Simple Gifts

Anya Moskovitz was feeling disillusioned.

            She’d worked in a tiny cubicle all day, skipped her lunch, and listened to everyone yell at her. This sucks! Anya thought.  People are so nasty these days. They get mad and don’t care who they hurt. I hate society.

            Anya was a banker, and today had not been one of her better days: she got to work late, angered a customer by making him wait too long while she fought with the computers, and messed up a major transaction. And instead of being considerate, everyone cried, “I’m going to report you to your boss!”

            Now, Anya only wanted to go home, make some coffee, and ignore the world. But just as Anya was about to turn onto the highway, her cell phone rang. With a curse, she pulled over, took the phone out of her purse, and answered it. “Yes?”

            “Anya, my dear! How are you?” Anya rolled her eyes. It was her sister, Estella.

            “Fine, Stella. What d’you want?”

            “Oh, my dear. I am so sorry to bother you, but I need a favor.”

            Like always. Anya thought darkly. “What is it this time?”

            “You know the exchange student from China that I’m housing for the week? She’s arriving today, and I just can’t make it to the airport. The little one has the flu, and I have to stay home. Would you be a dear and fetch her for me?”

            Anya closed her eyes. “Fine,” she agreed wearily.

            Stella blew her sister a few kisses over the telephone. “Thank you so much!” Then she proceeded to tell Anya all she knew about the situation.

            Anya drove to the airport, with her sister’s description of the exchange student running through her mind. “Her name’s Mei Lin. She’s a cheerful little ten-year-old, with black pigtails and adorable brown eyes. You can’t miss her.” Great. What a big help. Anya sighed and made her way to the exit gate.

            Surprisingly, Stella was right. Anya did recognize the girl as soon as she saw her. Maybe it was the child’s curious eyes, or the excited spring in her step. In any case, Anya went to meet her. “Mei Lin?”

            “Yes! You…Mrs. Stella Morgan?”

            “No, I’m her sister, Anya.”

            “Ah! That just as good, yes?” Mei Lin smiled, and Anya slowly started to relax.

            “Yes,” she agreed, leading the girl to her silver minivan. She opened the door for Mei Lin, then got into the driver’s seat and started the engine. The girl just stood, staring.

            “What’s wrong?” Anya asked, poking her head out the door.

            “Car…is huge…” Mei Lin’s eyes were big as saucers.

            “It scares you?” Anya asked, concerned.

            “Oh, no! I always dream see car like this, and now…see!” Mei Lin broke into a grin. Anya smiled back.

            “Then get in.”

            On the way to Stella’s, Mei Lin gushed over everything—the trees, the grass, the sky (“even sky look so prettier in America!”), and Anya herself. “You so nice! Like Mother.”

            Anya was touched. “Thanks. I’m sure she’s a great person.”

            “Oh, not real mother. Just one in head.” Mei Lin winked.

            “What happened to your real one?” Anya asked.

            “Died.” The child said simply. “Father too. Long time ago…ooh, look! Building scrape sky!” She pointed.

            “That’s why they’re called skyscrapers.” Anya smothered a smile.

            “Sky…scrapers? Won’t break sky?”

            “No.” This time, Anya had to laugh.

            Anya dropped Mei Lin off at Stella’s. It had gotten dark, and Stella’s porch light was on. She was waiting outside.

            “Mei Lin!” She exclaimed, running to give her guest a hug and a kiss. “Good to see you! Sorry I couldn’t come get you myself.”

            “Is okay,” Mei Lin smiled at her host. “Mrs. Anya good friend.”

            “Glad to hear it.” Stella smiled at Anya, and beckoned to her guest.

            “Come, let’s go inside.” But Mei Lin paused.

            “Wait, please,” she said, and walked to Anya. She pulled a little straw doll out of her pocket and held it out. “For you.”

            “Oh no!” Anya couldn’t take the orphan’s toy.

            “Please.” The child insisted. Hesitantly, Anya accepted. Then Mei Lin surprised her with a hug, and said in her broken English:

            “Thank you, Mrs. Anya, for helping my day.”

            With another smile, Mei Lin ran back to Stella. Anya watched them go inside.

            “Thank you, Mei Lin, for making my day.”