Her brother's birthday was approaching, and she needed to get him a nice gift. Something appropriate for him, but out of the ordinary. None of her Usual Sources would do this time.
She had heard of a place called Shopping Mall. Further research, carried out with the aid of the helpful guard of her gated community, revealed that there were many such places. These were all more or less alike, and none of them were served by her Usual Sources. She chose the one where she thought the weather would be the most pleasant that day.
The first impression was good. There was no smoke of smithy or fire of forge. Everything was surprisingly clean, not always the case when she went looking for treasures. She could amble down the sidewalk at her leisure and look in at the windows, all decorated in snowy scenes.
One of the first shops she passed was a little place that sold perfumes. Something in the window caught her eye: a red sparkle. It was a small heart-shaped bottle with a long glass stopper. To get a better look, she went inside.
The bottle sparkled as she held it, sparkled more as she turned it in her hands. If she held it just right and turned it just so, the heart appeared to beat. She looked more closely, tried to feel into the glass to see what made it do this. There was no magic here, she found, only great skill in its making. That made it even more remarkable, she thought, and she decided to buy it. Of course, this was not to be the present for her brother. She wanted this for herself, for her own perfume. A tour of the shop's fragrances was disappointing, however. There was nothing here that could compete with what she already had at home. The bottle was her only purchase there.
The saleslady offered to box it, but that was unnecessary, when she could just put it into her purse. This was her favorite purse. It was beautiful, of course, but also practical. It had been made for her by the same craftsmen who had made her brother's ship.
Not much farther down the way, under a sign with a feminine flowing script, she noticed something else in a shop window. Hmmm. Yes, here on a mannequin was not-much-of-something that could nevertheless command attention, not so much in its own right, but on behalf of its wearer. This would be a nice gift for her brother, not that he would ever wear it. She would wear it for him. But then she remembered the rules where she lived now. It still seemed strange to her, but sisters did not get such gifts for brothers there. Still, as she looked, she decided to go in and buy it anyway. There would be opportunities enough for her to wear it, even if her beloved brother was not around.
The saleslady insisted on wrapping it in tissue and putting it into a large and flamboyantly red plastic bag. Once out of the shop, she discovered that she disliked the bag very much. So she discarded it in the first available receptacle, then carefully folded together the straps and stays of what she had bought, and put it into her purse.
A glint of steel showed through the window of a nearby shop, but she didn't go in. Even at a distance and through glass, she could tell that the swords displayed around the walls were nothing she or anyone she knew would use. The metal did not shimmer the way it should. Besides, the designs were absurd, with extra edges and points sticking out every which way. Whoever thought these up had never been in battle, and gag gifts were not her style.
A bookstore was the next place she entered. In a back room, a faint musty smell announced the home of old books. Many of these fairly flew off the shelves around her, so many good gifts for so many friends. And yes, some for herself, too.
But nothing for her brother. She sighed.
The man behind the counter rang up her purchase, and she left with two large and clumsy bags full of books. This wouldn't do. So she stopped, and put the books into her purse.
All of this shopping had made her hungry. Fortunately, she found the Food Court right about then. So many things to choose from! Today's choice was sushi. Then she found a table where she could eat.
On expeditions like this, she tried to be inconspicuous. But this was difficult for her, even under the best of circumstances. Some people couldn't help but notice her. One of these was the young man who cleared off the tables after people were finished with their food. As he passed her, his heavy tray of dishes kept going in one direction as his head snapped around almost involuntarily to look at her. The predictable crash ensued.
Some people nearby were put off by this. Some laughed as the boy got back to his feet, then started picking up the mess. She got up from her chair, went over and stooped to help him. She could tell that he was about to say that she didn't have to do that. It was true: she didn't have to, and she often wouldn't have. But their eyes had connected as he passed her. She could tell that this was all he would ever do in his life, and he was probably alone and lonely in the world. Offering a little help wouldn't hurt at all.