Katie’s only connection to the outside world was her Columbia House music club membership. When she got off the bus after school, the first thing Katie did was check the mail to see if the CD of the month had arrived. Would it be Mariah Carey’s new album? Or Genesis’s greatest hits?
One day an envelope addressed to Katie came from an organization called Save the Children. The letter inside stated that there were thousands of poor, sick children who needed Katie’s help and would she sponsor one of them for just $20 a month—less than 75 cents a day? Katie could select a child from any country she wanted and even choose the gender too.
Katie filled out the form and checked “Philippines,” “girl” and “bill me.” A few weeks later, she received a thicker envelope from Save the Children. Inside, there was a photo of a little girl printed on real Kodak paper. It reminded Katie of old pictures she’d seen of her mother as a child back in the Philippines. The girl had dark brown ringlets framing her face, golden eyes, round cheeks and a mischievous smile. Her name was Ampong.
“I’m going to take care of you,” Katie said.
Katie taped the photo up inside her locker at school.
“Who’s that?” asked the popular girl whose locker was next to Katie’s.
“My daughter,” Katie said.
“You’re too young to have a daughter,” the popular girl said.
“I adopted her,” Katie explained.
“Whatever,” the popular girl said, rolling her eyes.
At lunch, Katie purchased only an apple and pocketed the rest of her lunch money. She nibbled it slowly as the other girls at her table inhaled pizza, chips and cookies.
“Aren’t you going to eat more than that?” the chubby redhead asked.
“I’m on a budget now,” Katie said. “I have a mouth to feed.”
Her stomach undulated. It seemed to be folding in on itself. This is probably how Ampong feels, Katie thought.
* * * * *
After school, Katie wrote Ampong a letter.
I got the picture you sent. You are even prettier than I imagined. I want to hear all about you and your life in the Phillipines. What’s your favorite color? What kind of toys do you play with? What does your house look like? I think about you all the time and hope that you are learning a lot and growing healthy and strong. As soon as I have enough money, I am going to come visit you. Or maybe you could come live with me?
Write back soon…
“Your American Mom” Katie
She addressed the envelope to Ampong c/o Save the Children and put it in the mailbox.
At dinner, Katie hardly touched her chicken parmesan.
“Aren’t you gonna eat that?” her dad asked.
“I’m not hungry,” Katie said.
“Well, clean up the table at least,” he said, wiping his mouth and getting up from the table. He then disappeared into the cellar to work on one of his many projects.
* * * * *
Over the next couple of weeks, Katie checked the mail every day, hoping to find a letter from Ampong, but nothing came. When Katie opened her locker at school and saw Ampong grinning crookedly, it made her feel important. She passed the test on fractions without even studying and didn’t need to be reminded to do her chores on Saturday. Katie’s dad peeled a $10 bill off the mound of cash he’d gotten from his Friday night bartending gig. “Here’s a little extra for keeping up those A’s and helping around the house,” he said. Katie put the money in the tiny bamboo box that her mom had given her for her sixth birthday. She only had five more dollars to go before she had the first month’s Save the Children payment.
Katie wished she had two photos of Ampong—one to keep at school and one for home. She remembered her old My Child doll, which she’d put away two years ago when she decided she was too old to play with dolls. The doll actually looked a lot like Ampong, except she had curly hair. Katie planned to give the doll to her future daughter, and now she had one.
Every morning, Katie dressed the doll in a new outfit and set her up with toys and paper and crayons. When she got home from school, Katie cradled the doll in her arms and watched her favorite TV show, “Small Wonder.” At dinner, Katie propped the doll up in the chair next to hers and pretended to feed her. Then Katie read a chapter from the current “Babysitter’s Club” book aloud before putting the doll to bed.
* * * * *
Another week went by, and Katie still hadn’t received a reply from Ampong. Maybe her letter got lost. Or what if Ampong was sick? Katie’s skin prickled with a clammy sweat. She picked up the phone and dialed the 1-800 number from the Save the Children package. Katie navigated the recorded voices and automated options, but she couldn’t get through to an actual person. She hung up the phone and pressed played on her Sony boom box. As her favorite old country tune, “Filipino Baby,” trickled out of the speakers, Katie curled up on her bed and clutched the My Child doll to her chest. Its felt face darkened with Katie’s tears.
The next day something finally arrived in the mail for Katie. It was from Columbia House. Disappointed, Katie opened the box and pulled out the CD of the month: Guns N’ Roses’ “Use Your Illusion I.” Katie loved the video for the song “November Rain” and couldn’t wait to listen to it. She ran to her room to get the money out of her little bamboo box and asked her dad to write her a check payable to Columbia House. Katie listened to the new CD while doing her homework and went to bed that night without paying any attention to the My Child doll, which lay on the floor where it had fallen from her bed the night before.
At school the next morning, Katie opened her locker and saw Ampong gazing sadly back at her from the picture. She pulled the photo off the door, slid it through the metal crack in the back of the locker and slammed the door shut.