The meager pile of presents stared back at me from atop the decaying Singer treadle sewing machine that Mama had found at the local dump. Neither of the two packages with my name on it looked remotely like it might contain a Barbie doll. At almost thirteen years of age I knew I was too old for Barbies, but I couldn’t help myself.
The need to own one of those flaxen haired beauties had become a compulsion.
“Get your shoes on Daisy Mae” Mama chirped. She was in a good mood, as we were going to a Christmas Eve chant and potluck at the ashram and she would get to see the new friends she had been making over the past several months in Gainesville. I was not as enthused, as there were likely to be no kids my age and sitting on the floor for three hours with a bunch of adults who got high on chanting was not my idea of fun. I gave a last baleful look at the gifts and put my shoes on.
Throughout the evening I distracted myself wondering what my presents might be. Maybe there really was a Barbie and Mama was disguising it by wrapping it in a larger box, although that was unlikely as Mama felt Barbies were worldly and encouraged girls to behave in less than modest ways. But by the time we headed home for the evening I could not wait to go to bed so that I could wake up and open my packages.
As soon as we came up the concrete porch steps, Mama leading the way with a slumbering Aaron in her arms, we knew something was awry. The feeble screen door was open and banging softly in the winter breeze, and although we could not see inside due to our lack of electricity, there was a distinct level of disturbance in the air.
“Herman!”, Mama hissed. “Go inside and make sure everything is OK.” Herman looked at Mama and yawned.
“I’m sure everything is fine”, Herman said. “Just go on in and let’s get ready for bed. I’m exhausted- could you have talked any longer tonight?”
Mama sighed, motioning me to take Aaron from her arms. I reached out and accepted his warm, heavy body into my embrace. Mama shooed us towards the back of the porch and then entered the open door. “Hello!” we heard her call, followed by a dim flicker of light as she lit the candle we kept by the front window sill. “Oh no!” and Mama came bursting back out the door. “We’ve been robbed!” she yelled. “Get off the porch right now and go over to Kevin’s- we need to call the police!”
Kevin answered his front door after about a minute of Mama banging on it. “What’s wrong?”, he queried, motioning our family inside with one hand and rubbing sleep from his eyes with the other. “Kevin, we’ve been robbed!” Mama said. “We need to use your phone to call the police.” “Are you OK?”, Kevin asked, his eyes scanning over each of us, his gaze coming to land on Aaron, still sound asleep in my arms.
“We are fine”, Mama said. “We were at the ashram when it happened. Can you believe this? Who goes out robbing on Christmas eve?”
“Especially at your house” Kevin muttered.
“What?” Mama asked. “Nothing”, Kevin said. “Just seems ridiculous. I mean, what could they even take? You don’t have any electronics, no valuables…”
Mama walked to the phone in Kevin’s kitchen to call the police, Kevin following behind her. I sat down on the couch in the living room, Aaron having become so heavy my arms were turning numb. Herman sat down beside me and groaned with gusto.
“I thought you knew kung fu!” I spat at him. “What?!” he asked, his eyes opening past half mast and a familiar glint of glee moving across his face. “What did you say?”
“I said I thought you knew kung fu” I stammered, wishing with all my heart I could take back the words even as they exited my mouth. “And what exactly does that mean?”, Herman asked, licking his lips in delight, and for the first time all night showing any hint of emotion.
“I just meant why didn’t you go into the house first? Mama’s a lady, couldn’t you have taken out anybody with some of your kicks you are always showing me?”
Herman leaned back on the couch and assessed me, trying to figure out if I was being rebellious or if he should be flattered. “Well of course I could” he said. “But I knew everything was fine. Your mom worries too much.”
Mama and Kevin came back into the living room and stood in front of us. “The police are on their way” Mama said. “They said it’s a busy night, they said it might take them a little bit to get here.” “Of course they did” Kevin said. “You all stay right here until they show up. Would you like some tea?”
A few cups of chamomile tea later the street outside lit up with pulsating red, white and blue. “Well, they’re finally here” Mama said, rising from where she had sunk into the rug in front of the couch. “Let’s head on out.” I lurched up from the couch, waking Aaron in the process, who looked around in bewilderment and let out a little cry. “It’s OK” I said to Aaron, trailing Mama out the door and down the stairs, Herman shadowing me, a trio of clumsy ducks following in their mama’s wake, illuminated by the bright lights of the two police cars parked in front of our house.
“Whoa- stay right there!” a tall police officer yelled, standing in front of our steps and extending an open palm. “Is this your house?” “Yes, it is” Mama said. “We were staying at our neighbor’s house until you got here.” “Well, stay right there,” the policeman said. “Other officers are inside, making sure there are no suspects left in the house.”
Within seconds two officers with blinding flashlights emerged from our house, walking towards us and motioning the officer we had been talking to aside. “This is the worst one yet” we all heard one say. “They took pretty much everything that wasn’t nailed down- they even took the damn fridge! And, no idea why, but they seemed to have cut the power too.”
“Oh, no they didn’t” Mama called to them. “We don’t have a refrigerator. Or electricity either.”
“Say what?” said the policeman who had been standing outside when we arrived.”Ma’am, you better come inside so we can take an inventory of what’s missing.”
As soon as we were all inside I put Aaron on the floor and ran to mine and Aaron’s room, gasping at the emptiness that was palpable, even in the dim light reflected from the candles Mama was lighting in the other rooms. The shelves that Mama had made of plywood and bricks were empty of almost all our clothes, and my few well worn cloth dolls were missing from my bed on the floor. Worst of all, the brass box that had held my collection of pennies was gone from its place of prominence on the middle shelf. Bursting into tears, I ran from the bedroom into the living room, where the three officers were talking to Mama, who held Aaron clutched to her chest. “They stole my money!” I cried. “Seven dollars and sixty-seven cents, and they stole it ALL! I will never be able to save that much money again in my whole life.”
Mama turned away from the policemen “Daisy- they took all our Christmas presents too! They even took our pots and pans and our brown rice and carrots and beets. Are they even going to eat that? Everyone around here eats so much junk food. Oh Lord, what are we going to do? They took everything!” Herman emerged from the back porch, smiling from ear to ear. “They didn’t take my nunchucks!” he crowed. “Couldn’t find them in the dark. Next time they come back, I’ll split some heads for sure.”
Mama grew rigid. “Sure you will” she said. I leaned closer to her, casting daggers at Herman, who stood twirling his nunchucks around his head.
“Sir, put down the weapon immediately” bellowed all of the officers as one, and Herman laid the nunchucks on the floor and slunk into his and Mama’s bedroom.
The policemen watched him leave and then convened to a corner of the living room, whispering amongst themselves. The officer who had been waiting outside when we arrived seemed to have been made the official spokesman of the group. Turning away from the others, he shuffled towards us, holding his clipboard in one hand, his long blonde mustache quavering on his upper lip. “Listen ma’am” he said to Mama. “I think we have a pretty complete list of what all is missing here. We’ll go around to neighboring houses and take a look underneath ’em, sometimes these criminals can’t carry it all away with ’em and leave it under houses to pick up later. I wouldn’t hold out much hope though. No offense, but don’t seem like you folks had too much to begin with.”
“No, we don’t have a lot” Mama said. “But they even took our Christmas presents! It was the first time we were able to afford presents in years.”
Turning to me, Mama grabbed my hand. “Daisy Mae- we had bought you a battery operated pottery wheel. And your very own copy of the Guru Gita- we even had it blessed by Baba. For crying out loud, what are those assholes going to do with a Guru Gita? They won’t even know what it is! One can only hope the blessing does something for them.”
All three cops were now giving off an odor of discomfort and confusion. “OK, ma’am” our designated cop spokesman said. “I think we’ve done all we can here. We’ll look into this further and see if there is anything else we can do. You’ll have the best night you can, and we’ll be out of your hair now.”
Mama turned away from the cops as they walked out the door and looked at me. “Daisy, get Aaron into bed. We might as well all call it a night. Who knows what we’ll make for breakfast in the morning, I think they even took our oatmeal! Not that they left us a pot to cook it in. I’m so sorry they took your presents, I was so looking forward to seeing you open them.”
“That’s OK, Mama” I said, taking Aaron into the bathroom to pee and then into bed. Thinking I could care less about the Guru Gita, but a pottery wheel would have been nice. And with all my money stolen, there was no way I was ever going to be able to afford a Barbie doll.
In what seemed only minutes, a harsh banging woke me from my pile of blankets on the floor.
Looking over at Aaron, who was sleeping on top of his covers, thumb stuck firmly in his mouth, I walked out into the living room. Mama was already at the door, talking to a slight man with a loud voice who stood squarely in the doorframe, smiling from ear to ear. “Mornin’ there, ma’am” he boomed at Mama. “Our good friends over at the police department told us about the trouble you’ll got into last night, and it sure hit home, thinking about you and your babies with no presents on this good day of the Lord’s birth. We surely can’t be having that now, can we?”
“Who are you?” Mama asked, crossing her arms over her chest and peering out the door.
“Why, we’re your local Jaycees, ma’am! We always do what we can to hand out presents to those in need, and I think you pretty sure well qualify.” Gesturing Mama aside, he held open the door for a small teenage boy who stood behind him, arms loaded with presents whose brilliant wrapping paper and bows gleamed against the early grey light. “Put those right down on the floor, son” he bellowed to the boy. Turning to me, he ruffled my hair with a rough hand “And there are plenty more where those came from, young lady!” Peeking out behind him, I saw a large silver pickup truck, the whole bed of which seemed to be overflowing with packages.
“Those are all for us?” I whispered.
“Well, not all” the man answered “but plenty enough for sure! The police told me there was a baby boy and a little girl here at the house, but takin’ a look at you, you don’t seem that little.
I sure hope you ain’t too big for all them pretty little Barbie dolls we brought you now, are you?”