Merry Christmas, Steve!
On the festive occasion of Christmas eve, Ramendra Kumar presents a touching short story on the real spirit of Merry Christmas and how owning up to one’s mistakes is the first courageous step towards self improvement.
Steve would never forget the day he first met Tanya. It was June 15. Their school had reopened a week back. It had been a lousy week – damp, soggy and terribly dull. It had been raining non-stop and they were forced to sit cooped up in the class rooms.
That day was no different. It was drizzling since morning. Steve had got drenched the evening before and had caught a cold. To add to the gloom, it was Monday and the first period was Math. Steve hated Math and he hated the Math teacher – Sigma Rao even more. Rao’s full name was ABJVRKS Rao but he was popularly known as Sigma Rao. He was a tall, skinny, morose looking fellow. Steve had never seen him smile, let alone laugh. The only thing that seemed to interest him was Math. For the last forty odd minutes he had been droning on and on about lines, angles and polygons.
Steve was feeling drowsy. He looked out of the window at the cricket ground. How he wished the rain would stop and he could go out and try the new bowling action which his cousin Pete had taught him in the holidays.
“Steve!” He looked up startled.
Sigma Rao was glaring at him.
“You are not paying attention, silly fellow.”
“Y… yes, sir…I…mean no sir…I… mean…” Steve stuttered and the class burst into giggles.
“Silence!” Sigma Rao thundered and then looking at Steve shouted, “Get up and tell the answer to the problem I have written on the black board.”
Steve stared at the blackboard. Sigma Rao had written in his small but neat hand — ‘How many sides does a regular polygon, whose interior angle is eleven times its exterior angle, have?’
Steve racked his brains but he hadn’t the foggiest notion how to arrive at the answer. As Sigma Rao scowled at him Steve realised he was in for it.
“Can I come in Sir,” Steve heard a sweet voice.
A young girl of Steve’s age was standing at the door. She was slim and fair, with a small sharp nose and bright sparkling eyes.
“Why?” Sigma Rao barked at her.
“I… “, she stepped back startled and then gathering up her courage said, “Sir, I have just taken admission today and the Principal asked me to sit in class 8 A.”
Sigma Rao stared at her for two full minutes obviously irritated at her for disturbing his class.
“Come in,” he grunted and went back to the blackboard completely forgetting about Steve and his problem.
Tanya mumbled thanks and walked in. She found the seat next to Steve empty and sat down. Steve too had taken his seat, grateful to the pretty girl and her interruption that had saved his skin.
“Hi! I’m Steve,” he smiled.
“My name is Tanya,” she said. She had a beautiful smile. It reached right up to her eyes, lighting up her entire face.
The bell rang and many of their classmates gathered round the new comer badgering her with questions.
During lunch break Tanya and Steve got talking. Tanya’s father was an officer in the State Bank of India. He was transferred from Nagpur to Hyderabad three months back. His family had shifted last month. They lived in Tarnaka quite close to Steve’s house.
“Steve, can I borrow your books for a day? That will help me catch up with whatever was taught last week,” Tanya asked Steve during the last period.
“Sure, actually nothing much was taught, hardly a few pages. Only in Math our friendly neighbourhood Godzilla – the one and only Sigma Rao – has already completed three chapters. For Math however, don’t borrow my book. I am lousy in it. Take Neetu’s book – she’s the best in the class.”
Three days later Tanya and Steve were busy chatting. It was the first period and the English teacher Mrs. Mamta Dey hadn’t come.
“Hey Tanya! How are you? When did you join?” Steve turned around. It was Andy.
“Hi Andy,” Tanya said jumping up and rushing to meet him. “I joined on Monday. It’s great to see you,” she said shaking his hand. “How are you feeling now? Dad told me that you were down with fever.”
“Yes, it was quite bad. I was stuck in bed the entire day. Mum wouldn’t allow me to move out of the room.”
Andy – Andrew Smith – was in Steve’s class. He was tall, burly and red-faced with a loud voice and great sense of humour. He was fourteen – a year older to Steve. Andy was terrific in sports – cricket, football, athletics and almost everything else – but was poor in studies. Andy depended on Steve for help in all subjects other than of course math.
Later, Steve asked Tanya, “How do you know Andy?”
“Oh! He’s a great friend. Our dads work in the same bank. In fact, it was Smith Uncle who told dad about this school.”
A few days later one evening Steve was wheeling his cycle out when he saw Tanya standing waiting at the gate.
“I think the rickshaw puller has got stuck somewhere.”
“Why don’t you come with me? I’ll drop you home,” Steve offered.
“Are you scared I’ll kidnap you,” he laughed.
“Don’t be silly,” Tanya said, coming forward.
Just then Andy, who was racing by on his moped, saw them, swerved back and screeched to a halt.
“Hey, Tanya! What’s up?”
My rickshaw hasn’t come and I…”
“Come with me. I am going towards Tarnaka. I’ll drop you home and have some pastries in your house. The one’s aunty gave me last time were awesome.”
Tanya waved to Steve and climbed on to the moped.
“See ya, Steve,” Andy yelled and sped away.
Steve kept staring after them feeling strangely angry at Andy. He had very much wanted to give a lift to Tanya – to go to her house and meet her family. He liked Tanya very much and wanted to be best friends with her. But Andy…. he had spoilt everything.
Gradually Steve found himself disliking Andy more and more. Whenever he wanted Tanya to pay attention to him Andy would appear, play some silly prank or crack a puerile joke or imitate some teacher and make Tanya laugh. He would invariably end up hogging Tanya’s attention.
Tanya, Steve could see, was very fond of Andy. He was jovial, fun loving and a complete extrovert while Steve was shy and reserved. Andy was tall and well built, great in sports and very popular in the class. Steve on the other hand was not all that good-looking. Moreover, he was just about average in sports and was no match to Andy in popularity. Of course Steve was better in studies but did that really matter?
If only Andy shifted to some other class or better some other school then Steve would become Tanya’s best friend.
Three days before Christmas Steve told Tanya,” I am having a party on Christmas Eve. It is my birthday. You should come.”
“Sure I will. Andy will of course be there, no?” she asked.
Steve had no intention of inviting Andy but now he had little choice.
“Yes, I was planning to tell him today.”
Steve caught Andy in the football ground and invited him.
“Sure dude, I’ll come…,” he began and then slapped his forehead. “Hey bro, I just remembered, there is a dance competition in our club. I have to go for that. Tanya will be there too — she is my partner. I have already given her name, but the ass that I am I forgot to tell her. But never mind she won’t say no.”
“But Tanya has already promised to come to my party,” Steve said barely managing to control his anger.
“Wait, wait. There is a way out. The dance competition will be over by 7.30. It is in Habshiguda Club quite close to your house. By 7.45 we’ll be at your bash, okay?” Andy said slapping Steve on his back.
Steve was wild. Even on his birthday Tanya and he couldn’t be together. Andy had to interfere and spoil his plans. There was however nothing Steve could do except curse Andy.
It was Christmas eve and Steve was sitting in the drawing room of his house. The party was in full swing. All of Steve’s friends were there except Tanya and… and naturally, Andy. He had promised they would be there by 7.45 – it was now nine and still no sign of them.
“Damn him,” Steve cursed under his breath. Andy must have totally forgotten or more likely he was doing it on purpose to spoil Steve’s party. Andy was probably getting possessive about Tanya. He didn’t want Steve to be friends with her. Poor Tanya, without realising what was happening, was allowing herself to be manipulated by Andy.
He looked up. It was Tanya. She was wearing an emerald green frock and her hair was tied in a ponytail. She looked really innocent and cute. Andy was standing beside her.
Tanya spotted him and came rushing.
“Many happy returns,” she said shaking his hand.
“Thanks,” he mumbled not quite forgiving her for coming more than an hour late.
Andy joined them shaking Steve’s hand and thumping his back.
“Where’s the birthday cake, dude?” he bellowed.
Steve mumbled something and went in. He told his mum to serve Tanya and Andy and came out to the verandah. He was boiling inside. He wanted to get back at Andy for spoiling his party. Andy’s moped was in the driveway. On an impulse Steve went into the garage, took a screwdriver from the tool kit and walked to the spot where the moped was parked.
Steve’s uncle was a two-wheeler mechanic. His garage was Steve’s favourite hang out and he had learnt quite a bit about the mechanics of scooters and mopeds.
Andy’s moped was parked between a scooter and another moped. Steve bent down and quickly worked on the brakes.
Within a few minutes he had fixed the brakes. Now when Andy would apply them they wouldn’t work and he would go crashing. It would serve Andy right for messing up his party.
He went in washed his hands and then entered the drawing room.
Tanya came up to him. “Steve, I think you are angry with us for coming late.
“Why should I be angry? You and Andy must have been too busy dancing with each other to even think about me. Andy promised me that he would get you here by 7.45. Like a fool I believed him and look what happened?”
“Steve, don’t just jump to idiotic conclusions. We were not busy dancing. In fact we have come here straight from the Gandhi hospital.”
“Yes. Andy’s mother has been admitted. She was suffering from mild fever for the last couple of days. Yesterday afternoon the temperature suddenly shot up and she started getting convulsions. She was rushed to the hospital. I had gone with mummy to see her this evening. Poor Andy has been running around the whole day. On seeing me he remembered the promise he had made to you. Even though I wasn’t keen to come to your party he persuaded me.
“Tanya, if you don’t go Steve will be very disappointed. It’s his birthday, we guys shouldn’t let him down. And we won’t tell him about mum. Poor fellow will feel bad. Why should we spoil his special day? I’ll drop you, wish him, have a piece of cake and then rush back,” he told me.
“Where is Andy?” Steve asked looking around desperately.
“He has gone back to the hospital. He asked me to make some excuse on his behalf and left.”
“Gone back! Oh! My God. What have I done,” Steve wailed.
“Why? What happened,” Tanya asked.
Steve rushed out followed by Tanya.
“I…I…. have to catch him…the brakes…I tampered with his moped’s brakes…” Steve blabbered.
“You moron! How could you be so vicious… ”
Steve didn’t wait for her to complete the sentence. He just picked up his cycle and took off. Steve drove like crazy; praying to God Andy was safe. He took a short cut and within five minutes was on the main road leading to Gandhi hospital. He kept searching the road for any sign of accident. Just as he reached the hospital Steve saw Andy coming out of the scooter parking area.
“Andy, are you okay?”
Steve told Andy what he had done and stood their hanging his head in shame. He didn’t know how Andy would react. But even if Andy punched him he would have to simply bear it. After all there was little doubt that he had behaved like a miserable wretch.
“Hey come on Steve. Don’t stand there acting as if you have committed a murder. These things happen. It was only a misunderstanding. Probably in your place I would have done the same thing.”
“You…you are not wild with me Andy. Will you still remain friends with me?”
“Of course, bro. Now push off. Tanya must be chewing up her nails in tension.”
As Steve was about to leave Andy asked him, “Hey Steve, there is one thing that is puzzling me. You are great with bikes. If you had fingered my bike’s brakes they would have stayed fingered. Then how come….” he paused and then added, “I got it. In all this confusion I forgot one thing. Come with me.”
Andy let him inside the parking lot and pointed to a luna.
“Was this the bike you tampered with?”
“Of course not. This is a Luna. Your bike is a TVS.”
“I was right then. Actually my TVS had a puncture so I borrowed the neighbour’s Luna.”
“Oh! God that means I messed up someone else’s bike. Let me rush back,” Steve said and sped away.
When he reached home he found the TVS still parked in the drive way.
“Thank God,” he muttered under his breath. The screw driver was still in his pocket. He bent down and within a few minutes the brakes were back to normal.
“Is he okay?”
Steve looked up. Tanya was standing, her face tense.
“Yes. By mistake I had tampered with this TVS that belongs to someone else. I have set it right now.”
Tanya turned around and walked away.
“Tanya, I’ll drop you home.”
“Leave me alone, Mr. Steve Chapman. I never ever want to talk to you. You make me sick,” she said and walked away leaving behind an utterly miserable Steve.
“Hey Tanya, let’s go and wish Steve a Merry Christmas,” Andy said.
Tanya had gone to the hospital with a bouquet of flowers for Andy’s mother who was now feeling much better.
“Andy, for God’s sake don’t take that fellow’s name in my presence. I don’t want to see his face. And I don’t understand one thing Andy – Steve was so mean and nasty yesterday and yet you want to go sniggering to him and wish him Merry Christmas.”
“Tanya, you should realise that Steve is extremely fond of you. I have known him since we were in class three. He has never thrown a birthday party. He is a very shy sort of fellow who has very few friends. This year’s party was only for you. When you didn’t turn up he naturally blamed me and decided to pay me back. I am not defending his action but for one mistake you can’t damn him forever.”
“But Andy you could have been seriously injured!”
“Tanya, I know what Steve did was really terrible. But at least he had the courage to admit his mistake. He could have kept quiet. But the minute he realised he was blaming me wrongly he felt guilty and owned up. Believe me, Tanya it is not easy to admit one’s fault. It requires a lot of courage.”
Tanya didn’t utter a word. She just kept staring sullenly at Andy. Apparently she still wasn’t convinced.
“My uncle is a priest. He sometimes invites me to attend his sermons in church. Tanya, I am not a religious person but I go because he is a terrific speaker and tells great stories. One day he was relating the story of the crucifixion. Do you know what were Jesus Christ’s last words on the cross? ‘Forgive them o’ Lord, they know not what they do’. Imagine Tanya, Jesus forgave even those unkind, inhuman scoundrels who had nailed him to the cross in such a savage manner. Don’t you think there is a lesson in it for us? Moreover, today is Christmas. This is the day to spread the message of love and friendship, not an occasion to nurture grudges.”
Steve woke up. It was Christmas morning and yet he was feeling miserable. Tanya’s words had kept echoing in his mind the entire night. He had kept tossing and turning and hadn’t slept a wink.
He somehow managed to drag himself from the bed and sat in the drawing room. The whole house was agog with excitement. His kid sister and brother were jumping up and down opening their Christmas gifts and squealing with delight. His mum was busy in the kitchen while his dad was ringing up his friends and wishing them merry Christmas.
The bell rang. Steve got up and opened the door. Andy was standing outside. Steve turned around and started walking back.
“How is your mum, Andy?”
“She is much better,” Andy said.
“Look who’s come,” he added.
Steve turned back. It was Tanya. Dressed in bright red, she looked adorable.
“Merry Christmas, Steve,” she said smiling at him and sending his spirits soaring.
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Pictures Courtesy: Pixabay
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