Ready To Give
Neopia Central was having its coldest winter since year two. It had been snowing non-stop for weeks, and most of the city's residents were snowed in and very unhappy. Couldn't the bad weather have waited until after the Day of Giving? How could they get their holiday shopping done if they couldn't even leave their neohomes? Everyone was restless and cranky at what was supposed to be the happiest time of year, and ten-year-old Alice Nobreguinha didn't like it.
Even her big sister Julie looked angry with the snow as she fiercely shoveled a path to their front door. Alice wished she could do something. She wished she could remind the whole town that the Day of Giving was about so much more than presents. In the shopping capital of Neopia however, they would never listen to her. And even if they would, she had no way of communicating her thoughts to them anyway. She couldn't speak, yes, the plushie Kacheek had been born a mute. She had a very hard time making friends because of this, and spent most of her time with her sister, to whom she spoke sign language. The few friends she did have took the time to learn sign language as well, so Alice rarely got frustrated with not being able to use her voice. Today though, was an exception, as she felt particularly helpless.
Maybe I can at least cheer Julie up, she thought to herself. She put on her coat and prepared to go out and help shovel. Before she left the house, she grabbed her purple scarf off the kitchen table and wrapped it around her neck. She loved her scarf. It was soft and warm, and was once a special gift to the Kacheek. It was the very first thing her sister made when she learned how to knit, and she gave it to Alice as a Day of Giving present when they were both very young. Every winter since then, Alice never went anywhere without it.
After bundling herself up for the cold, she stepped out into the snow, picked up a shovel and went to join Julie.
Can I help? She signed with gloved hands.
The speckled Kacheek paused from her work to look down at her sister and shake her head. "The snow's really heavy. I don't want you to get hurt."
The smaller Kacheek stood her ground.
"Why don't you build a snowman or something? I'm almost done anyway."
She spoke in a tone that sounded somewhat annoyed. Alice knew she wasn't mad at her. Julie was being affected by the same thing as everybody else. She was sure of it when she heard her grumbling to a pile of snow before she departed to the backyard. Everyone's so miserable... she thought to herself. This isn't right.
She quickly built her snowman, complete with an old top hat she'd brought down from the attic some weeks ago, just for that purpose. He would have looked better if he had a scarf to wear, but she had no spares and didn't want to leave her own beloved scarf outside in the blistering cold. She decided he would be fine without one, and began to look for something else to do.
She started to wander down the road, past the other neohomes on her street. There were lots of people out shoveling today. They all looked like Julie, she noticed. Stressed and sad, and angry with the snow. They made Alice almost angry as well. She didn't know why they acted the way they did when the Day of Giving was just around the corner. The plushie Kacheek needed to clear her head. She walked further than she planned and without even meaning to, ended up at the Money Tree. The Money Tree was one of her favourite places in town. Seeing the smiling faces of the less fortunate pets when they find a donated treasure, never failed to lift her spirits. And right now, her spirits needed lifting more than ever. Maybe she did mean to come here, and just didn't know it?
When she stood under the tree, however, she was appalled to see there was nothing there but a soggy old box, an old rotten left shoe and a bottle of blue sand! Were the pets of Neopia Central really too concerned with their expensive holiday shopping to think about the poor? Alice stood there in sadness and disbelief until she heard someone coming. She turned around to see a yellow Usul who looked to be half her age, wearing a well-warn coat that was way too big for her, no hat, gloves or scarf. The Kacheek knew immediately that she was one of pets the city was too busy to care about.
She wanted more than anything to help the little girl, but she didn't know what to do. She and her sister didn't have a lot themselves, but as Alice watched the Usul shiver against the cold under the empty Money Tree, she realized how much they did have.
The Kacheek watched as the Usul coughed and pulled her coat tighter around herself. She looked half frozen. Alice's thoughts went to her scarf. It had always kept her warm in the winter, while she tobogganed, skated on the pond and had snowball fights with her friends. This girl needed a scarf as trustworthy as hers. No, this girl needed her scarf, even more than she did.
She took it off and handed it to her. The little Usul hesitated.
This will keep you warm, Alice signed. Knowing she couldn't understand her, she wrapped the scarf around the Usul's neck for her. Then she nodded and smiled.
The Usul seemed like she had never been treated with such kindness before. "Thank you!" she squeaked before hugging the older girl's legs and hurrying off. She looked over her shoulder to wave one last time, and then disappeared into the snow, which had now turned into quite the blizzard.
Alice needed to get home herself before it got any worse. She felt a little chillier without her scarf, but thinking of how warm it would keep the little Usul made her feel warm too, and she managed to get back to her neohome without much struggle.
When she got there, she found her big sister waiting for her at the door.
"Alice! Where have you been? I was worried something happened to you!"
I'm sorry, she signed. I was at the Money Tree, and it started snowing harder.
"The Money Tree? Well, next time please tell me where you're going first. You scared me, you know. Nobody should be out in this weather." Something was different about her sister. "Did you lose your scarf?"
Alice told her the whole story, beginning with: Some people have to be out in this weather.
When she finished, Julie was silent, but she had a tear in her eye.
Are you mad at me?
"Of course not, that's the nicest story I've ever heard! I'm so proud of you." Julie hugged her.
"Everyone in Neopia Central is afraid they won't be ready for the Day of Giving, just because they can't buy presents. But you gave something more precious than any of them could buy. You had nothing to give but your scarf, and so that's what you did. You're the only one truly ready for the Day of Giving, Alice."
Alice would have laughed if she could. Don't be silly, I just wanted to help out.
"Well, you helped more than you know." The speckled Kacheek opened the closet and took something down from the top shelf. It was a small silver gift box wrapped with a pale pink ribbon. "This was going to be your present, but I want you to have it now."
Alice carefully untied the ribbon, and opened the box, revealing her present.
"Do you like it? I made it myself."
The plushie Kacheek nodded excitedly, as she admired her brand new pink scarf.
Julie laughed. "Your old one was getting too small for you. Now I won't have to force you to wear this one instead!"
Alice tried her new scarf on. It did fit better than her old one. It was soft and warm, and a very special present indeed. And she loved it.
"You're welcome," said her sister."Anyway, you must be freezing. Come on, let's make some hot chocolate."
They sat down with their hot chocolate and turned on the neovision.
"We interrupt this program for a special weather bulletin," said a voice from the screen. "Good news, Neopia Central! After weeks of heavy snowfall and ice storms, the bad weather looks like it's finally coming to an end. The current storm will subside early this evening, and temperatures are expected to increase dramatically in the coming week. For those of you who haven't finished your holiday shopping, stores will be staying open late every night until the Day of Giving. This message has been brought to you by Meerca Neggnog, a holiday treat the way only Meercas could make it. And now we return to our scheduled broadcasting."
Alice put down her cup to sign to her sister. I guess everyone will be ready after all.
"Maybe." Julie appeared to be deep in thought. "Or maybe they'll never be ready. It doesn't matter, though. No matter what the rest of the city does, at least we know what this season is really about."
The two of them watched the snow fall from the window of their cozy living room. Julie was silent as she thought about how grateful she was for her home. It wasn't very big and needed some repairs, but she knew it was still better than what some people had. Then she realized how thankful she was for all her belongings, and for her little sister who had helped her to remember the true meaning of giving.
Alice was silent as well, but that was simply because she was always silent. In her heart, she was singing a happy carol of gratitude. Of snowmen and hot chocolate, and warm scarves in the snow.