There was once a pretty, delicate, lively girl with a beautiful and touching face who was loved by two boys, but she was aware of only one of them. The girl’s name was Angelica. The boy she liked was handsome, popular and had lots of friends. He had a warm smile, and he was good at sports, and all the girls liked him; everyone wanted to be his friend. His name was John.
The other boy was shy, chubby, short, with unkempt hair, and was the kind of person no one looked at twice. His character was dreamy and ineffectual. His pants sagged in the back, and he wore spectacles. He had once seen the girl walking along a country road, and his life and world were never the same again.
His name was Eric, and the only person he trusted was his father who wore glasses like his and who was short and a bit chubby like himself. He once told his father of the girl, Angelica, and how deeply he loved her. His father asked if the girl had loved him back. “She never looks at me,” Eric said, disheartened. “I once tried to talk to her, but I was shy, and she began to look very bored, and I stopped and went away.”
His father paused a bit then said, “You can still love her, even if she does not love you.” Eric asked how? “Be as kind as you can. Give her whatever you can. She doesn’t need to know you are giving it, but you will know and someday maybe she may come to love you as well. In any case, give to her.”
In the meantime, John and Angelica grew more and more fond of each other, saw more of each other, and one day Angelica’s world was unexpectedly brightened. She kept an old wicker basket out at the front porch of her house, the one she sometimes put things in, and one morning she began to find new and lovely things in it, simple things like a polished stone, a wood carving of a bird, twine twisted into the shape of a flower, or an old arrowhead. Almost every week she went out and found something new in the basket, and she instantly knew who the gift giver was: she knew it had to be John. Angelica knew that no one else was as sweet and thoughtful person as John was. No one else was that thoughtful and generous. She was certain that John was her giver of gifts. What had escaped her was the fact that John, for all of his good looks, was a dull, awkward talker. One day, as they were talking together, Angelica’s heart overflowed, and, in a rush, she tried to thank John for all the gifts. To her dismay, he only looked confused and tongue-tied, so she stopped, thinking, “He’s modest, that’s all. That’s the kind of man he is. He’s modest.”
One day she and John were walking along the road. It had been a lovely, sunny day with few clouds, and now the sun was slowly sinking in the west while high above was a red, high, fading beautiful sky, the slanted rays still shining on the green, tended fields with lonely tufts of trees studded among them. The fields were brightly green, and wild flowers grew curving and thick by the side of the road. All of a sudden, Angelica and John came face to face, and for a moment their eyes met and then their lips touched gently, and John kissed her and then suddenly nestled his mouth in her hair, satisfied. It was a moment of enchantment. They just stood there like that for a bit, and then they walked home, separated to go to their own houses.
Angelica’s spirits were soaring. It was thrilling to be kissed. A sleepwalker’s smile was on her face the next day. And during the next week, she found a new gift in her basket, a little silver bell, a rabbit’s foot, the remains of a bird’s egg, bright, little silver cross. She hadn’t seen John for a while, but she had certainly seen enough of Eric. She often found a pudgy form larking by a tree or by a hedge, and it annoyed her. “Honestly! What do you think you are doing? What do you want? Go away!” she shouted.
Eric, his face horrified, had fled scuttling out of sight.
One day, at home, Eric’s old father gave the boy a gift. It was Eric’s birthday, and when the shy, overweight, blushing boy opened a box, a slender gold coin glinted deep in its bottom. It was beautiful thing, and it was also priceless, an authentic old coin from an ancient shipwreck.
“Oh, Father,” said Eric, very moved. “But this is yours.” He moved to take it back, but his father raised his frail, freckled hand.
“I am not well,” the old man had said, “I want you to have things of value from me. You must keep this for your needs.”
Eric was deeply touched, but mainly he was very sad, for he deeply loved his father, and couldn’t bear the thought of him not being on the earth. He simply put away the coin for safekeeping.
Time passed. One day Angelica was walking alone out on the road, lost in thought. She was dreaming of John. She saw less and less of him, but her feelings were as strong as ever. Then ahead, she saw a form, and her heart quickened, but as she came closer, she frowned. Someone else was with John. It was Betsy, who was a pretty friend of hers. Angelica came closer, and then she saw, yes that Betsy was with John. Angelia watched as John and Betsy stood face to face, and the two kissed, and then John held Betsy in his arms and slowly allowed his mouth to rest in her hair, just as he had done with her. Sickened, Angelica turned away. She walked for hours. She felt her heart had broken into painful pieces.
John tried to see her, but Angelica would not see him. By now she knew that John was false and had a bad heart. He could not be trusted. The only thing that puzzled her is that she kept finding gifts from John in her wicker basket: a chicken’s egg carefully decorated in dainty colors, the pearl inland handle of a parasol. And on her birthday she was astounded to find a tiny package, and inside was a beautiful coin made of glinting, solid gold. But as she lifted her eyes she once again spotted the old, odd, pudgy form of Eric lurking out in the yard by a tree. “Get away from here. Go away! Can’t you understand I don’t want to see you! You are ugly and useless!”
And she never saw Eric again. As time passed, John had moved away, and her life simply went on. She never saw the skulking form hiding by the crooked tree again, but as the days went by she often took pleasure I taking out her coin and to hold up to the light where it glinted and gleamed and warmed her heart. At least she still retained that precious memory of John and their good days of friendship.
One day out on the road she met an old man walking painfully with a cane. He was kind and friendly, and the two stopped to talk shyly. He was sad, he said. He had had a son, a boy with a tender and kind nature. He was commonplace-looking and chubby, but he was sincerely good at heart, but the boy had died suddenly from what had begun as a cold. It had happened only recently.
Angelica saw how grief-stricken the old man was, the great sorrow in his face, and she comforted him. The old man dried his eyes. He looked at her. “Your kind words mean a great deal because they come from you, you -- whom my son loved with all his heart.”
“Me?” She was appalled and flabbergasted. Her face had turned dead pale.
“Oh, how much he loved you. He talked of you all the time.”
She was stunned. “Who was your son?” she asked. He frowned and sighed, “You would never look at him, I don’t blame you – to people he seemed odd and awkward, but he loved you, and every day he tried to give you a gift. His name was Eric.”
She felt a profound pang that pierced like a sharp pin, and said at last, “Did you son like coins?” The old man nodded. “I once gave him one on his birthday but I don’t know what happened to it. I can only say it is very beautiful, and it’s value is priceless.”
When the girl got home, she went to her room. On a shelf was a stunning, touching array of the treasures she had found in her basket for so many months and in a special place she saw that the coin gleamed and glinted. And then she knew that in Eric’s kindness, she had had a brief glimpse of what true love was, and she thought, “If only I could speak to him.” And she wept, full of regret.
She made a friend of the old father, and together they often went to Eric’s grave and left bunches of lovely flowers leaning against the modest stone headstone with his name.
Years went past. The old man died. Angelica fell in and out of love, but she never married. Now and then she thought of John, wondering how something that had promised so much had amounted to so little.
One night she fell asleep, but deep in the night, she dreamed that she had awakened and went in her nightgown out onto the porch where the old wicker basket still sat on the floor. The night was still, almost expectant, and the sky sparkled thickly with the bright silver dust of the night sky. She stood staring out into the darkness when a pair of strong arms gently closed her in their clasp. She had an instant of real fear, but only an instant, because she also had a quick sense that in those arms that held her were strong and kind. And she suddenly yielded to the sense that she and her soul were completely safe in their grasp. An unheard of comfort enveloped her: never in her life had she felt so preciously admired, so appreciated, so treasured and adored. And then she felt a man’s mouth come to rest in her hair, and she closed her eyes, held firm by arms that locked her in such deep and imperishable love. And like a hand unclenching, her soul slowly opened wide, and, full of happy release, she gently sank into the depths of thankful gratitude.
And the next morning when she awoke, the realized that it was not John whose presence she had felt in her dream. No. It had been Eric who had held her.
And she used that coin, selling it at auction, and from its incredible value, she took care of the needs of the neighbors in her village for years, and she became a famous figure in the region, respected and revered. And as she grew old, she often thought of Eric and the true meaning of love – that love simply meant continuing to give in the face of indifference.