Julio looked at the new black and white soccer ball. He turned it carefully in his hands and ran his fingers along the seams.

“Do you like it?” Tia (aunt) Maria asked.

Sim (yes),” Julio answered, still not believing the ball was his. “But why are you giving it to me?”

Tia Maria laughed. “Because you help me so much,” she replied. “You run errands for me and help me clean my yard. You have earned more than a ball, but this is all I can give you. I hope you’ll enjoy it.”

Julio looked at his tia. He knew she didn’t have much money, and he wondered if he should accept such a big gift from her. But her eyes told him that she would be hurt if he did not take the ball.

Obrigado (thank you),” he said softly.

“All I ask is that you always remember why it is yours,” Tia Maria told Julio. “Now go play.”

Julio thanked his tia again as he rushed out into the spring air. He rolled the ball over and over in his hands, wondering what Tia Maria had meant by, “Remember why it is yours.”

But the thought soon left when Julio noticed the budding trees. Spring meant soccer with his friends, and this spring he had his very own soccer ball!

Julio dropped the ball to the ground and skillfully kicked it down the cobblestone sidewalk as he ran.

“Hey, where did you get the new soccer ball?” Antonio asked as he came out of his house.

Tia Maria gave it to me.” Julio replied proudly.

“That’s great! Can I play with you?”

“Sure!” Julio answered.

Antonio and Julio kicked and rolled the ball back and forth. Before long others joined them, and soon there were enough boys to start a soccer game.

Tia Maria watched from her apartment window, and Julio could see her out of the corner of his eye as he played.

Julio loved to play soccer and he was good. Someday he hoped to play on the national team of Brazil. Tia Maria knows that, he thought. Maybe that’s why she gave me the ball.

But the thought vanished as the ball came his way. Skillfully he maneuvered it with his feet toward the imaginary goal, never touching it with his hands. As he neared the goal, he kicked the ball and sent it sailing through the air and into the goal to score.

“Good work!” Antonio shouted. “We’re ahead now!”

For a while a younger boy watched shyly from the sidewalk. Then he slowly walked over to where the group of boys was playing.

“Oh, no,” Antonio whispered to Julio. “Paulo is coming! Don’t let him play! He always messes up the game. We’ll lose if he plays!”

It was true that Paulo was not a good player. He often lost the ball to the other team, and on several occasions he had even run for the wrong goal. But Julio knew how much Paulo liked to play.

“Can I play?” Paulo asked hopefully.

Julio looked at the other boys and started to say no. Then he glanced at the window where Tia Maria was standing. Her face was drawn tight in a concerned expression as she too waited for Julio to answer.

“Remember why it is yours.” Her words came to Julio’s mind. Once more he looked at Tia Maria. He had shared his time and efforts to help her, and he wondered if she were trying to tell him to keep sharing.

Julio looked away from the window and then turned to Paulo. “Sure, you can play,” he said. Before anyone could say anything, he added, “As a matter of fact, Antonio is a good player, and he’ll help you learn more about the game.”

Paulo’s face lit up with a smile. “You will?” he asked eagerly.

Antonio looked at Julio and then he too smiled. “Sure, I’d be happy to! We’ll all teach you to be a great soccer player!”

As they began to play again, Julio glanced up at the window. Tia Maria was smiling as she nodded her head. Julio waved at her before he continued playing the game.

Suddenly he knew why Tia Maria had given him the new soccer ball.

Illustrated by Ted Henninger