The Service Project

 /   /  By Emma Birches
Stone Soup Magazine
September/October 2016

By Niya Wodi, Illustrated by Ravela Smyth

Madeline anxiously gathered her books and half-jogged towards the classroom door, praying that her Civics teacher, Miss Jones, wouldn’t notice her.

“Madeline, can I speak with you for a moment?” Madeline’s Civics teacher called in her high, soprano voice. Her eyes scanned the room and then narrowed when they met Madeline’s.

Madeline heaved a sigh. So much for being unnoticed. I bet she’s going to call your parents, Madeline silently thought, scolding herself. She made her way to Miss Jones’s desk, prepared for the worst.

Miss Jones towered over Madeline and pointed a perfectly manicured finger at her. “I told you last week that you need five community service hours to pass my class. Why don’t I have them?” Miss Jones snapped.

“I’m sorry. I guess I forgot. Besides, I have drama and acting classes filling up my time,” Madeline mumbled apologetically.

Miss Jones huffed. “Because of your procrastination, I have no choice but to assign you a project.” She rummaged through her desk drawer, searching for something.

Madeline groaned. She’d heard rumors about the handpicked projects from Miss Jones. Two kids received trash duty and one even got a job volunteering at the local jail. Madeline imagined herself picking up a rotten banana peel on the side of the road or talking to a prisoner with face piercings and shuddered. Miss Jones finally pulled out a flyer and placed it in front of Madeline.

The Service Project imagining the past

“That’s really cool. Can you tell me about it?” Madeline asked, amazed

“This is an advertisement from Nature’s Nursing Home. They are looking for volunteers to help entertain the elderly there. The number and address is at the bottom,” Miss Jones said smugly.

“I have to babysit old people?” Madeline screeched. “I don’t have time! There’s a reason why their friends and family don’t visit them anymore. This will be so humiliating.”

Miss Jones frowned in disapproval. “You will start next Monday, volunteering right after school. Don’t skip this,” Miss Jones said, shoving the flyer in Madeline’s hand.

That night, Madeline tried to forget about Miss Jones’s idea during dinner, but it was nearly impossible. She pushed a piece of chicken around her plate and dug holes in her rice.

“Are you OK, Madeline?” Madeline’s mother asked and then shot a look at Courtney, Madeline’s older sister, who was playing on her phone.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” Madeline replied, looking down at her plate.

“You actually look kind of horrible. Did your friend realize that you’re a doofus? Oops, you don’t have any friends,” Courtney snickered.

Madeline stuck out her tongue. She wasn’t in the mood for her sister’s juvenile comebacks.

“Courtney!” Madeline’s mother exclaimed.

Later, Madeline decided to do her homework. She dumped the contents of her backpack on her bed and searched for her math worksheet. When she was searching on her bed, Madeline’s eyes traveled to the half-crumpled Nature’s Nursing Home flyer that she shoved in her bag that afternoon. Madeline sighed, grabbed the flyer, and went downstairs to the kitchen phone.

*          *          *

When Madeline walked inside Nature’s Nursing Home on Monday, her instinct was to run away and accept a failing grade from Miss Jones. Instead, she kept her head down as she made her way to the front desk.

“Hi, my name is Madeline. I’m here to volunteer to entertain the old, sorry, elderly people here,” Madeline said politely to the lady at the front desk.

The lady smiled. “That’s excellent. We don’t get a lot of volunteers, never mind young ones. Many people are hostile toward the seniors here. Follow me, please.”

The lady led Madeline to a door and knocked twice. It was very quiet until a frail voice answered, “Come in.”

Inside, the room smelled heavily of perfume and baby powder. A bed lay towards a corner, unmade, and an assortment of cards and game chips were scattered all over the bedroom floor. Sitting on a chair next to a square table sat an old woman with frizzy, gray curls forming a halo around her head. Her floral shirt and blue jeans stood out against her pale skin.

“This is Mrs. Blair, the senior citizen who you will be spending time with every day this week,” the lady at the front desk said proudly. She gave Madeline a wink and shut the door behind her.

Madeline stood awkwardly in front of Mrs. Blair. She cleared her throat and spoke. “Hello. I’m Madeline.”

“Hello, Madeline. You have a pretty name,” Mrs. Blair replied.

“Thank you,” Madeline replied shyly. “May I sit?” She gestured to the other chair.

“Sure,” Mrs. Blair shrugged.

Silence filled the space between them. Mrs. Blair’s eyes shifted to and from Madeline to the room.

“Tell me about yourself, Madeline,” Mrs. Blair said suddenly.

“Well,” Madeline started, “I don’t have any grandpas or grandmas, so I can’t relate to elderly people much. I love the performing arts. I’m mainly here because I have to volunteer here to get a good grade in Civics.” As soon as Madeline said the last sentence, she winced.

Mrs. Blair didn’t seem to mind. “Many people, especially teens, don’t seem to care about old folks like me. Thankfully, I’m going to change that about you. Ask me anything.”

Madeline thought for a moment. “What was your job?” Madeline finally decided.

“I was a Broadway star in New York,” Mrs. Blair answered, looking down.

“That’s really cool. Can you tell me about it?” Madeline asked, amazed.

Mrs. Blair grinned. “It was in 1948 and I was fourteen at the time. There was a crazy superstition that the lead actor or actress had to wear a special bracelet or they would be cursed forever in their acting career. Back then, I was the lead in almost all of the plays so I always wore the bracelet. Till this day, I still have it and used to wear it when performing plays for the others here when I was more flexible.”

Madeline laughed along with Mrs. Blair and listened carefully to the other stories.

When Courtney came to pick up Madeline, Madeline was sad to go. She had become so engrossed in Mrs. Blair’s stories that she lost track of time. Madeline climbed in Courtney’s car with a grin plastered on her face with the thought of coming back the next day.

Courtney sniffed and then crinkled her eyebrows and nose. “Whew. You smell like an oldie,” Courtney smirked.

“I know. Who knew that talking with old people wouldn’t be so bad?” Madeline replied, ignoring Courtney’s jab.

“Old people are so antisocial and unpopular. I don’t know how you’re going to deal with this nut job all week,” Courtney sneered.

Heat rushed to Madeline’s face. “Not everything revolves around something as shallow as being cool, you know. Someday, that could be you sitting in a nursing home with no one to visit you,” Madeline snapped.

The Service Project golden egg

For once, Courtney didn’t have anything to say on their way home and Madeline basked in the glory of her comeback.

Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday passed by in a blur. On Friday, Madeline was genuinely upset to say goodbye to Mrs. Blair.

“Don’t be sad,” Mrs. Blair comforted, “you can still visit me.”

“I guess I could, if I have time,” Madeline said reluctantly.

Suddenly, Mrs. Blair’s face brightened. She pulled out a small, black box from her pocket. Her wrinkled hand pressed it into Madeline’s.

“Oh, I didn’t buy you anything. I’m so sorry,” Madeline apologized, suddenly feeling selfish.

“It’s my gift to you. Open it,” Mrs. Blair said impatiently.

Madeline carefully opened the box and gasped when she saw what was inside. A silver bracelet with a charm star lay inside. She lifted the bracelet gently and fastened it on her wrist.

“It’s the lucky bracelet that you wore. Thank you. I hope that your family will visit you, someday,” Madeline whispered.

Just then, the lady at the front desk opened the door and peeked in.

“Your sister is here,” the lady said softly.

The tears that Madeline had held in finally spilled over. She gave Mrs. Blair a hug. “I promise to visit every day that I’m free.”

“Thank you. That would be nice,” Mrs. Blair muttered, tears also in her eyes.

As Courtney drove, Madeline touched the silver bracelet and made a personal promise that she would keep her word.

The Service Project Niya Wodi

Niya Wodi, 12
Marietta, Georgia

The Service Project Ravela Smyth

Ravela Smyth, 13
Northridge, California

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3 Comments
 
  1. Jaela Deming February 27, 2017 at 3:04 pm Reply

    I love your story! I is great! In the summer I do a drama camp that performs for friends and family, and then goes on the road to a couple of nursing homes. It is great to see their faces light up and smile as they watch!

  2. irarath March 8, 2017 at 7:25 am Reply

    This. Story. Was. Super!!!!

  3. Jaya Shankar April 10, 2018 at 10:42 am Reply

    I adore this—it’s beautiful!

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