The Surprise: Part 1 of 3| November 1, 2022
Part of her wanted to be angry and ungrateful. But another part of her was ashamed of her childish behavior
AT four a.m. on a drizzly, dark morning, while the rest of the British population slept, Suri Levy, age 18 months, stood up in her crib and wailed.
Esti, 13 1/2 years old, groaned and wriggled further under the covers.
“Be quiet, Suri!”
“Ma… ma… ma.”
“Mmm,” said Esti. She ought to change Suri’s diaper now before she woke the whole house, but her bed was so warm and delicious… and she was sooo tired.
A loud thump announced that Suri had fallen out of her crib. There was a pause. Esti opened one eye. She really must get up. If only her limbs would obey her. Mmm… the eye closed.
A short pause. Suri began to scream, bloodcurdling cries that brought her mother hurrying into the room, still half asleep. She lifted Suri off the floor.
“Sh… sh…” she said soothingly.
Suri strained toward the door. “Out… out…” she demanded.
“No, Suri. Mommy change Suri’s diaper then Suri goes back into her crib like a good girl.”
“Gagledegaga,” said Suri.
Mrs. Levy sighed. “Not now, Suri.”
With her face turned to the wall, Esti pretended to be asleep. She listened as her mother fussed over Suri, tucking her into the crib and then tiptoeing out to the hallway. It seemed that Suri was settling down. She snuffled and snorted, sucked noisily at her thumb, then turned over several times. There was a moment of calm… but after three nights sharing her bedroom with her baby sister, Esti knew exactly what to expect: the systematic evacuation of all Suri’s worldly possessions from her crib. Sure enough, books, teddy bears, empty bottles, and plastic toys came sailing over the bars. A cardboard book with a rather sharp corner landed on the back of Esti’s head.
“Ow!” said Esti.
Suri burst into peals of laughter at this incredible joke. “Ow… ow… ow.”
There was another silence. Esti rubbed the back of her head. Suri rattled the bars of her cage.
“Bo, bo, bo…”
“You want a bottle?”
A vigorous “ma, ma,” answered in the affirmative.
Esti knew that she ought to go downstairs to the kitchen and make a bottle. Not a difficult thing when you were in an upright position and awake. But she was too tired… far too tired to mooove…
An ominous silence was followed by some creaking and a sharp bang. Suri had climbed out again. This time she landed on her head.
Esti waited for the crying to begin but there was only silence. She turned over. Suri was lying very still on the floor.
For the second time that night, Mrs. Levy came rushing into the bedroom.
Too frightened to look, Esti ran out into the hall. What if Suri was unconscious… or even worse? If only she hadn’t been so lazy. She would give anything now to be woken up by—
“Suri!” She ran back into the room where her mother was attempting to put a wriggling baby back into her crib.
“Mommy! Is she okay?”
Her mother looked at her rather crossly.
“Esti, couldn’t you have gotten her a bottle?”
“I’m sorry Mommy… I was just so tired.”
“What do you think I am?”
Esti stared at her mother in surprise.
“You promised me you’d take care of Suri at night till Auntie Evie leaves and she’s back in her own room. I don’t like to ask a lot of you Esti, but I’ve still not gotten over that flu I had.”
There was a tremble in her mother’s voice and Esti noticed suddenly how white-faced and exhausted she looked.
“I’m sorry, Mommy. Next time I’ll…” She stopped. She’d been saying that for the past three days, ever since Auntie Evie had arrived.
Her mother shrugged.
“I’ll take Suri out of here. She can sleep in my bed.”
“It doesn’t matter. I’ll manage.”
Mrs. Levy carried Suri out of the room and shut the door. Esti went back to bed and lay staring up at the ceiling. Her mother wouldn’t be able to sleep with Suri climbing all over her in bed. She’d been really selfish.
She remembered the way her mother had looked at her, as if she didn’t believe she would keep her word. Sudden tears pricked her eyes. It wasn’t at all nice of her not to trust her own daughter.
She turned back to face the wall. Best to forget about it. Tomorrow she was going out with her friends straight after supper to celebrate the end of exams. They were going to the new ice cream store where you could choose from 25 different flavors. She’d probably go for the strawberry and mango but maybe the pistachio was good as well… Something about pistachios made her think of her mother again. She’d planned to meet her friends at seven, which meant leaving her mother alone just when it was time to clean up from supper and give the little kids baths and get them into bed…
But why should she care? It was her mother’s job, not hers. She was just a kid.
She lay watching the shadows from Suri’s night-light dancing on the ceiling. None of her friends were expected to help so much. They just had their little jobs, like drying the dishes or vacuuming, and that was it. Their fathers weren’t always flying off on business trips to weird places that nobody had heard of, leaving their wives to cope alone. Daddy should have a different job. Really, it just wasn’t fair.
She was wide awake by now and thirsty. She went downstairs to the kitchen. The light was on, and her mother was standing by the kettle, waiting for it to boil for Suri’s bottle. She was balancing Suri on her hip, but she looked like she was sleeping standing up.
“Let me do that.”
“No, no, you go back to bed.”
“Mummy. Is it okay if… I help you before supper, and then go out?”
“Tomorrow. At seven o’clock.”
Her mother didn’t answer.
“I can’t talk now. Do whatever you want.”
Her mother filled the bottle and tested it on the back of her hand. Suri had fallen asleep and was lying heavily on her arm. Esti took Suri from her mother and carried her back to her crib.
Her mother smiled exhaustedly and went into her bedroom.
Carefully, Esti lay Suri down without waking her. Then she sat at the edge of her bed with her head in her hands. Her mother had been so distant. She hadn’t even thanked her for taking Suri.
She looked around the bedroom. It was plain and undecorated; there were always other, more important things, to pay for. Though she did have a nice vanity table with a pink fluffy stool. And the jewelry box and the bottle of perfume which her mother had given her for her birthday. She also had a beautiful pair of new shoes, which she knew her mother had worked overtime to pay for.
Part of her wanted to be angry and ungrateful. But another part of her was ashamed of her childish behavior. It really was quite annoying, having a conscience…
And then it flashed across her mind like a neon sign on a shop front:
When had she ever said thank you?
She felt herself blushing in the cold darkness of the bedroom. Even the shadows seemed to be mocking her: Esti, the Girl Who Was Ungrateful.
But it wasn’t too late! She would find a way to say thank you so that her mother would believe her. She climbed into bed and thought very hard about the things she could do. An idea began to take shape in her mind.
It was special. It was perfect. And it would be a complete surprise.
to be continued…
(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 934)
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