Katie rolled the dough and scooped out little circles with nimble fingers. The smell of baking cookies permeated the warm cozy room. On the next table, Saima frosted each cookie and added details. Snowflakes, Santa, and Christmas trees.
The translucent dawn was peeping in from the window. The two friends worked quickly before the bakery opened and brought the rush of customers.
“How’s Amna?” Katie asked.
“Bad cough,” Saima replied. “How’s Annie? Did you tell her?”
“Annie wants Andrew home. He’d promised her…” Katie broke down.
Andrew had been missing in action for a fortnight from his posting in Afghanistan. There had been no news. Katie was worried.
“I don’t want to celebrate but she wants a big tree,” she sniffed.
“Everything will be fine.” Saima hugged her. “We’ll give Annie a huge tree. Save all the egg cartons.”
When Saima reached home, Amna looked better, but bored.
“Amna, I have a secret project. Will you be my assistant and paint these egg cartons green?”
Amna, feeling important, sat down with her paint and brushes amidst a huge stack of egg cartons. Saima got busy cooking. Their home soon overflowed with the wonderful smells of baking, vanilla and cinnamon.
“What are you baking, Ammi?”
“Shhh… It’s a secret. But I’ve baked a batch of your favorite cinnamon buns.” Saima laid down a steaming bun, chocolate syrup oozing by the sides, in front of her. “Take a break. You have till tomorrow.”
The next evening, once the two women had finished, Saima asked for Katie’s keys.
“Take Annie out for two hour. When she comes back she’ll have her tree.”
“Don’t burn the house down.” Katie handed over the keys and left.
Two hours later, the cold biting at their exposed nose tips, Katie and Annie trudged back home. Once they entered, both of them stopped, amazed at the sight.
A huge tree shape dominated one corner of their small living room. Closer scrutiny revealed them to be the painted egg cartons. Beautiful white snowflakes and red glittery circles hung in popcorn garlands. A star sat on the top like a monarch overseeing his kingdom.
“Do you like your tree, Annie? I too helped Ammi.” Amna jumped up and down in excitement. “The best part is they can all be eaten!”
Annie put a snowflake into her mouth.
“It’s a cookie. And popcorn,” she exclaimed, giggling. “I can eat them. I love your tree, aunty. It’s magic. Like the cottage from the Hansel and Gretel story.”
“Magic is what you make, Annie. And so is life.” Saima hugged the little girl and Amna jumped in. Katie stood there, looking at them, so full of joy and cheer.
The tree was the lesser of her worries.
“Ah, heck!” She joined in, the warmth and cheer washing over her. Friendship, love, and kindness might not solve all her problems, but they sure made enduring them a little bit easier.
The doorbell rang.
“Ho! Ho! Ho! Merry Christmas, girls.”
A familiar voice called out.
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