Molly’s Surprise

By Jeanine F. Tibbitts

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    Molly could never wait for something to happen. She did all she could to make something happen quickly.

    Most of the time Molly’s impatience did not get her into serious trouble. She was just in the habit of hurrying with everything she did.

    One day Molly’s teacher, Miss Raymond, said, “Class, your project this month concerns a member of this classroom. How many of you have noticed that Naryana isn’t at school today?”

    Ten sixth-grade hands waved above Molly’s head. Molly hadn’t noticed, but, then, she hadn’t paid any special attention to Naryana.

    “Naryana Ranjappa is Indian,” Miss Raymond said as she pulled down their geography map. “But she is not an American Indian. She is from India.” Molly watched Miss Raymond place her long pointer on a country across the Arabian Sea and to the east of Africa. “Naryana was born in India and for a short time lived in England. From there she moved to our city here in the United States.”

    “Wow!” Howard Higgins said. “She’s come a long way!”

    “And she is not happy here,” Miss Raymond continued. “You must have noticed how sad she is. That is a problem we might be able to help her solve. What can we do to make her smile and be happy?”

    “Miss Raymond?” Molly wiggled at her desk until her teacher called on her.

    “Yes, Molly?”

    “Miss Raymond, I have an idea to make Naryana feel more at home. Why couldn’t we have an Indian festival with something about the customs of her country?”

    “That’s a wonderful idea, Molly,” their teacher answered, and all the students agreed.

    Looking at her class, Miss Raymond said thoughtfully, “If you like the festival idea, you’ll have to find out about Indian customs without telling Naryana. Perhaps if we surprise her it will bring a smile to her face.”

    All the children liked the idea and began working right away. The different ways of this country on the other side of the world made them want to learn more and more about it.

    Janice checked out from the library a large picture book about India with photographs of people and animals wandering through narrow, crowded streets. Howard brought a calendar picture of an Indian girl who had a red mark on her forehead. She was wearing a beautiful yellow silk dress called a sari. The whole class learned about India in small groups, at recess, or after school without Naryana discovering their surprise.

    Naryana was tiny for her age when compared to her classmates. Most of the time she sat quietly staring down at her desk.

    The night before the festival many of the children stayed after school and helped decorate the room. They swirled and curled brightly colored designs with poster paint. They hoped that the decorated elephant, the model of the Taj Mahal, and the traditional welcome of fresh fruit and flowers would all help to bring a smile to Naryana’s face. The children felt the excitement grow as the room took on a festive look.

    The next morning everyone came to school early. The boys and girls stood silently around the room waiting for Naryana to come to class.

    Within a few minutes Naryana walked into the room. Her eyes widened with surprise. She looked at the decorations and at the boys and girls and they looked at her. Would she smile? they wondered.

    Molly carefully led Naryana to the center of the room. As she looked around at the colorful decorations from her native land, Naryana smiled. But Molly noticed that it was a sad kind of a smile. It pushed at her cheeks, but it did not change her face as they had hoped it would. The festival began as fruits, nuts, and flowers appeared as if by magic. One of the girls played “Song of India” on the piano and Miss Raymond read Kipling’s poem “Rikki Tikki Tavi” to them. They ate, sang, and laughed while sitting on the floor in traditional Indian fashion.

    It was a wonderful festival, but Molly was not satisfied. She had hoped for a wide, happy smile from Naryana, but only a shy, little smile had lighted the face of the girl from India.

    Later at home, Molly decided that the fruit and colorful designs at school had meant little to Naryana. She wanted to make her happy but would have to do it in another way. Molly tried to think of something really special that she could do for Naryana. She looked around her bedroom, wondering if she might give her a gift. Molly saw her brush and comb set, her stuffed giraffe, and her dolls, but nothing seemed to be suitable.

    Molly finally decided to go over to Naryana’s house. Maybe I can cheer her up, she thought. As she ran up the walk Molly suddenly stopped. Naryana was sitting alone on her front steps with her eyes searching the ground.

    “Hello, Naryana,” Molly said with a cheery voice.

    Startled, Naryana looked up but she didn’t smile. “You’re Molly aren’t you?” she asked.

    “Yes,” Molly answered, surprised that Naryana knew her name. Naryana invited Molly into her house. The rich-looking brass ornaments and brightly woven fabrics decorating the walls were beautiful. As the girls went back to Naryana’s bedroom, Molly caught the pleasant smell of spices and perfume that filled the hall.

    Naryana had twin beds in her room and Molly immediately noticed two photographs hanging on the wall between them. They were pictures that looked like Naryana but not the girl Molly knew. Each of these pictures showed a face that was bright-eyed and happy.

    “I’m the one on the right,” Naryana explained, “and the other one is Shani, my sister. We are identical twins.”

    “But where is she?” Molly asked.

    “In Devonshire, England. We left her there with relatives, because she was too ill to come here with us.”

    Molly watched Naryana’s eyes fill with tears and her chin begin to quiver as she talked.

    “Shani had a bad accident and can not be moved until she is better.”

    “Naryana, we didn’t know you had a twin sister in England. Miss Raymond didn’t tell us.” Suddenly, Molly knew how she could make Naryana happy. It might take weeks, but it would be worth every bit of time and trouble.

    It was hard for Molly to keep a secret, but she didn’t tell anybody about her plan for over a month. When she was sure she couldn’t keep the surprise any longer, a package arrived from her brother.

    After lunch that day, Molly came flying breathlessly into the classroom, carrying a package and her family’s tape recorder. She went straight up to Miss Raymond’s desk and whispered something to her.

    “Oh, Molly! Yes, of course,” she said. “Let’s play it right now.”

    Miss Raymond called the class to order. They all felt the excitement of something about to happen.

    “Molly has a wonderful surprise for us.” Miss Raymond announced.

    Everyone sat quietly when Molly stood up proudly and said, “You may know that my brother is on a mission in southern England. Well, I wrote to him several weeks ago and asked him to do me a favor.”

    Molly glanced back at Naryana and saw her raise her head and watch attentively as Molly continued, “He sent me this tape and I want to play it for you now.”

    She turned on the recorder and a sweet voice began speaking, “Dear Naryana and Miss Raymond’s sixth-grade class: It is raining here in Devon, and the flowers and bushes outside my bedroom window seem to grow with each raindrop even though we are well into fall. I want to tell you that Doctor Hardwell says I am slowly getting better …”

    From then on the tape from Shani was a treat for everyone. On previous occasions, Naryana’s rare smiles never quite filled her face, but now she was beaming when she heard her sister’s words filled with hope.

    For Naryana and for them all this voice was a miraculous bridge over time and two continents.

    For Molly, it was a lesson in friendship and patience. Sometimes, Molly decided, best things do come from waiting.

    Illustrated by Barbara Summers