Angel in disguise

“Hey Malaika, can you help me pick out a prom dress this Saturday?”. “Laika, I have a crush on this girl 3 years older than me, but I really like her. Should I ask her out?” “Sweetheart, when you’re headed home from work, will you pick up a dozen eggs and a few rolls of toilet paper for me please? And a pack of Menthols.” Malaika is the life of Nuella Street. She has lived in the corner apartment overlooking Nuella and Hammond for the last six years, Mrs Morita had bequeathed it to her in her will. She has lived in the hearts of the citizens of Nuella Street far longer, ever since Mrs Morita took her under her wing, healed her broken heart and sent her out into the world again.

Nine years ago when Malaika responded to an ad in the local newspaper about a live-in companion for an older woman, all she cared about was that the apartment was walking distance from the university where she was enrolled. Her goal was to get a Masters in Psychology with a specialization in Child/Adolescent Development. Nuella Street was also four blocks from the heart of downtown, which would give her ample opportunity to volunteer for programs to educate inner city kids, a cause that resonated strongly with her. Little did she know, she would not just win over the hearts of the kids she was working with but also every single one of her neighbors on her street.

Malaika O’Reilly aka Laika was always a happy child, a warm smile on her face, that extra twinkle in her eyes. Her parents were both lawyers and they doted on her and her little brother, William. They were a close knit family and very respected in the community. Laika, a diehard romantic, wanted to be a cardiologist when she grew up. She used to say that with each surgery, she was going to pump a little love into each person’s heart because the world needed so much of it. And then something happened that broke that dream and her heart with it.

On her 18th birthday, everyone eagerly waited for William to get home from school so they could go to Laika’s favorite sushi restaurant to celebrate. Instead, they got a call from Captain Humphrey at the local police precinct. William had stepped off the curb to cross the street and had been hit by an Audi going at breakneck speed. He was swept off and landed few feet away, cracking his skull. The car raced off and everyone around was too shocked to jot down the license number. Just like that William was gone. The O’Reilly household never recovered from the loss. Mom and Dad grew apart. Mom married a businessman and moved to Europe. Dad sold the family home and moved to his hometown in Louisiana. Malaika was headed to college next summer anyway, so she was left to fend for herself. She called and wrote to both her parents regularly but soon their responses became erratic. It was like she had lost both her brother and her parents in one fell swoop.

Laika withdrew from everything, immersed herself in her studies and gave up on the dream of healing hearts..her own was too broken to heal anyway. She decided she was going to devote her life instead to better the community. Her professor realizing how much she missed her brother, guided her into adolescent education. It was a last ditch attempt to help her cope and bring her out of the shell she had retreated into.

As she lugged her suitcases up the four flights of stairs to apartment 405, all she wanted was her bedroom, a hot shower and a mattress to sleep on. She would be nice to Mrs Morita but she didn’t have much else to offer. Little did she know that Mrs Morita would be the one to save her, heal her and adopt her as the daughter she never had.

For 30 years, Mrs Morita was the lifeblood of Nuella street but once she became old and arthritic, she started staying in more and eventually became confined to her apartment. She was effusive and adored Laika. Laika too was starved for love. Soon the wall she had built around herself began to crumble and the old happy Malaika began to emerge from the cocoon. She gradually started to fill Mrs Morita’s shoes. She would help deliver groceries to Mr Edward two houses down, teach little Mike verbs, adverbs and adjectives and help Angela cook and carry meals to church every weekend to feed the homeless. On weekdays, she attended classes at the University. On weekends, she taught at kids’ day camps. The kids came to appreciate her tenacity, her honesty and began to rely on her for advice. She in turn began to open up her heart again to love and be loved by all those around her.

In her second year at the University, she met Adam. Adam was one year her senior and the epitome of studious. He was smitten by Laika since the moment he laid eyes on her. After three very painfully slow coffee dates, he asked her out to dinner and a movie and held his breath as he waited for her to say no. To his immense surprise, she grinned at him. “I was wondering how many more cups of coffee I’d have to drink before you asked me out to dinner” she said jokingly. Adam was ecstatic! The year after Laika graduated, Adam proposed to her and they moved into her apartment. When Laika put a ring on Adam’s finger, she was 7 months pregnant and madly in love with this man she was standing with.

It’s been over a year since and today is Little William’s first birthday. The neighbors have planned a huge outdoor party to celebrate! The neighborhood park is decked with balloons and streamers. The checkered tables hold four different types of cakes and sandwiches for the kids and spiked punch bowls for the adults. Laika sits in a chair, holding William in her arms rocking him gently as she watches the people she loves more than anything in the world, scurry around trying to make this event special for her. William smiles at her, his 2 bottom teeth showing. Looking up, Laika spots Adam fussing with the string lights and smiles. She counts her blessings for finding this gem of a man and sends a silent thank you towards the heavens. A single tear rolls down her cheek. “You were taken away from me too early William, but now I’ve got you back” she says as she plants a kiss on her baby’s soft cheek. All’s well that ends well a little voice in her head says.

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