“No, Magdalena, not that one. I told you I want my navy one.”
The smiling young care aide asked, “ Is navy like the suits sailors wear?”
“No! Navy is a colour, not a sailor’s uniform. See, it’s right there in the middle. Right there!” Emily could hear that her voice sounded peevish and impatient. Increasing deafness had made it hard for her to understand anyone with an unfamiliar accent, and she was already feeling unhappy and irritable.
Magdalena stepped toward the wheelchair, holding Emily’s navy sweater, then quickly and skillfully slipped it over the old woman’s arms and head.
“What are you going to wear Christmas Day when your family comes?”
“They’re not coming.” Her intense disappointment forced Emily to blurt it out. She had not meant to confide in the young Filippino care aide, but now she had done it. After the previous Christmas when no visitors had been allowed in her care home, she had pinned all her hopes on this one Christmas visit.
Seeing her daughter, Megan, her son-in-law, Tom, and her adored granddaughter, Melodie, meant everything to her. Now, that unimaginably precious visit had been snatched away. Earlier that morning, Megan’s voice had been full of concern and regret as she gave the news that they must stay close to Tom’s father, hospitalized with a serious case of pneumonia.
“Oh, I am so sorry! It is hard for you! Last Christmas no one came.”
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“Last Christmas no one. This Christmas no one.” Emily struggled to hold back tears and tried to change the subject. “How about you? Do you work on Christmas Day?”
“No, I have this luck, this great blessing. I am not working.”
“Do you have family here?”
“Only my daughter, Bernila. She is seven. She has been in Canada two months. Before, she stayed with my sister until I got the money for the airplane. My sister said Bernila was always so sad because she missed me. Now she is with me. I have her picture. Do you want to see her?”
Emily studied the photo. The child’s face showed so much: a tentative smile, uncertainty, hopefulness, a wish to fit in. Emily felt strongly drawn to her.
“Is she happy here?”
“Mostly yes. She is happy to be with me. But school is hard. Her English is not so good. The other kids have so many clothes. At home, everybody was poor like us.”
“Will you spend Christmas with friends?”
“No. My two friends are working.”
“Do you have Christmas presents for Bernila?”
“No. All my money went for the airplane. I told her, Jesus is the gift we have for always. She understands. We can walk around and see pretty lights on houses. Outside the church, they have baby Jesus, Mary, Joseph and the animals. It is enough.”
Emily said, “I have an idea.”
At 5:30 on Christmas Day Emily welcomed her guests. Residents could have Christmas dinner served in their rooms for themselves and up to three guests. Magdalena and Bernila seemed nervous, but Emily did her best to put them at ease. She assured Magdalena that there was no reason an employee could not be the guest of a resident. She told Bernila how happy she was to have a child with her at Christmas.
When Emily handed Bernila the big box with the doll that had been bought for Melodie, the girl hesitated and looked up with wide, wondering eyes. “ Can I open it? Is it really for me?”
“Yes, open it. It is for you.”
Bernila carefully unwrapped the gift. “Such pretty paper. I will keep it always.” The doll inside was a princess from India, surrounded by gorgeous clothes. Her gleaming black hair hung down over her blue and gold sari. Bernila gasped. “She is so beautiful, the most beautifulist doll there could ever be. With all clothes. This makes so many presents! Really, are they all for me?”
“Yes, my dear. All for you.” Emily thought of her granddaughter. She would send another doll to Melodie. One more to add to the large collection in the child’s bedroom. One day she would have the joy of seeing Melodie again, but not today.
“Mrs. Emily, you are so kind!” Bernila exclaimed. I never have a doll. Always I will keep this one and think of you. Always. Now I have Mama and you and this doll. This Christmas is so good! I think I like Canada.”