion.
According to recent reports, officials in Malawi had given the 49-year-old singer the go-ahead to adopt Mercy before she had finalised the adoption of two-year-old David Banda, also from Malawi.
The little girl even spent a mystery two weeks away from her orphanage last year, shortly after the children there were visited by Madonna.
Left: Madonna with adopted David. Right: Mercy, whose mother is dead
Mercy's late mother, Mwandida Maunde
The star and her husband Guy Ritchie are apparently still awaiting a visit from a Malawian inspector to London before David's adoption is finalised.
But so certain was Madonna that Mercy was the little sister she wanted for David that she had apparently instructed her Malawian lawyer to 'cover all legal bases' so she could collect the child from the Kondanani Children's Village, near Blantyre, next April.
Yet an investigation by The Mail on Sunday has found that while Madonna seems to have expressed interest in Mercy, whose 18-year-old mother died just five days after her birth, the authorities appear unaware of her plans.
Malawi's Director of Child Welfare, Penston Kilembe,insisted he had not had dealings with Madonna's representatives about a second adoption.
The director of Mercy's orphanage, Annie Chikhwaza, was coy when asked if Madonna expressed interest in the child. She denies that only months ago the orphanage asked Mercy's family to let a mystery foreigner adopt her.
Mrs Chikhwaza gave this newspaper a tour of the home for 125 children, most of whom have lost parents to AIDS.
When asked about Madonna, she said: 'I'm not at liberty to talk about that.'
Yet staff are convinced Madonna has had Mercy in her sights since a visit last October. Staff believe Mercy was taken to the capital Lilongwe at the same time as Madonna was staying nearby.
A source said: 'The rumour was white people wanted to ?buy her? and she'd been taken to see them.'
Mercy's grandmother, 63-year-old Lucy Chekechiwa Phiri, known as Anaphiri, said two white women from Kondanani came with an urgent proposal.
She said: 'They told me some foreigners wanted to take her away to give her a decent education.'
Mercy's uncle, Peter Banet, 34, added: 'They said they had come to see me because I might have heard there was a singer called Madonna who adopted a Malawian child. They said they had come to ask whether we would agree to have our child taken by someone in the same way.
They didn't say the name of the person.'
Mercy was put in the orphanage when her mother, Mwandida Maunde, died. Her father was a schoolboy. Anaphiri says she tries to visit regularly but cannot always afford the £2 taxi fare. Yet Mrs Chikhwaza said: 'The family have nothing to do with her.'
As for the adoption plan, Anaphiri said: 'The family agreed we should say no.'
Mercy's uncle Peter added: 'We only took her to an orphanage because she needed breast-feeding.
'When Mercy is no longer a baby we want her back'.