The Easter Basket
By Darrell Cuthbert
"Mommy, why is that man digging in our bin?"
Valerie clucked with annoyance and looked through the window. Abigail was right. There was indeed a man peering into the large plastic wheeled bin that stood at the end of their driveway. As she watched he poked around inside the bin, removing some items and placing them on the pavement.
"I don't know Abby, but I'm going to tell him to stop. He'll leave a mess and just now he'll attract dogs to come scratch around as well."
"Do you want me to go and chase him Mom?"
"No James, it's fine. I'll do it. You two finish your breakfast. We have to leave for school soon." As Valerie headed for the front door she had to smile at her son's offer. Only twelve years old and already he wanted to be the man of the house. Not that it was surprising. With Peter away from home so much somebody had to do the job.
"Hey you. Get away from there. You'll make a mess all over my yard."
"I'm sorry madam. But I'll make sure it's all clean when I go. I'm just looking for some things I can use."
"Well go dig in someone else's bin. I don't want you here OK."
"Sorry madam. I'm just trying to make a living. Don't you have a little money for me."
"No I don't. Now go away before I call the police."
"Please madam. Just two rand."
"I don't have any money to spare. I'm serious about the police." To emphasise this last point she pulled out her cellphone.
"I'm leaving now madam. Sorry for the trouble."
“You'd better be. And don't let me see you on my property again."
Goodluck Dlamini packed the few items he had retrieved from the bin into a plastic bag. First the empty two-litre cold drink bottle, then the cardboard cereal boxes and finally the handful of eggshells that he placed carefully inside one of the boxes.
Valerie returned to the dining-room table. The children had almost finished their cereal. She ate a single bite then pushed her plate away. Her scrambled eggs on toast had gone cold while she wasted time chasing off that vagrant! Anyway, she had lost her appetite so she poured a fresh cup of coffee and sat sipping it slowly while James and Abigail went upstairs to brush their teeth and fetch their school bags.
Across the road and two houses down, Goodluck was hunting through another bin. Valerie realised he was outside her friend and neighbour Carol's house. She would have to warn her to be careful.
As she drove away to take the children to school Valerie hooted at Goodluck and made a shooing motion with her right hand.
"Mommy, will Daddy be home for Easter? It's this weekend remember."
"I hope so Abby. He said he should be back from his business trip soon."
"Good. I want him to make an Easter egg hunt for me. James, will you hunt for eggs with me?"
"Egg-hunting is for babies."
Valerie quickly put a stop to the looming argument. Fortunately they were almost at Abigail's pre-school.
After dropping James at his own school Valerie drove to the local supermarket to buy some groceries. While in the shop she looked at the special Easter stock, prominently displayed near the entrance on a trestle-table so large it was causing a minor traffic jam between the trolleys entering and those parked while their drivers browsed through the products.
Valerie stopped to have a look. She'd better buy now while there was still plenty available. It would have been nice to have Peter with so they could shop together for a change. She ignored the cheap, chocolate-coated marshmallow eggs in favour of some fancier, imported items. The high price irked her a bit, so much for a bit of chocolate and coloured foil, but it was for the kids after all. They seemed to enjoy Easter almost as much as Christmas.
Later that day she stopped by Carol's house to pick up James and Abigail. Her children and Carol's went to swimming lessons together and Carol had collected them all while Valerie ran some more errands. All four children were playing in the yard behind Carol's house.
"Stay for coffee Val. The kids are having fun playing together."
"Thanks Carol. A quick one though. I still have a lot to do today."
"Peter still not back?""
"No. And its putting more pressure on me." While Carol went through to the kitchen Valerie walked around the combined lounge and dining room area, looking at ornaments and the pictures on the walls. She felt too restless and distracted to sit still. An object on the welsh dresser that seemed out of keeping with Carol's usual excellent sense of decorative style caught her eye.
"I see you've spotted my latest artistic acquisition." Carol laughed as she walked over with a tray in her hands.
"I was just wondering what it is. It looks so plasticy and cheap. I'll bet that purchase was Hugh's idea."
"It's an Easter basket and not totally my fault. There was a guy sitting on the street corner selling them. The kids spotted him and insisted we get one."
"Ugh. some people sell such rubbish."
"It's actually quite cute and well made if you have a closer look at it."
"I just hope my kids don't see it and want one too. Oh, speaking of rubbish, keep your eyes open. I had to chase away a vagrant this morning that was digging in my bin. Sometimes they use that as an excuse to check out the houses so be careful."
Easter Friday dawned bright and clear, with just a hint of cloud in the blue sky. Abigail was up early and woke her brother, who growled at her from under the duvet to leave him alone, and her mother. Peter was still not home. Valerie decided she was unlikely to get the lie-in she'd wanted and headed downstairs with reluctance to make a nice breakfast for the three of them. Maybe that would take the children's minds off not having their father home. She wondered if he realised just how much they missed him when he was away. She made a mental note to slip away after breakfast and hide a few eggs in the garden for Abigail's sake.
The smell of frying bacon and butter oozing into fresh toast drew James down to join Abigail and Valerie. As she was finishing the last bit of cooking the doorbell rang.
"James, take that pan off the hot plate for me. I'll be back now." She walked through to the entrance hall, wiping her hands on her apron as she went.
There was nobody at the door. "Maybe some kids playing a prank," mumbled Valerie to herself. She was about to close the door when something on the welcome mat caught her eye. Before she could step forward Abigail squeezed past her and knelt on the mat.
"Look Mommy it's an Easter basket. It has eggs and everything."
"Who put it there?" asked James, "I thought maybe Dad was back when the doorbell rang."
"Sorry James, it wasn't him. And I have no idea where it came from. It was just sitting there and nobody was at the door when I got here."
"It was the Easter Bunny," declared Abigail, "He knew my Daddy couldn't be here so he brought us a special present. Look how pretty the eggs are Mommy." She held up an ornate-looking egg to the light to get a better view and then passed it to Valerie. Turning it over in her hands Valerie had to admit it was quite attractive and well made. The egg appeared to be made from a type of clay that had been painted white. Broken pieces of eggshell, painted pale blue, were studded into the clay. Aside from the two ornamental eggs, the basket also contained three chocolate-coated marshmallow eggs and a handful of shredded paper.
Abigail picked up the basket and passed the other ornamental egg to her brother. Valerie took the basket from her and looked at it. The base was made from the bottom of a cold-drink bottle covered with cardboard and decorated with an intricate pattern drawn in crayon. Valerie looked down the road, still wondering where the basket had come from. Several houses down she spotted a man with a collection of similar baskets looped over his arm. He stood talking to one of the other residents of the street. After a few seconds the neighbour took one of the baskets from the man and handed him something. Money, assumed Valerie.
"You two go inside and set the table please. James, keep an eye on your sister for me. I'll be there in a minute."
Valerie walked quickly down the road and caught up with the man.
"Excuse me, I think you made a mistake."
He turned to face her. Valerie was surprised as she recognised him.
"Sorry madam. What mistake?"
"You left a basket in front of my door and I didn't order one. But my daughter really likes it so I can't give it back. Can I buy it from you?" She offered him a fifty rand note. "Is this enough?"
"No madam. You are the one making the mistake. I didn't want to sell that one. I made it as a gift.”
"OK then, that's nice of you I guess. But please take the money anyway."
"No, I don't want it. The other day you told me you didn't have money to spare. I think maybe you need that fifty rand more than me. Go buy something nice for your children madam.”
At the mention of her children Abigail looked thoughtful.
"What is your name?"
"It's Goodluck madam."
"Well Goodluck, I'm Valerie." She offered her hand and he shook it gently. "Seeing as you wont sell me a basket I have a better idea. I need a job done."
"What kind of job mad....I mean, Valerie?"
"I see that you are good at finding things. I'm assuming you are just as good at hiding them." She laughed at the puzzled look on his face.
"I need some eggs hidden around my garden. The job pays fifty rand and I'll include a nice lunch afterwards. Come over after you have finished selling the rest of your baskets."
"Thank you. I will take that job and do the best Easter egg hunt you've ever seen.”
© D Cuthbert 2011