I wanted to say something that would help her feel better, but I couldn’t come up with a single word. Later that night in bed, as I lay awake replaying the scene over and over in my head, I would fire off countless perfect things I should’ve said to Katrina, but in the heat of the moment my mind was shooting blanks. Aaron and I both just stood there, watching the girl cry behind the wrinkled white paper bag.
Once is bad enough, I thought. Now I’m two for two at making this girl cry! What kind of elf am I?
After what felt like an eternity, Katrina finally lifted up her eyes and said the words I desperately wanted to hear.
“Please go,” she sobbed.
Our hearts grow tender with childhood memories and love of kindred, and we are better throughout the year for having, in spirit, become a child again at Christmas-time.
—Laura Ingalls Wilder
F riday night, December 5th, was the designated evening for assigning parts in the annual Christmas pageant, and most of the children were noticeably chipper when we arrived. Many of them now knew us by name and greeted us as we made our way through the hallway to Madhu’s room.
His door swung open just as we were about to knock.
“Hello elves!” he said when he saw us. “You are here fetching me for the pageant, are you not?”
“Yes,” chuckled Aaron. “We are
. Ready to go?”
“Oh my, yes. Very much so. I can’t wait to learn more about the wise guys . . . er . . . men from the east. I have been studying a little on my own.”
“That’s great,” said Aaron as he and Madhu turned to head back up the hallway toward the designated rehearsal room.
As they walked away, a thought crept into my head that kept me firmly planted in place. “Hey guys,” I called after them. “I wonder if . . . well, should we invite Katrina to come?”
“You mean Katrina with the paper bag?” asked Aaron.
As much as I dreaded facing the girl again, something inside me said it wouldn’t be right if we didn’t at least try.
“Well, yeah. It’s just, I don’t want her to feel left out. You know?”
“That would be splendid,” said Madhu, and he sounded like he genuinely meant it. “I’ve met this girl of which you speak. I’m sure she would be happy to join us.”
Aaron laughed again. “Are you sure we’re talking about the same girl?”
The three of us walked down the hall to Katrina’s door and then democratically decided that Madhu should be the spokesperson.
Madhu smiled brightly as he knocked on the door. “Hello Katrina, it’s your Indian neighbor from just several meters down the hall. I’m the boy who is from India, not the girl who is Native American but who everyone refers to as the Indian. Remember me?”
As usual Madhu was talking at breakneck speed, and I wondered whether Katrina would be able to understand what he was saying. He didn’t pause or take a break between thoughts. It was more like a gushing stream of consciousness.
“But of course you remember me,” he continued without waiting for a response. “Yes, most definitely! How can you forget the only boy in the entire hospital who does not celebrate Christmas? Katrina, are you there? May we come in? Hello?”
“Are the two boys with you?” she said without her normal silent pause. “The elf boys?”
“Oh yes, yes! Absolutely. The elves have returned again, from the North Pole, I think.” I couldn’t be sure, but I thought I heard a small giggle from somewhere behind the door. “They are standing here beside me and are interested in how you are doing. May we come in?”
“Yes, just give me a second.”
Aaron and I were shocked at the warm reception. It only took a few moments of shuffling sounds before she shouted that we could enter. As I moved through the doorway my eyes fell again on the crayon-drawn sign below Katrina’s nameplate.
“Hi Katrina. What does this mean?” I asked before the question slipped my mind. “E.D.—twelve