“New shoes! That’s what I wanted for Christmas!” Maxine whined. “New shoes, Mum, that’s all I had on my list!”
“Yes, dear, I know about your list,” said her mother, quietly, with pity or resignation planted in there somewhere.
“They were all I had on my list. New shoes …”
“Yes, new shoes to add to the twenty odd you already have.”
“But I’ve worn them all.”
“You’ve worn me to the bone. You’re nineteen, I’m done with your lists and it’s time to start giving. Time to stop taking.”
“But giving all that money to wogs we don’t even know!” Maxine said, shaking her head as if to shake away the dream to reveal a new pair of shoes before her. They didn’t appear.
“Money to Filipinos, not wogs, who have no shoes, no running water and the girl, a nine-year-old who has to gather firewood each day to make the fire to cook the meals for her father and two younger brothers.”
“Yeah, but what about looking after your own first?”
“Buying you a present you don’t need and won’t appreciate?”
“Won’t appreciate? That’s all I want!” Maxine said, eyes aflame as she thumped the table.
You’ll appreciate them for a few days then dump them with the others. Then want more.”
“Oh, Mum, this isn’t fair,” she said, looking like a balloon deflating slowly, as she realised her mother wasn’t giving in, for the first time. For the first time, too, she saw a fire in her mother’s eyes, in her face and stance. Her mother looked very beautiful just then.
“It isn’t fair that the girl’s mother died as the family didn’t have money for medical help,” said her mother. Suddenly Maxine was nine – not nineteen – and imagining her mother not there. She choked back a cry and wiped her eyes roughly as her mother continued. “It feels so good to be giving to someone who needs, really needs, my help. And part of what I gave is your gift to them as well. That’s my Christmas gift to you. The gift of giving.”
“It’s still not fair …”
“Life isn’t fair, darling,” said her mother, coming round to pat her cheek. “Life is a desert for most people. It’s flat, bleak and stark and I just want to rain on someone’s desert for a moment. That’s my gift to me. It’s time I gave to me.”
“I don’t want you to go, Mum …”
Her mother grabbed her by the shoulders and looked in her eyes, worried. “I’m not going anywhere.”
“But that girl’s nine years … hell.”
“Her smile is my gift.”
“Hey,” she said, suddenly bright eyed, “what if I send her all the shoes I don’t need?”
“They’d be too big for her.”
“Maybe she could swap them for firewood or food or whatever. I have other things I could send her, too!”
Her mother smiled and saw that the gift of giving had started rain in several small deserts at once.
This is one of many stories from My Whispering Teachers.