I almost missed it. It was Christmas Eve day, December 24th, and I had just returned from doing an errand (one of the few I could do during this COVID Christmas season-- picking up a prescription at the pharmacy.)
As I pulled into my driveway, I glanced at the front door, a door we rarely use, and noticed a package sitting there in front of it.
From the angle of where I was perched in my car, I thought it was a cardboard box bearing something ordinary, something I'd ordered from Walmart, but on closer inspection, I saw that it was a shiny peridot-blue gift bag with matching glittery handles. Who would leave a gift on our doorstep during the pandemic?, I pondered.
I scooped up the bag, placed it on the kitchen counter and removed the multi-colored tissue paper. Inside the bag was an array of individual, gold-foil-wrapped Ferrero Rocher chocolates as well as one Lindt chocolate. There were also two chocolate croissants (my favorite), also individually packaged, which would make a wonderful addition to brunch on Christmas morning.
I opened the card excitedly; my curiosity peaked. The front of the card said "Have a Merry Christmas," On the inside, the words "And a Happy New Year" were printed. But as to whom it was from, I was at a loss because in very neat handwriting someone had carefully written with festive green and red felt pens "Season's Greetings and Best Wishes from your neighbors at 297." Also included was a smiley face.
Hmm. We live in a townhouse development with over 60 units. Maybe it's because we live so close to one another, but most people keep to themselves. I only knew a couple of my neighbors by name, and they lived much closer to me. I racked my brain, but I couldn't imagine who lived at 297, which was at the other end of our community.
With the mystery still unsolved, my husband Allan and I marched over to 297 and rang the bell to find out who our secret Santa was, to ask if someone--a child, perhaps, had left the gift at the wrong house, and/or thank them for it if it was intended for us.
A woman in her late 30s actually opened the door, which surprised us because of A) COVID 19, B) we were wearing masks and thus, indistinguishable from robbers, and C) no one usually rings one's bell around here.
A teenage girl was visible on the stairs behind the woman, who donned a silky, bright-purple sari with red trim, her thick, long hair tied down in back. She had a slight accent. She was probably of South Asian descent, I surmised. I didn't recognize her.
"We got your gift," I said, pulling down my mask briefly so she could see my face. "Did you mean to give it to us?"
"Yes," she replied.
"Thank you," I said. "That was so nice of you!" The woman and teenager beamed.
"Did you give one to everyone?" I asked. I wondered because that would be a huge and expensive task for 60-plus units! "No, just eight," she replied.
It was cold standing there with the wind whipping across our cheeks, and with the fear and anxiety of COVID looming, we only stayed a minute or two--for their sakes and ours.
I wanted to ask more. What are your names? Do you celebrate Christmas? And most of all: why did you choose us? But I did not ask.
It had been a God-awful year for everyone except for, perhaps, mask makers and sellers, and, oh yes, amazon.com.
It was a year, thankfully, unlike any other. An impeachment trial that went nowhere. Racial unrest. Massive job loss. Hunger. The Loop and Magnificent Mile boarded up after rioting and looting. A presidential election in which one candidate refused to concede.
Always, always, ever present since March, was COVID 19. As of today in the U.S., there were almost 19 millions cases of COVID with 330,000 souls dying from it.
Most of the rest of us, lonely and constantly on edge, worried we'll contract this horrible plague. So-ooo we social distanced. We stayed far away from friends and the loved ones who did not live in our own homes.
Personally, there were other terrible things that took place, including the sudden deaths (not from COVID) of my beloved cousin Ricky and Allan's longtime chum Jay.
After a year of darkness, now we're starting to see the light, both figuratively, and with daylight increasing every passing day, in actuality. A vaccine is in sight! And for me, an unexpected, seemingly small gift from a stranger that brought sparkle, sweetness and voluminous joy.
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