Nia

July 25, 2008
By
For some unknown reason, the name “Nia” makes me visual a fun, spontaneous, outgoing, vibrant character.

The real Nia, the one in my sixth grade class, was everything but that. In a nutshell, Nia was a shy, timid, quiet girl that managed to fade into the background like a shadow. If you were to look at her, you wouldn’t see much difference from the rest of the kids. She always had her curly hair pulled back into two tight braids, her clothes seemed like they were always worn and tattered, but she always managed to put on a smile. She did all her school work, and seemed focused on having a good education. But looks are deceiving. No one really knew the real Nia, the Nia underlying her looks.

One sunny day after school, I decided to take advantage of the weather and walk home. When all the buses pulled away, left standing at the corner was no one other then Nia. I mind was erupting with questions. She seemed to be casually waiting, like this was normal. I squatted down beside the shrubbery and waited with her from a distance.

Finally, a white taxi cab pulled up to the curb. Nia climbed inside and exchanged smiles with the driver. They pulled away, leaving my questions far away in the rear view mirror.

Months went by, and Nia was pushed out of my mind like a bad dream. It wasn’t until Christmas Eve that her mixed up life entwined with mine.

That year my mother’s mind was set on helping the “less fortunate,” and the rest of my family reluctantly had to follow along. While other families were practicing traditions, and making priceless memories, my family and I were loading up boxes of old clothes and toys and making our way to Shelby Park Homeless Shelter. On the way their, I sank low into my seat. I was hoping that today I could open any extra presents I had received for Christmas. Helping people that hit rock bottom hadn’t even crossed my mind, and I thought it never would.

What I saw that day shocked me, and changed my life forever. Families of all sizes were loaded into this one building, sleeping on old cots and eating pint size portions of food. Children and adults were dirty and both dressed in Good Will clothing. Parents were secretly accepting presents from volunteers so their kids could open something up on Christmas morning.

What left my mind in shock and admiration was the fact that all these people, men women, parents, kids, babies and grandparents were all smiling and celebrating the holidays like the amount of money they had was as little of a problem as spilled milk.

Other families from around the community were also helping out. Everyone seemed so grateful for our time, and thanked us graciously.

Then I saw the unexpected. At a small table in the corner of the room were Nia and her family. Her little brother was buried in the box of toys we brought, and Nia was digging through the mounds of clothes we also brought in. She held out in front of her my old skirt. It was cute, but had a nail polish stain on the side. She pulled it close to her chest and grinned ear to ear. Her mother and father were congratulating her on her find. My insides were tingling. I don’t know what the feeling was, but I do know to understand it you need to experience it. But it felt great, wonderful, amazing!

I approached Nia with a smile. She looked down at her dirty sneakers, avoiding eye contact. “Hi Nia!” She looked up at me, ashamed. Ashamed of something she didn’t have any control over. I pulled her into a hug and continued, “Theirs a shirt somewhere in that box that matches that skirt. Get it quick before it’s gone.” Nia started at me in an almost suspicious way. She turned towards the box, letting me face her back. “Nia.” She slowly faced me again. “Merry Christmas.” She smiled and replied, “You too.”

My sister and I served that night’s main course meal. (Chicken) Everyone in the shelter came together and ate dinner like one huge family. We laughed, joked and celebrated the holidays. I sat next to Nia and her family. I got her talking, and I realized that this was the most meaningful Christmas ever. I wasn’t drowning in a sea of gifts, but in love and care, that’s all that really mattered.

It was a magical day. My heart went out to all the people at the shelter like a lost puppy. Me and Nia’s family talked for hours. At 10:30 my mother pried me away from Nia and forced me to say goodbye.
Talking to Nia that night made me feel like a spoiled brat. I don’t know what other words to put it in; it fits my feelings the best. She forced me to grow up and stop thinking of myself for once. What ever problem you are faced with, remember someone somewhere is faced with a worse problem. Nia is the one who brought that to my attention.
I discovered that night that she is passionate about animals and loves dogs. Her dream is to help neglected and abused pets. I felt a guilty pain in the pit of my stomach. I had wished that before I took more to time to get to know her, and try to understand her.

The next day I returned to the shelter. On my way, I stopped into the local Jewl and purchased Nia a Christmas gift.

Tears swelled up in our eyes when I placed in Nia’s open arms, a massive dog stuffed animal. Webster couldn’t define the feelings we felt at that moment.

You know how happy music goes off at the end of the movie and leaves you with a warm feeling all day? If that whole experience were a movie, Nia getting the dog stuffed animal would have been when the music goes on.

Now, almost every day, I accompany Nia in the taxi. Everyone at the shelter expects me, and welcomes me.

Nia and I have become inseparable; I believe the term is “glued at the hips.” We have had numerous sleepovers, not just at my house, but at the shelter too. Shelby Park Homeless Shelter has become more then just a place to visit, it has become my second home, and the people inside are my second family.





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