Winter had finally arrived.
I looked out from my bedroom window, watching as the white powder piled up on the street outside. I could feel the chill seeping in through the window behind my computer monitor. My parents had long suspected there was a draft in my room, and I confirmed it for them on more than one occasion. But ever the busy bees, they hadn't gotten around to fixing it. Personally I didn't mind the chill; I'd just throw on a jacket during the day or another blanket at night. I didn't pay the heating bill, after all.
I clicked on a random link from my favorites bar on the browser window. It was Saturday, and I just wanted to kill some time before lunch. I had plans to meet a friend down at the local mall for some gift shopping. She was going to be doing all the shopping, I was just tagging along to have something to do. I shot a glance over to my cellphone, which sat next to the keyboard. The device, which had a bright yellow shell, had been a gift from my mother earlier in the year. A surprise gift, given that my old phone had died unexpectedly while running some errands for her.
When I looked back to the monitor, I saw that the random link I clicked was for the world's greatest online shopping hub. Something to do with a rainforest in South America, I think. Though I have the distinct feeling children around the world recognize the name more now as the online marketplace than the actual rainforest. But I digress; since we were already in the month of December, they were announcing deals for all sorts of stuff on their front page. And not just for online purchases, but also with affiliated brick & mortar stores in the city. Always a sucker for a good bargain, I went looking through their specials.
And I'll admit a lot of their offers were superb. I'm talking 60% off everyday merchandise, or 50% of electronics like TVs and portable MP3 players. But these were all gadgets and gizmos I had plenty of. What I was really looking for was a gift for my mother. Something she'd love, but normally wouldn't buy on her own. And that was a pretty hard thing to find, given she was out constantly with her friend buying any and everything that tickled her fancy.
But like many women, she had a weakness for handbags. Designer handbags, as you might guess. The kind that go for an insane amount of money no teenager like myself with an allowance could hope to afford. But like many parents, she'd take even a cheap knock-off if it were a gift from her only child. And so long as I could find a design I knew she didn't have, I'd be able to give her that small bit of joy this holiday.
So it was that I looked through page after page of advertisements for local shops. Since we were so close to the end of the holiday season, ordering it online was a no go; it'd never get here on time. And faster shipping was woefully out of my financial reach. Before I knew it, my phone let out a familiar ring. It was my friend, no doubt calling to inform me she was ready to go. I put the phone to my ear and bid her a good morning.
"Listen, I'm gonna have to cancel."
"What? Why?" I asked into the yellow cellphone.
"My mom wants me to help her with stuff. Family reunion stuff. Ugh." I couldn't help but laugh at her grumbling on the line.
"That's okay. I know how that is."
"So can we try again tomorrow?"
"Sorry, can't My mom wants me to help her tomorrow with something, too. Ugh." My own grumble came out mixed with a giggle as I tried to mimic her exact grunt.
"This sucks. If we go next weekend, it'll be packed because it's the twenty-fourth on Saturday. Can you make it sometime during the week?"
"Maybe. I could skip studying one day, no harm done. Pick a day and we'll meet up at the mall after school."
So we went down the list of days in the week to follow, landing on Thursday for our meet. We both figured it was the one day of the week no one wanted to go out. Don't bother asking the reasoning for such a guess, it's really of no importance to this little tale. I hung up the phone, and accidentally clicked a random link on the page. Before I could undo my mistake, I found what I had been looking for.
It was a handbag, some brand name I had never heard of before, but it was on sale and it looked adorable. Like an item bag out of a video game, made of a tan leather with a single pocket on the outside. The price was a bit steep, but I could afford it if I pulled out all my hidden savings. I'd even have to sacrifice a few purchases of my own down the road.
But I believed in good karmic return. I don't know whether it's a true philosophy or theology or whatever, but if I bought that for my mother, she'd return the favor tenfold without question. I had to get it. And best of all, it would be available at a local store near the mall. My plans with my friend had been cancelled, but I could still go on my own.
I looked out the window. It was still snowing, and it looked like it might get worse as the day went on. The forecast confirmed this with a quick check online. Still, I would not be dissuaded. I had to get that handbag.
I threw on a few layers of clothing, picked out an umbrella from the stand on the way out the house, and was on my way. As usual, my mother wasn't home, so I didn't have to worry about her asking me where I was going or for what reason. And best of all there was no note left behind asking me to do some last minute grocery shopping. The next-door neighbor was tending to his front porch as always, so I gave the standard greeting on my way out. Sometimes I wondered if he ever told my mother of my comings and goings...
I made my way to the bus stop, which was just down the street and along the way to the book store I so frequently visited. The snow was still coming down, but not hard enough I'd need to use the umbrella. And the bus didn't take more than a few minutes to swing by, anyway. I dropped a few coins into the admission box and took a seat near the front. I was never one to move directly to the back of the bus. I noticed kids in school did that most of the time. Usually the troublemakers.
I sat by a window and alone for most of the trip, until a mother with two children boarded and instructed one of her kids to sit next to me. I would've moved my purse and umbrella onto the chair to prevent that, but seeing as how the only other available seat was towards the back of the bus, I let the kid sit there. He was a cheery little boy, probably around three or four years old. His mother warned him not to talk to strangers.
"Hi! What's your name?" He ended up asking me regardless.
"What did I just tell you?" The mother scolded from her seat on the other side of the bus. The shameless boy just sulked.
"You should listen to your mom." I told him. It only made him sulk more.
A few minutes of watching him sulk (which I'll admit was adorable and hard to turn away from), and it was my stop. Against his mother's orders, he still bid me farewell, so I ended up doing the same. If she was anything like my own mother, the little boy would be in for quite a painful tug of the ear later. Once off the bus, I marched into the mall through the nearest entrance, which happened to be a clothing department store. My destination was on the other side of the mall, so I'd be walking quite a bit to get there.
It seemed as though people had all thought alike, and the mall was packed to the brim. People moving this way and that, carrying bags of stuff that made it hard to walk around without constantly getting assaulted by people's purchases. I was rather slim, so I stuck to the wall and did my best to avoid incoming attacks by cardboard boxes and plastic bags. I still ended up taking a few hits, including one painful jab from the corner of a rather large package under a bodybuilder's arm.
Finally I arrived at the store, and got right to hitting up the handbag section. Naturally the place was crawling with other women, many of them practically fighting each other over the cheapest items they could get their hands on. People like this always fascinated me, so I had to pull myself away from watching the chaos to find what I had come for. Much as I wanted to be present if an actual fight broke out between middle-aged women, I really just wanted to get my mother's gift and be on my way back home. I still had to wrap it up before she showed up, and she had all the wrapping paper in her room. Probably wouldn't get another chance at all before Christmas.
So I got to looking. And I looked, and looked, and looked for a fair amount of time I didn't keep track of. But the bag was no where to be found. My luck was bad enough that they probably didn't have any more. My last resort was asking an employee, who would probably just say there weren't any left to get me out of the store. I took out my cellphone and quickly pulled up a picture of the handbag I had saved from my computer.
"Excuse me," I called out to the first person sporting the store's uniform I saw. "I'm looking for this handbag."
I showed her the picture on my cellphone, but the woman took the phone from my hands to get a better look. I had been hoping to avoid that, because I absolutely hated people touching my stuff. But rather than cause a scene now, I let her look as close and hard as she wanted.
"Sorry, we're sold out of these." She finally stated, passing me the phone.
"Are you sure?"
"Yeah. Real popular that one. I even missed out. Sorry."
I cursed under my breath. If someone heard me, I didn't care. There were plenty of other handbags to choose from around me, but I was set on that one in particular. Plus, anything else around me my mother already had or could get on her own. Or already bought to gift herself for Christmas. I had seen a suspicious number of bundles under the tree at home, and I was pretty sure they weren't clothes.
Still, I took a seat in a corner of the store and whipped out my cellphone again. It would be tough to surf the internet with the amount of people in the mall, but I had to try and find another store with the same bag somewhere close by. Preferably in the same mall, but if I had to I'd visit a store outside the mall. A few keyword searches later, the Internet delivered a promising result. The bag in question was carried by a local shop, in a shopping center just a short ways from the mall. I'd never been in that area before, but there was a bus stop nearby. If anything I could run to the stop and get away without much trouble.
So I left the mall, taking a bit more damage along the way out. If I took any longer getting out, I'd probably end up looking bruised and beaten by the time I got home. Then I could lie to my mother and tell her I had to fight off crazies at the mall to get her the gift. Would that mean my karmic return for the gift would triple? Quadruple, even? I entertained the thought all the way to the shopping center, which was a brisk walk away. Along the way I had to make use of the umbrella I brought, as the snow started to fall harder after midday. Cloud cover was heavy, so even though it was just past lunchtime it was starting to get dark. I hadn't checked the weather, so for all I knew the town could be in for a winter blizzard.
And here I was shopping without a surefire way of getting home.
Well, I could just call my mother and have her pick me up. If I got the handbag for her, I'd tell her it was a Christmas gift and she couldn't see it until the twenty-fifth. She wouldn't object, anyway. But the complete surprise is what I really wanted to give her.
The shopping center was tucked away in a corner alley, with most of the shops on higher levels along the street reachable by staircases. It had gotten dark enough that most of them had already switched on their lights, so the entire place was lit up by artificial light and signs, each trying to attract potential customers. Though as far as I could tell, I was the only person in the area.
I made my way up one flight of stairs and into the shop I saw listed online. It was a tiny little thing, probably the size of my living room. And it was completed drowned in all sorts of merchandise marked down from department store prices. My first guess was everything here was either knock-offs or stolen.
"Can I help you?" The man running the shop asked me right away. He had a beard and gruff look about him. The kind of face you'd expect to see running a shop that dealt in stolen goods. Assuming all this was stolen, anyway.
"I'm looking for this bag..." I was about to show him the picture on my cellphone, but stopped myself. I didn't really want to go waving my brand new device so freely here.
The man seemed to notice my hesitation. "You have a picture, right? Let me see it."
I stood perfectly still for a few seconds, unsure how to proceed. I could've just run out the door and gotten away. I doubt the man would've thought much of me except I was a crazy teenager or something. But somehow my hopeful feelings overpowered rational thought, and I pulled my cellphone out of my pocket. The man nodded when he saw my phone, which put me on edge. I scrolled through the images and found the one of the handbag.
"This one." I showed him the picture, but left enough distance between us so he'd have to make an effort to take my phone from my hand.
The man leaned in close, but didn't make a move to take the yellow device from my hand. He squinted at the picture, then reeled back with a smile.
"I know this bag. Hold up."
He came around the front counter and towards me. I moved back instinctively, but the man continued towards me. Two seconds later I was up against the wall, but the man didn't change directions. As my heart began to race, he raised one hand and shook it.
"You're in the way, miss."
My eyes went wide. "Huh?"
"The bag. It's up there."
I didn't move, but just glanced up as quickly as I could without it being obvious. Sure enough, I saw something tan up above. I realized the man was telling the truth, and moved out of his way. As he reached for the handbag I'd been looking for, I tried to suppress a blush at having thought the worst of him on a whim. Nothing wrong with a bit of caution, but I had taken it too far.
The man brought the handbag around to the counter, and rang me up for the purchase. It was considerably cheaper than I had anticipated, but I dared not ask why. No matter which way I worded it, I'd be asking him whether it was stolen or fake. So I paid, gave him a warm smile and bid him farewell. I was almost certain the smile he returned was fueled by the traces of a blush on my cheeks from this whole experience.
Back outside, the snow continued to fall. There was even a bit of wind kicking up, and even with my few layers I was starting to feel the chill. I picked up the pace and made it to the bus stop just in time to catch it back home.
The twenty-fifth arrived.
I hadn't been able to properly wrap the bag I got for my mom, so I ended up keeping it with me in my room until Christmas Eve. That night, I snuck it under the tree in the same plastic bag I had brought it home a week prior. Of course I scribbled "For Mom" on the plastic with a marker, but it looked awful compared to everything else under the tree. But it would have to do.
She woke up that morning, not really caring that much about opening the presents. After all, most of them (thankfully not all) were from her to herself. She poured herself a cup of coffee, then turned her gaze to the collection under the tree. That's when she saw the mystery gift concealed by a thin layer of gray plastic. I was sitting at the table, having breakfast silently.
She walked over to the tree, and picked up the bag.
"For me...?" She said, then turned to me.
I smiled at her. "Open it."
Instead of just flipping the bag over to pull the item out, she actually ripped apart the plastic. Words cannot describe the sheer joy on my mother's face when she saw the handbag. I even think her eyes welled up from the sheer delight. She ran over to me, and gave me the tightest hug I could remember.
"Thank you!" She said, tears practically flowing down her cheeks.
"You're welcome, Mom." I said, trying my best not to be as much a sap and cry myself.