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It began like any other day. The streets of the city were scented with coffee, pastries, and a good chance of rain. The usual chill nipped at the air. There was a slight bustle of busyness here and there, and the city folk hastened as the clock in the courtyard pushed time forward with a loud clang. At 8:30 a.m. workers made their way to work, learners made their way to learn, and the rest stayed home as the sky changed from bright turquoise to a foreboding gray. Clouds rolled in like troops marching up to the battlefront and the sky grew darker by the minute. It looked more like late evening than the fine morning it started out to be.

It was an unlucky day for Monday. She raced from the post office, pedaling up the cobblestone path with voracious speed as she hurried home to avoid the inevitable precipitation, and to open her gift. The envelope, now tucked away in her pocket like a loose gem, was posted a week ago but all Monday cared to notice was a greeting in multicolored calligraphy that read, HAPPY BIRTHDAY! Tucked within the womblike layer of paper and scrawling penmanship lay a bundle of crisp, largely numbered currency in pretty shades of mauve and green. Only Monday didn’t know this, for if she did, she would have ridden in the other direction and straight to the train station to spend the cash on a ticket going south - to a future far away from the cold, rainy climate of Dunportling. It was her heart’s desire to explore distant lands. But as the story goes, it wasn’t meant to be just then.

Instead, the gears shifted her cycle up the hill, then down, and the wind caught her sending her bird-high above the city traffic. Finally, traveling at a comfortable speed, Monday sat up tall to greet the clouds head-on; hands in her pockets and clutching her future, or that which might have been. Flecks of cumulus gathered in her hair like pearls and trickled down onto her jacket. Then, without further warning, the clouds began their assault and torrents spilled from the sky, drenching Monday and all the rest. In the suddenness of the event, life played a trick on her which Monday has never forgotten. An upturned nail, surprised by the cycle’s sudden force, pierced the tire angrily and the rubber engulfed the nail in one blow. The nail fought back hard and the tire hissed loudly as it was ripped open with dagger-like fierceness. The wheels twisted to and fro and the cycle collapsed in a calamity of metal, rubber, bones, and flesh. Knees and elbows screamed in agony, skinned and bruised. But that was the least of Monday’s woes. She reached into her pocket to find her birthday gift was missing.

Tears welled up and over like tiny waterfalls and Monday let out a cry of despair that could be heard for many miles. Cries turned to shrieks. The city folk thought the world must certainly be coming to an end as chills ran up and down their spines until shrieks turned into quiet, sad whimpers. Monday felt helpless and forlorn but she managed to pull herself into a doorway where it was dry. She sat for a moment pondering the seriousness of her wounds, sniffled twice, and then wiped her eyes on her soaking wet sleeve. A little shiver made her pull her drenched jacket tightly around her as if it would keep her warm. Then she noticed him. He was old and weary; skin and hair grey like the cloudiest of clouds. Monday was glad she wasn’t him, laying over there with nothing but the clothes on his back. When she could look no longer she stood up and slowly gathered the broken, battered bicycle to carry it home.
The old man lay stretched out on a cardboard bed. Bordering on sleep and wakefulness he was jarred from his slumber by the wails of a siren. Dazed, he shook himself into reality, only to find that the siren was a screaming girl. Her shrill lamentation filled his ears to the brim. Then, as quickly as it started, it stopped, replaced by the steady rhythm of the downpour beating on the storefront awning under which he resided. He raised his head up from his pillow--a white plastic sack filled with newspaper--and peered out through the blanket of rain to see where the disturbance was coming from. Across the street, he could see the young girl sitting in a doorway behind a twisted metal heap that slightly resembled a bicycle.

For an instant, they were locked in a gaze which was broken when a fluttering overhead caught his eye. A frigid wind was whipping remnants of leaves and debris into a spiraling, watery funnel, and all at once an envelope dropped from the middle of the phantom twister, landing with a heavy SPLAT on the sidewalk in front of him. It was covered with bits and pieces of who knows what, but it was plump and enticing, albeit a slight mystery.

The old man picked up the wad with dirty, gnarled fingers and fondled it with measured curiosity. It was wet like the weather and blotchy like his skin. Illegible sweeps and curlicues spelled out an unknown greeting, smeared by the rain. He peeled the soggy paper from a card printed with flowers and glitter, which would have glistened nicely if the sun was shining. On the inside of the card was a message: HAPPY BIRTHDAY HONEY! SPEND THIS WISELY; IT’S ALL I’VE GOT. LOVE, MOM. In a neat stack lay 50 newly printed $100 notes ready to spend. The man counted them one by one. Then he looked up at the sky smiling a toothless, cavernous smile, and whispered, “thank you, Mom!” He folded up the gift and tucked it carefully into his empty coat pocket, adjusted his pillow, then he lay back down and fell asleep.

The Gift
Short Story