Another World to Save

September 12, 2010
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The room smelled half-heartedly of poop and old age.

I didn’t want to be there. I had homework to do, invisible worlds to save. But I couldn’t leave—I’d promised I’d come every week. And since I’d already defected last week (math test) and the week before (tired), I had no more excuses. I supposed that made me a good person.

I felt vaguely anxious.

The old lady sat propped up in her wheelchair, facing me. The sun from the window lit her from behind, and for a heartbeat she seemed to glow. Then I stepped closer, and she was an old lady again, staring, with her fists tight and her arms limp across her lap. Her eyes were gray.

“Hello,” I said.

She said nothing.

“I’m Shiyi,” I said.

She continued to say nothing.

“Nice to meet you,” I replied, feeling a little desperate. The nametag on the door pronounced her to be Ms. Ruth. I wondered if she wanted me to leave.

“Hi,” said Ms. Ruth.

I tried a smile. “How are you?”


She was deaf.

I raised my voice. “How are you?”

“Fine,” she responded, raising hers too.

“My name is Shiyi,” I said. “I volunteer here.”


“I volunteer!” I shouted.

“You what?”

“I volunteer here! At the nursing home!”

“You volunteer?”

I sighed.

“It was nice meeting you,” I said, turning to leave. The lady across the hall looked conversational.

/What a good person you are,/ said an inner voice. It sounded like God.

I reached the door and turned back around. “Is there anything I can do for you?”

She smiled.

I spotted the forlorn-looking Bible on her nightstand and picked it up. Then I sat down on her bed, showed her the Bible, and shouted in her ear: “Do you read this?”

Her smile turned sad. “I used to.”

The Bible fell open with a sigh of leather binding. It was too big for my hands, so I propped it on my knee and scanned the text. Tiny words on a well-worn page.

“There are good stories in there,” said Ms. Ruth. She was glowing again.

I nodded. “The New Testament,” I said, and began to read.

The words were unfamiliar to me, but the stories weren’t. I’d grown up with these stories, and for an hour it was easy to read about baby Jesus and forget about myself. His was another world to save.

I read myself hoarse. When it ended, I peeked over at Ms. Ruth.

She was staring at the spot where I’d stopped. She couldn’t see the words, but somehow she’d found them and remembered. She wasn’t smiling. She caught my gaze and said, “That was good.”

“Thanks,” I replied, tucking in a bookmark. I placed the Bible back on the nightstand. “Next week?”


I stood. “It was nice meeting you, Ms. Ruth.”

“It was nice meeting you, too.”

I touched her shoulder. “Take care.”


I was smiling as I stepped outside.

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