Short Story Third Place: The Gift of a Lifetime

Anika Rajesh

I had barely touched it before I heard a blood-curdling scream. It came from my sister, and she was trembling.

Like many a story, this one took place on Christmas Eve. There was a divine aroma from the kitchen, and everything was lit up and bright. It had been a hectic few weeks: lots of lights going up, a large green tree suddenly appeared in the middle of the family room. I had never been so excited in my whole life. And yet, there was this unease, this distance, and I could not quite figure it out.

I am adopted and, in many ways, unlike my two siblings, Rohan and Anika. I come from a different background and speak a foreign language. Since coming into my new home, I have done my best to adjust. I have picked up several English words and, despite my early apprehensions, have come to love my parents, my brother Rohan and sister Anika, and our home.

But still, there is this chasm. For starters, I am never allowed in any of their rooms, and it was not because I didn’t want to. Every time I ever got close, my brother and sister would shut the door in a flash. They were not quick enough to block my vision, though. I saw all the plush animals my sister kept for herself. Why this distance? Are we not all different in our own ways? Am I not one of them? I simply could not comprehend.

In all fairness, I have always been well-fed, with my every need attended to. But, my siblings did have some privileges that I was not accorded. I guess I could not really complain. After all, I was adopted. I was restricted from eating some foods like chocolates that my sister so often indulged herself with over the weekends. But, then again, Dad couldn’t eat them either. He has this sugar problem.

I could handle these little disparities. However, I just could not help but long to enter my sister’s room and play with her dolls and stuffed animals. I even had dreams about them; I pictured my sister playing with the stuffed animals, and she slowly evaporated to be replaced with me. One day, I would make my dreams a reality – I just knew it.

That’s where Christmas Eve comes into play. My brother was playing with his video games, and my sister was reading a book on her computer. My parents, who thought I was sleeping, were upstairs watching TV.

I licked my lips. Today was the day. I quietly made my way towards the stairs of the house, and once I got to the foot of the stairs, I did not wait for any more signals. I moved along, step by step, pivoting ever so slightly at the juncture of the staircase. Then, it happened.

Just as I took another step, the old wood creaked. For a split second, all sound stopped. The TV show paused, the computer mouse stopped clicking through digital pages, and the controller buttons weren’t being pressed. If I didn’t move now, I would be caught for sure. I ran up the rest of the stairs, pushed my sister’s bedroom door open, and hid behind a cupboard.

I took a deep breath. Right in front of me was a pile of stuffed goodness – my sister’s toys stared at me with their fake eyes. 

I rejoiced, seizing one of the toys. So, this was what happiness felt like. Or so I thought.

The footsteps were so fast that I didn’t notice them before it was too late. I only looked up when my sister was standing right behind the open bedroom door. Her mouth was open wide. Tears streaked the sides of her face, and her entire body trembled with a mix of shock, rage,

and sorrow. 

“No.” She said quietly. She kept repeating the word until she sounded like she was screaming from the peak of a mountain, loud enough for everyone below to hear her. 

My parents came rushing from their room, followed by my brother seconds after. My mom covered her mouth with her hands, my dad put his firm hands on his hips, and my brother leaned against the door.

There was no other reaction but the sounds of my sister crying in the background. My brother, still staring at me, began to laugh. My parents followed suit, and my sister glared at them.

“What are you doing?” She said, but even her annoyance began to wither away. Not sure what to do, I left the toy and walked towards my parents.

“That was very bad of you.” My mother said, smiling.

We went downstairs and sat next to a little tree in the living room. After five minutes, the small hand of the living room clock struck twelve. Dad stood up and reached under the tree’s leaves. He pulled out a small bag and tipped it over to spew out its contents. 

“Merry Christmas, Arya.” he said as he pushed the gift towards me. “This is a toy you can play with.”

Cautiously, I peered down at the toy. It was a fluffy pink elephant from my all-time favorite store. Wagging my tail, I bit into the toy until it made a squeaking sound. This was a Christmas I would never forget.