A Chocolate-Covered Pocket
Isabella Ceccomancini, Grade 10
Anais was a 7-year-old girl living in Toulouse, France, with a petite frame and auburn hair. Her eyes were a light blue and her face was oblong. She was a shy yet impulsive girl who was one of 600 in Saint Margaret's orphanage. It was a large brick building that rested on the outskirts of Toulouse. She had never met either of her parents; the only family she had ever known was this place. A caregiver named Helene was the closest thing to a mother Anais could have.
“Get up, children Suivez-Moi,” Helene says, ripping off the sheets on the rows of beds. The children groan and curl up attempting to warm themselves. The first snowfall had just begun and slowly the little white specks had begun to cover the ground.
“Get up now- look it’s snowing,” the children’s ears perk up and eagerly all of them push each other to get closer to the window. Timothy rushed in front placing his nose on the glass sliding his face down in awe.
“Would you look at that!” he exclaims before Helene tugs him off the window. Other children squirm through the small crowd mimicking what Timothy had done.
“Enough of that,” Helene said, pulling the multicoloured, tapered shirts of different children. While everyone gawked at the snow, Anais was putting on thin slippers before silently walking out through the wooden doors. The stairways were cold, and Anais regretted not taking a blanket with her so she crossed her arms trapping in anybody heat she could get while walking down all those narrow stairs. Anais reminded herself to count them all on the way up. When she reached the bottom of the stairs, she saw a small tree shoved into the corner near the main fireplace. The bulbs on the lights had not been turned on and no ornaments were on the dull-looking tree. Christmas never appealed to Anais the way it did to the other kids, and she mainly blamed her situation to be the cause of it. Without a family, Christmas seemed pointless to her. Her favourite part, however, was the buffet of foods during the month of December, collected from donations. Turkey, pies, freshly baked bread, and cakes with too much icing. As she walked towards the dining hall, the floor creaked beneath her small steps. She saw the table filled with surprise goodies. She saw the name cards placed next to each plate and impulsively, quickly began taking the chocolates left on the napkins, shoving them into her pocket. In the end, she had taken 32 squares by the time the other children ran downstairs. She hid under the couch not wanting to get caught and from underneath she watched as some children exclaimed happily from the squares of chocolate they got while a handful sulked angrily. Helene attempted to comfort their cries, repeating that they did have chocolates, but the children whined louder.
“Have we been bad this Christmas?”
“Does Santa hate us?”
“He does! Otherwise he would have given us that chocolate!”
“Children, please. I will get to the bottom of this I promise!”
The children cried and Helene rubbed her palm to her forehead; she began counting each child to make sure everyone was there. More kids started flooding in through the halls. As they took their place at the long tables, Helene lost her train of thought and had to start again. Anais took this opportunity to rush back up the stairs where she would hide under her cot and eat the chocolates in peace. On her 14th piece, her stomach began to ache and her hands were covered in melted chocolate. She took out another piece, but when she looked down into her pocket, she realized all the squares were squished into mush.
“Oh no,” Anais whispered. She crawled out from under the bed and the chocolate had started seeping through her pocket, leaving a splotch of brown against the cream-coloured fabric. She rushed to the closest stalls, but all of them were occupied. She ran down the halls to where the older kids stayed and tried those stalls as well but was confronted by two older girls instead.
“Did little Anais have an accident?” she said laughing before Anais ran into the empty stall ,wiping the chocolate stain roughly. She kept unraveling the toilet paper until there was none left and attempted to scoop the chocolate out by dumping it into the toilet.
“Hey, who's in there? I have to go.” Someone shouts from outside the door. Anais doesn’t answer.
“Hey,” she says louder knocking on the door now. Anais unlocks the door and runs past the girl, leaving the toilet paper all on the floor with chocolate still left in the toilet. Anais runs down the halls looking back to make sure no one followed her, but runs into someone knocking them down. It was little Timothy.
“Anais? What are you doing? What happened to your shirt pocket?” he asks, staring up at the pocket. Anais shakes her head back and forth before running again.
“Wait for a second, Helene, HELENE! Anais, she took the chocolates!” Timothy shouts. Anais can hear Helene’s steps stomping up the stairs. Anais panics, not wanting to be confronted, he runs in the other direction. Helene is close behind her. She races down the stairs and out the main door, running with nothing but her soiled clothes and thin slippers. She sprints out into the winter air, each step making a crunch-like noise. The wind whipped through her hair and made her eyes tear from the cold.
“Anais! Where are you going!” She hears Helene scream. She continues to run until she sees a little town. She had been running for almost 15 minutes and was struggling to catch her breath. She ditched the drenched slippers and walked into the first shop she saw barefoot. The air was warm in the deserted café. Nobody was there besides a barista foaming some milk and a woman sipping on an espresso. Neither of them had noticed the child walk in over the loud classical music playing so Anais walked up to the barista, too short to look over the counter.
“Bonjour,” the barista looks over the counter to the little girl with rosy cheeks, soiled clothes, and damped auburn hair.
“My goodness girl! What happened?” she asks, coming over to the girl.
“Come, let’s get you warmed up. Eliana, I will be back.”
She put on her coat and scarf before picking up the child, wrapping her coat around her small body. Anais held on to her before they reached a small car that was littered with empty coffee cups.
“Don’t mind the mess. I am going to take you to my place and get you cleaned up. Then, we will get you home, okay?”
Anais nodded her head. Staring out the window, watching the buildings go past her, the colour of the sky matched the snow on the ground. The sun peeked out around the clouds, letting a light glow over the rows of buildings. Anais had never seen this place before. The barista honks loudly at the other cars muttering under her breath. Eventually, they reach a small home crammed between more buildings. She picks up Anais and takes her inside. She runs a warm bath and tosses the soiled clothes. Anais sinks into the warm water moving the bubbles around in circles.
“What is your name, little girl?” The barista says grabbing a towel.
“Anais,” she says, still moving the bubbles around.
“Anais, where did you come from?” Anais ponders this for a moment not really knowing exactly where she was from.
“I took the other kids’ chocolates, and I didn’t want to be in trouble like Bree, so I ran away.”
“My friend, but she took the other kids’ food once and the next day a couple took her somewhere else to live and I didn’t want to be taken away. The other kids said the couple that took her was really mean and what if I had been chosen by a mean couple? I wouldn’t like that at all.” The barista realizes the misunderstanding and debates bringing Anais back right away, but she realizes Anais’s situation and pities the young girl.
“Anais, how would you feel about staying with me?”
- - -
20 years later:
I stare at the glowing Christmas tree. My husband joins me.
“Did you call her down?” He nods his head and I hear my 5-year-old daughter race down the stairs and screech in joy.
“It’s Christmas!” she shouts. She runs over to me, hugging my leg tightly. I lift her up, kissing her auburn locks of hair that are identical to mine.
“Go open your presents sweetie,” I say, setting her down, watching as she tears through the colourful wrapping.
“Thank you!” she says, staring down at the new plastic doll we had got her.
“Dad will help you open it?”
Together they go to the kitchen cutting off the zip ties and tape. I am brought back to the Christmas where I had run away. I chose to stay with the barista, but a few hours later a cop and Helene showed up at her door, and that was the last time I saw her. Those few hours with her were the most memorable moments had left from my childhood. After being taken back to the orphanage, most of the children had yelled at or mistreated me for taking their chocolates and I had been lonelier than ever. I spent the remainder of my years at the orphanage until I turned 18 and moved to Paris. I tried to get in contact with the barista multiple times, but I think she had moved elsewhere, and I stopped looking after that, feeling hopeless.
“Did you have a good Christmas, Julia?” I asked my daughter later in the night, tightly tucking her bedding around her. Her eyes stay barely open, and it is really past her bedtime.
“Mhm,” she says quietly. I kiss her forehead before joining my husband on the couch. He wraps his arm around me while watching his program. I can’t help but continue to look at the tree when I notice a little fabric ornament, made from the chocolate-covered pocket.
“Did you put up that ornament?”
“Which one?” he says looking over at the tree.
“The fabric one right there,” I say pointing at it.
“Julie must have taken it out of the boxes and put it up.” He says shrugging it off. It was the little ornament the barista had made for me. I told her I had never hung an ornament on a tree before so she quickly cut the pocket out before tying an old shoelace through it.
“I need to go to Toulouse,” I say, getting up quickly. My husband turns to me.
“Yes now. Where’s my purse? I’m going to take a bus. I’ll be back in a couple of days,” I say as I grab my wallet. My husband stands up trying to talk me out of it.
“Anais, it’s late.”
“It’s okay. I just need to go, okay?” Before he can object, I walk out.
6 hours later, I arrived in Toulouse. I hadn’t been here since I was 18. Snow covered the roads and sidewalks. It was 6:30 in the morning so the sidewalks were mostly empty. I got a cab to take me to the same street the barista had lived in but where her house had once stood was now a large apartment building. I sink to my knees covering my eyes with my gloves.
“You alright Ms?” a woman says to me, I look up at her with red-rimmed eyes and see an older lady with graying hair.
“Come let’s get you out of this snow.” I stand taking my arm in hers. She walks me over to a rusted bench not far from the apartment. She hands me a little white handkerchief and I wipe away the frozen tears.
“You alright dear?” she says looking over at me with concern.
“Yes, I’m sorry I just- I used to know someone who lived right over there but I haven’t seen her in over 20 years. I was just hoping I could see her again.” I pull out the little ornament showing the lady.
“She had given me this and it reminded me of her. I have been looking for it for years now.”
The lady looks down at the fabric ornament before handing it back to me.
“I once helped a little girl with hair identical to yours- the same auburn colour.” I look over at her, smiling.
“What was that woman's name? Maybe I know her?”
“She never told me I always called her the barista.” The woman grins to herself.
“Anais.” My eyebrows raise at her, unsure if I had heard her right.
“The little girl’s name was Anais.” My eyes begin to tear as I realize who is sitting beside me.
“My name is Lily.” She says tears welling up in her eyes as well. I throw my arms around her, my face digging into her wool scarf.
“I missed you, Lily,” I say with a sigh of relief.