There are moments in our lives when we need to make a decision. A decision that will have a major impact on the rest of our existence. I thought my decision to join Nathan’s charity (because I did eventually remember to ask for his name) was that crucial one, you know, the life-changing part.
And it was, to a certain extend. I started working with him a month ago, and we have already achieved incredible things. From housing, we have moved into the job market, purchasing shares in factories and creating work placements for our people.
But something was still missing. I didn’t know what that time. Was I still a prisoner of my greed, wanting to earn more money? I didn’t think so. I tried to talk to Nathan about this, but I didn’t want to sound ungrateful. Because, in a way, I was.
I had this amazing opportunity to help people. People I knew. It wasn’t the fact that I left my previous job behind, no. I could deal with change. So, if money or a change of careers wasn’t the issue, then what was missing from my life? Shouldn’t I have been over the moon for being able to do something good?
I thought it would be that easy, yes. And I felt so ashamed for not feeling as grateful for it as I should have been. The people I was helping had literally nothing. Not even a penny to their names. So, why was I still being greedy?
Nathan’s voice brings me back to reality and the present and I look up at him with a tight smile.
‘Shall we go and get something to eat?’
I bite my lower lip, hesitating. How could I tell him that right now I feel like I don’t deserve to eat at a fancy restaurant? That I feel like I’m not doing enough? He lets out a sigh, shaking his head.
‘Listen, Emily, you are doing great. Better than most, actually.’
A blush creeps up my cheek. How does he read me so well? He gets up then, offering me a hand and I take it. He pulls me up, then directs me to the window. I look outside and a few of the people we helped wave up at me.
‘Tell me what you see.’
I sigh again, furrowing my brows.
‘There’s Margaret and Eva, and Peter…’
He shakes his head again.
‘What are they doing?’
My frown deepens.
‘I don’t know, I can’t really tell from up here.’
‘Exactly. You won’t know the effect you have on these people by sitting in this office. I’m not saying this to offend you, but to help you.’
As I don’t reply, he adds:
‘If you don’t go and mingle, you will never know how great your achievement is. And you will never find out what’s missing still. I could tell you, but what would be the point?’
I roll my eyes at him.
‘The point would be that I would know, wouldn’t I? What’s with all the secrecy?’
There is a sad glint in his eyes, and he clears his throat.
‘I was missing the same thing. And if it wasn’t for these people and my willingness to be with them, I wouldn’t have found out to this date. But you need to find it out for yourself.’
I want to ask why, but knowing that he will just close up on me, I decide to let it go. He might be right. I need to find out what’s missing from my life, and I need to do it quick if I ever want to be happy. With a third sigh, I leave the office and climb down the stairs.
The sunshine blinds me for a moment, and it feels like I haven’t been outside for ages. I steal one last glance at Nathan, who’s still standing at the window, then I make my way to the crowd. There are five of them, all laughing so hard that they have tears in their eyes.
I feel awkward, as if I have stepped into a secret circle. But it only lasts for a moment, as Roxy spots me instantly, running out of the circle and coming up to me for a hug. I caress her soft curls, inhaling her baby scent. She can’t be more than five or six, and I really admire her innocence. Sometimes I wish I could be more like her.
‘Aunty Emily, it’s so good to see you again.’
She says, her words muffled by my clothes. She is holding onto me so tightly it brings a tear to my eye. When was the last time someone was so happy to see me?
‘It’s good to see you, too.’
She breaks free of the embrace, grabbing my hand and pulling me towards the circle. I smile at people apologetically, but they just shrug.
‘Come and sit down. It’s your turn.’
I raise an eyebrow, looking around at the ground. Is there supposed to be an imaginary table somewhere?
Roxy’s voice is strict yet comical and I automatically obey, folding my legs under myself. She sits opposite me, holding out her hands.
‘Now I am going to read your fortune.’
I want to chuckle, but she looks so serious that I end up nodding with a meek ‘okay’. Roxy holds my hands, then closes her eyes, focusing hard. I watch her intently. Why do we have to lose this childish innocence when we grow up? Couldn’t there be a way to keep it? Maybe if we…
‘Oh my gosh, that is bad. Like, really bad.’
She shrieks and I hear a few chuckles from around me. It feels weird, being in a circle of observers, having my so-called future read by a five-year-old. But somehow it also feels right. As if I was always meant to have this conversation. Silly, I know. I clear my throat, feigning shock:
‘What is it? What did you see?’
She shrugs, looking away nervously. She even lets go of my hand.
‘I can’t tell you, because then it will come true.’
Well, isn’t that the whole point? But I resist the urge to say that. I smile at Roxy encouragingly instead.
‘Go on, Roxy. I promise that whatever you saw we can change it. We are in charge of our own destiny.’
She seems thoughtful for a moment, then lets out the most adorable sigh I ever heard.
‘Okay, but only if you promise that you will do everything you can not to make it true.’
I nod again.
She takes my hand into her tiny palms, looking up at me from under half-lidded eyes.
‘I saw that you were sad and alone. Just like my dad used to be. Please don’t be alone and sad!’
Her lips twitch and I have a feeling she is about to cry. I place a soothing hand on her tiny shoulder, pulling her in for another hug.
‘Sweetheart, I am not sad. How could I be when I have you around?’
I try to joke, but my tone betrays me. Yes, I am alone and I am sad. I am missing having someone to hug, someone to kiss. I miss having a family. Then, as if struck by lightning, a question forms in my head.
‘I don’t remember you mentioning your dad before.’
I am still caressing her hair, and her sobs slowly dissipate. She shrugs my arms off suddenly, wiping her eyes with the sleeve of her dress.
‘Because he didn’t use to be my dad. Nathan chose to be my dad three months ago, because he loves me.’
It’s my turn to weep. So, he didn’t only help people settle into their own flats, he adopted this little angel. I can see why, too. They helped each other. And I can also see why he didn’t want to tell me. He was missing someone to love, the same way Roxy was missing having a family. I guess now I just have to find my own way of sorting myself out.
Roxy studies me for a while, and I study her back. It’s only her and me, thinking about her prediction. Then, without warning, she blurts out:
‘Can you be my mum? Please?’
I inhale sharply, unsure what and how to reply. But before I could say anything, Nathan appears behind me, and with a ‘daddy’, Roxy jumps up from her spot on the ground, running up to him.
I watch their exchange, and something warm and fuzzy fills my heart. Nathan glances at me before he places a kiss onto Roxy’s forehead.
‘Listen sweetheart, Aunty Emily needs to find herself first, remember?’
Roxy nods, settling into her adopted father’s arms. I have a feeling she adopted him first. Her question shocked me, but to my biggest surprise, I didn’t feel repelled by it. Did all of this charity work change me this much?
‘Can’t we help her, daddy?’
She accentuates the word, probably still getting used to it. I take a step closer to them.
‘Well, can you think of something I would be good at? You see, I never really had any passions.’
That’s sort of a lie, but not entirely. I was always a fan of painting, but I never allowed myself a chance to practice. With my career and everything else in the way, I felt like it was a waste of time. But now…
Roxy scrunches her nose, deep in thought again, then she reaches for my palm, pretending to read the lines. She makes me giggle, because I’m quite ticklish.
‘I think you would be a great mother.’
Nathan chides her, but I wave him away.
‘It’s okay. But I was thinking more of a creative project, you know.’
Nathan shoots me a thankful glance, but Roxy isn’t satisfied.
‘Well, I think you should know what you want to do. For example, I have known for like for ever that I want to be a fortune teller.’
Nathan rolls his eyes.
‘Come on, Roxy, you only decided that today. Yesterday you wanted to be an actress.’
She scrunches her nose again, frowning at him. She even climbs down from his lap, sitting back at her place at the imaginary fortune teller table.
‘Anyway, I know what I want to be, and I think Aunty Emily should, too. She doesn’t need our help.’
Nathan opens his mouth to reply, but I quickly butt in, an idea forming in my mind.
‘Roxy is right.’
They are both looking at me. Nathan a bit incredulously, and Roxy, well, proudly. I nod.
‘I don’t need help deciding what I want to do. But others might. And I can help them with that.’
Nathan nods, as if I just said the most natural thing. Roxy practically beams at me.
‘So, you will be telling people what their future jobs will be? Just like I do?’
I don’t have the heart to tell her that being a job coach is slightly different than fortune telling. I crouch down to her level instead, smiling at the little medium.
Roxy jumps into my neck, surprising me. Then she whispers into my ear:
‘I knew you would be the perfect mum.’
Her words bring tears into my eyes again. Could it be that more than one thing was missing? I was helping people, but I didn’t really find my life’s purpose. But this feels right. I brush a tear away from my eye, whispering back:
‘Who would have thought that you can truly predict the future.’
She beamed at me and suddenly I knew I belonged again. This time, I made the right choice – again.