18: Kali’s Gift

18: Kali’s Gift

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Just for Preteens

Kali’s Gift

The only gift is a portion of thyself.

~Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Okay,” our Sunday school teacher, Mrs. Woodland, said. “It’s time for the gift exchange.” I was actually sort of excited. Not ecstatic or anything. But I knew what a lot of the girls had brought, and any of those gifts would have been really great. Especially my best friend Sara’s gift. She had made fudge and put it in this super cute bear mug. I love fudge and figured it would be fun to have the bear mug for drinking hot cocoa over Christmas.

And rich Megan Perkins had wrapped a bottle of expensive perfume. Her favorite kind, she said. Megan always smelled really good. I wouldn’t mind smelling like her for the holidays.

Actually, all the girls had brought cool gifts. Mrs. Woodland had us put them all on our classroom table, next to the manger scene she had set up. Mrs. Woodland had just finished telling us the story of Jesus’s birth, something she did every year before we had our class Christmas party.

We opened the gifts like a game. We each drew numbers and we got to go up to the table and choose a wrapped gift when our number was called. Or more accurately put, we could choose a wrapped gift — if we wanted to. But we didn’t necessarily have to. We could take a gift from somebody else that had already had their number called — if we thought we’d like that gift better than the wrapped ones.

Some of the gifts really got passed around. Like Sara’s. Everyone likes fudge.

Still, everybody seemed to like the gift I’d brought. I was relieved, since I hadn’t paid much for it. It was just some cheap nail polish — but in a cool color — and I’d tied a fingernail file to it with a pretty ribbon.

I’d hoped the girls would like it — but I’d been worried they wouldn’t. After all, I hadn’t had very much money to spend. I was basically broke and I still had my mom’s Christmas gift left to buy. I wanted to get her something special. Something cool. But that was the problem. Cool things seemed to cost a lot of money... and I just didn’t have any.

When it was my turn, I didn’t take a wrapped gift from the table. And I didn’t take Sara’s either, though I really wanted to. Just being around fudge was making me hungry. But I took the perfume Megan had brought instead.

“Bummer,” Beth groaned as I took the bottle from her.

“It’s for my mom,” I wanted to explain, but I didn’t bother. It was none of Beth’s business. It was no one’s business. I didn’t have enough money to get Mom something as special as she deserved, but the perfume was really nice. She might really like it... and maybe she would let me borrow it sometime.

I was busy thinking about the perfume and whether Mom would like it or not. I guess that’s how I missed how the incident happened. But suddenly there was a big commotion. It had been Hannah’s turn to choose. She was the last one. And no big shock, she didn’t go for the last wrapped gift on the table. Instead she’d taken Sara’s gift from Lauren.

Well, that meant Lauren had to take the wrapped gift. She’d huffed all the way up to the table. Everyone knew the last gift was from Kali. That’s why no one had chosen it. Kali was really poor. I mean really poor. And she always brought lame gifts — gifts no one ever wanted. I guess everyone knew today would be no exception. And it wasn’t. The gift Kali had wrapped? A pair of crocheted potholders. Potholders!

“I don’t want to be stuck with these,” Lauren whined. “I want my fudge back.”

“No way,” Hannah protested, keeping the mug of chocolate out of Lauren’s reach.

“Then I want Megan’s perfume.” Lauren came over to take my perfume. “Come on, Melanie, trade with me.”

I shook my head. The game was over. I had gotten the perfume fair and square. No way was I giving it up.

Mrs. Woodland cleared her throat. “Melanie, why don’t you trade with Lauren?”

She was always doing this to me. Making me take the dorky gift. Last year I had to take the broken gingerbread house, and for Valentine’s Day I had to settle for the messed up valentine. And I always, always got stuck with Kali’s lame gifts. It wasn’t fair.

I was about to tell Mrs. Woodland off. Tell her I was tired of being the nice guy and getting stuck with the lame stuff and stinky deals. I was about to tell her what she could do with her potholders.

Then I noticed Kali sitting silently in the back of the classroom. She was sitting there all alone with her head bowed. Suddenly I felt ashamed of myself... and the rest of the class. Poor Kali. She had obviously worked hard on the potholders. And they were really nice... as far as potholders go.

And she probably didn’t want to give them to us any more than any of us wanted them. Probably her mom had dragged her to church this morning. Probably she had tried to fake sick or something so she could stay home and not have to go through this. I know that’s what I would have done.

“Sure — I’ll take the potholders,” I said to Mrs. Woodland. I gave my best effort to smile. But it was kind of hard. I felt sort of sick. “They’re really pretty.” I glanced over at Kali — wanting to say something nice to her. Wanting to make up for how horrible Lauren and Hannah and I had acted. “Did you make them yourself?”

Kali nodded, but I already knew she had. Our class had learned to crochet as a craft project last year. None of us other girls really got the hang of it. Obviously Kali had.

“They’re really pretty,” I said again.

“Here,” I told my mom after church, handing her the potholders as soon as I hopped into the car. “They’re an early Christmas gift. I’ll get you something else too — something real.”

“They’re beautiful,” Mom said, actually beaming.

She seemed so delighted with them, I was worried she was confused or something. “I didn’t make them,” I confessed quickly. “Kali Harris did.”

“I know,” Mom said, still beaming. “Mrs. Woodland told me what happened in class today. She says she relies on you to keep peace in the class a lot.” Mom gave me a hug. “Mrs. Woodland said you handled the situation wonderfully. You’re growing to be a very thoughtful young woman — that’s the best Christmas present a mother could ask for.”

I rode home from church with a happy heart, knowing next year I would be honored to get Kali’s gift.

~Melanie Marks

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