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They worked with only the crackling of paper and click of rubber bands. Finally Miles asked, 'What you getting for Christmas, Chris?"
"I don't know." The answer came quickly.
"What you mean, don't know? What you want, man?" Jamal asked.
"Nothing for Christmas . . ."
"Nothing!" Miles interrupted.
"I want a bike for my birthday."
"Oh, that's right. You were born on Christmas Day. Christopher Noel Dodd. I always forget." "What's all right. Everybody forgets," Chris said sadly. "But I'll be eleven years old, just like you ~; guys, this Christmas Day."
"It's uncool being born on Christmas Day," Jamal said, and laughed. <>p> "Yeah, nothing cool about it at all." Chris didn't laugh. "Every present is a Christmas and birthday present."
All the papers folded, they began stuffing them into the double basket on the back of Miles's bike. Chris admired the sleek lines of the bicycle. Suddenly he thought about the time. "I forgot. I gotta go. Uncle Ronald is probably at my house right now. I'm making stuff for his Kwanzaa celebration." ' "His what?" Jamal asked. "Kwanzaa," Miles answered. "Don't you know what Kwanzaa is?" "Never heard of it. What is it?" P "A celebration for us Black people," Miles said. "Aw, man. That ain't telling me what it means." "Kwanzaa means first fruit harvest," Chris said. "Like Thanksgiving?" "No-oo, no. Not like that," Chris replied. "Then what is it?" Jamal persisted. "It's a celebration. I gotta go." Chrisgrabbed his packages and started out. "Hey, man, your money." Miles ran after him. "No. It's okay." Chris waved him off. He still didn't want his friends to know he needed the fifty cents. "But I promised. Here, and have a merry Christ mas." Miles pressed the money into his hand. "Don't wish me a merry Christmas. Wish me a happy birthday." "I willon your birthday." Chris put the two quarters in his pocket and re membered the time when money hadn't seemed that important. He carried his gifts carefully, not want ing to crush the colorful wrappings. Everyone else in his fifth-grade class had made only one gift. But Mrs. Rush, his teacher, had let him make three: a towel rack for his mama, a tie rack for his daddy, and a small dollhouse for Beth, his five-year-old sis ter. Creating things with his hands was what he liked best. The sun lowered, the wind blew colder. Chris hur ried toward home. Trunks of tall trees wrapped with silver, red, and green foil made the walk a shiny lane. He passed brightly decorated houses. One had a Santa in a sleigh pulled by only one prancing rein deer. Chris knew that as soon as night fell his street would glow with lights~ gold and white and all the colors of the rainbow. In other years, a tree had stood in their big win dow, too, glittering a colorful greeting. Maybe we won't be getting a Christmas tree, he thought. Prob ably not, with Daddy spending money looking for a job. His daddy had been out of town a whole week trying to find work. But it was not the tree that was troubling Chris. The haunting unhappiness that he often felt at this season came over him now. December twenty-fifth should be my day, the way December third is Miles's and June twenty-eighth is Jamal's. But no, it's al : ways merry Christmas, Chris! Chris knew he should have picked up Beth long ago. Remembering his uncle, he walked faster. He didn't want Beth to see the gifts, so he went by home first. His uncle had not come. He quickly hid his packages in his room and ran to the baby sitter's house. Beth stood holding her wrapped packages, looking out the window, waiting impatiently. "You late," she scolded. - "How you know I'm late? You can't even tell time." Chris let the sitter know they were leaving. As they started home, he asked, "What's all that you got?" "Presents I made." "What'd you make?" "It's a secret." "Bet I can guess," Chris teased. "Bet you can't." "Let me hold them." Reluctantly she handed him the packages. One felt thin as paper. The other, though smaller, felt heavy. "I know I can guess," he said, "but I'll give you another chance to tell me." "The little one is my hand for Daddy. The other is my picture for Mama." "I knew all along that's what it was," Chris said smugly. "You didn't." Sensing she knew she had been tricked into tell ing, he dodged out of reach as she tried to shove him off the walk and escaped, laughing. "Every kinder gartner makes a clay handprint and a paper silhou ette for Christmas." The sad look on her face made him quickly add, "Mama and Daddy'll like them." "How you know?" "They liked mine. They still have them." The house was cold and no aroma of good things cooking welcomed them. Before, when their daddy had a job, their mama was often home when they came in from school. A nurse, she had worked part time. Now, not only was she on the job full-time, she often stayed overtime. Chris turned on the heat. Then he went into the kitchen with Beth following. He looked into the re frigerator but found nothing tempting. "You hun gry?" "No," Beth answered. "I had some toast and milk. When is Daddy coming home?" "Maybe Sunday." With their jackets still on, they sat in the kitchen, not talking.