The true spirit of Christmas is in giving and sharing. It is in showing love and kindness. A beautiful short story on the festive occasion of Christmas.
Tony counted the notes and coins. 8 ten, 12 five and 7 two rupee notes and 9 one rupee coins – Rs. 163 in all. This was the sum total of all his savings in one and a half months. He put the money in his pocket. Today was Christmas eve and he had some important shopping to do. He peeped into the bedroom. His mum, Janet, was lying in bed reading a magazine.
“I am going to the market, mum.”
“Don’t take too long son,” she replied. “And bolt the door from outside. I am too tired to get up.”
As he walked towards the market he thought of Christmas eve last year. How lovely everything had been. His father, Jacob Kurien, and he had decorated the Christmas tree. He had gone with his mum and dad to the church to attend the midnight mass. The next day his mum had baked a huge Christmas cake. He had spent the entire morning opening the gifts which his parents had given him. His dad had got him a brand new bike and in the evening he had shown it off to his friends. Later, he and his parents had danced and sang late into the night.
Two weeks later, just a few days before his twelfth birthday, his world had been completely shattered.
Jacob was a Correspondent working for The National Tribune. He had been sent to a terrorist infested area in the north east to do a special story. He had been kidnapped by the terrorists and a week later they had issued a press release mentioning that Jacob had been killed while trying to escape.
Janet and Tony had slowly tried to pick up the pieces of their broken and mutilated lives. They had moved to a smaller house in a different locality. Janet had started supplying lunch to the office goers who worked in the offices situated in the multistoried buildings close by. Tony had shifted to a less expensive school closer to their house.
To supplement his mother’s earnings he had taken up the job of delivering newspapers on his cycle early in the morning.
Two months ago Janet had fallen ill. The doctor had diagnosed typhoid. She had been advised complete bed rest but hadn’t paid any heed. As a result, a month later, she had a relapse. Whatever savings they had were spent on her treatment. As she was unable to cook, her catering business too had come to a standstill.
Tony had taken up another part time job as a sales boy in a stationery shop.
The entire day today Janet had been very depressed. Tony knew she must be thinking about how happy they were last year. He had decided that he would buy a nice gift for her and a Christmas cake. He was sure this would cheer her up at least a wee bit.
After reaching the main market Tony stepped into a textiles shop.
“Can you show me some ladies shawls please?” he asked the pretty looking salesgirl.
She took out a bundle and started displaying the shawls. He looked at the price tags – 230, 325, 440….they were all much beyond his budget.
“D…don’t you have any cheaper ones?” he asked hesitatingly.
“Why don’t you tell me your range?”
‘I’ll need around forty for a cake,’ he thought to himself and then looking at her he said, “I would like something in the range of around Rs.125.”
The sales girl removed another bundle and opening the shawls one by one she showed them to him.
“I’ll take that one,” Tony said pointing to a light pink shawl which had a blue border. His mother was very fair and pink color would really suit her.
“That’s Rs 130.”
Tony handed her the money and after getting the shawl packed he walked out feeling quite thrilled with his purchase.
He next went to a bakery which was right across. When he entered the shop the delicious aroma made him aware how hungry he was. There was a fascinating range of cakes on display. They were of all shapes and sizes with each one looking more delicious than the other. At the counter was a middle aged man with a kind and gentle face.
“Uncle, can I get a cake for Rs 33 please?”
The man looked at him and smiled.
“I am sorry son. The cheapest we have costs Rs 40.”
Disappointment writ large on his face Tony turned back and started walking out.
“Hey, young man! Wait a minute. Don’t look so sad. Today is Christmas Eve. I don’t want to see any sad faces today. Here take the cake and Merry Christmas to you.”
“Merry Christmas, Uncle! And thank you so much,” Tony handed him the money, took the cake and walked out into the cold night air.
As he was walking on the pavement he heard a voice calling out, “Please son, have pity on my starving children. Please give me some money or my kids will die of hunger. May God bless you son throw me few coins.”
Tony stopped and looked around. An old woman was sitting on the pavement under a tree begging. She appeared blind. Two kids, a girl aged six and a two year old boy, were sitting beside her. Seeing him stop the girl came forward limping. It was evident that she had been afflicted by polio.
— Learning&Creativity (@LearnNCreate) December 24, 2014
Tony involuntarily dipped his hand in his pocket. Seeing this gesture the girl scrambled up her hands stretched forward and her eyes brightening. She said something to her mother which Tony couldn’t follow. A smile appeared on the blind woman’s face and she started blessing him and thanking him in anticipation of his largesse.
It was then that Tony realized to his dismay that his pockets were empty. He didn’t have even a ten paise coin to give to the unfortunate bags of bones whimpering before him. He shook his head and started walking away feeling terribly guilty at having raised their hopes. The old woman and the little girl started wailing. Tony couldn’t bear it any longer. He retraced his steps and thrust the packet containing the cake in the girl’s hand. As he walked away he looked back. The packet had been ripped open and all three were eating ravenously. The old woman, in between gulps, was shouting, “God bless you Son. May all your wishes be fulfilled. May the good Lord give you all happiness…”
The faces of the beggars kept haunting him. He recollected a quotation which his Dad always used to tell him – ‘I cried because I had no shoes, until I met a child with no feet.’
As he was about to get up he heard someone groaning. He looked around. To his left on the next bench was a man sitting huddled up. He got up and went across. He was an old man of around seventy years of age with white hair and beard. He was clad in a white half shirt and dark trousers and was shivering in the cold.
“What happened Grandpa? Are you not keeping well?”
“It…it’s the cold son…..I can’t bear this cold,” he whispered.”
“Then why don’t you put on something warmer or at least go to a warmer place.”
“I have no money and no place to go son.”
Tony felt really sad for this man. Two years ago Tony had gone with his parents to a fancy dress party. Tony had gone as Superman, Jacob as Noah and Janet as his wife. The old man whimpering on the bench looked exactly as Jacob had looked that evening.
Tony removed the shawl from the packet, wrapped it around the old man and walked away without looking back.
“God bless you son,” he could hear a croak.
As he walked down the lane towards his house the sounds of celebration kept echoing in his ears. His friend Bill’s house was brightly lit up. From the window he could see a huge Christmas tree, beautifully decorated. In the next house a party was in full swing. People were singing and dancing together.
Suddenly Tony felt utterly lonely and sad. His house looked completely desolate amidst all the brightness and grandeur. He ran straight to Saint Mary’s Church and there, sitting on the last bench, he started sobbing.
“What’s wrong son?” he heard the deep voice of Father Thomas.
He looked up tears streaming down his face.
“Nothing Father…I…. I am feeling….” He could not complete his sentence.
Father sat beside him and taking Tony’s hand in his he gently asked, “Tell me son, what happened? On this day you should not be crying.”
Tony started speaking and slowly everything tumbled out – his dad’s death, his mum’s illness, he saving bit by bit to buy his mum a gift, his encounter with the beggars and the old man, his sad and lonely existence amid a sea of fun and festivity….
“Father the whole world is celebrating except my mother and I. The two of us, I thought, should also celebrate as best as we can. I decided to buy a cake and get something for Mum … but …I don’t know what came over me….I couldn’t bear to see the starving beggars and the old man shivering in the cold.”
“Son, I think no one has celebrated Christmas with greater sincerity than you have.”
“I… I don’t understand Father.”
“Son, Christmas is not merely about cutting cakes, singing carols, decorating trees and partying throughout the night. The true spirit of Christmas is in giving and sharing. It is in showing love and kindness. And that is exactly what you have done. You have celebrated Christmas in the truest sense. By helping the poor and the needy you have served God. Remember the Biblical proverb – ‘He that giveth unto the poor shall not lack, but he that hideth his eyes shall have many a curse.’ You need not feel sad. The Lord’s blessings will always be with you. As the New Testament says, ‘Blessed are the merciful: for they shall always obtain mercy’.
* * *
Next morning Tony woke up with a start. Someone was knocking on the door. He looked at the clock. It was five. Who could be at this hour? He looked at his mum. She was fast asleep.
He went to the door and asked, “Who is it?”
Tony opened the door and stood still. Standing before him was his father Jacob. He looked much thinner and a lot weaker, but it was him. He couldn’t believe his eyes. He opened his mouth to speak but no words came out.
“Tony, my son? How are you? Jacob picked him up and hugged him and kissed him scores of times, tears streaming down his face. Tony simply clung to him, too shocked to say anything.
Still carrying Tony, Jacob walked in and entered the bedroom. Janet had just got up on hearing voices. Seeing Jacob her eyes widened and she fainted. She came to a few minutes later and the three of them just held on to each other as time stood still…
* * *
Later, as they sat on the dining table sipping tea Jacob told them the whole story.
“I was captured along with two others by the terrorists when they attacked the small town where I was put up. The other two were executed on the second day of our capture. I was spared since I know French. The terrorists were expecting some aid from a foreign nation where French is spoken. They decided to use me as an interpreter. Initially while interpreting I stuck to the facts. However, I did not want to become a tool in the hands of the terrorists who were indulging in anti-national activities. Slowly I started garbling information in order to confuse and mislead them. Soon they caught on to my act and were planning to execute me. It was then that I managed to escape.”
“In fact no one knows I am alive. I have informed neither my management nor the police. I knew the minute they come to know I’ll be taken away by the police for questioning and the media won’t give me even a moment’s peace. I wanted to first reach home and celebrate Christmas with you darlings. Ever since Tony was a toddler I have spent every Christmas with him, I didn’t want to disappointment him at any cost. I know what the two of you must have gone through on being told that I have been killed. And I didn’t want to delay our reunion at any cost.”
After Jacob had finished his story Tony got up.
“Where are you going son?”
“I am going to thank someone Dad. I’ll be back soon.”
Tony ran to the church. It was bustling with activity. He knelt before Jesus and bowing his head he prayed – tears of gratitude flowing down his cheeks…
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