This story is selected as Editor’s Choice
“ I hate Christina”, she declared angrily.
“And why so?”, Pat asked her, carefully masking the faint smile that would have perhaps made an untimely appearance. Debbie’s declaration about Christina was almost a regular topic of discussion on the way back from school.
“She says there is no real Santa. It is only the older people who pretend to be Santa and give us gifts. Can you believe it?”. Debbie rolled her eyes in disbelief.
“Oh no! How could she even think so?”, her brother added fuel to her anger, opening his eyes to the fullest – feigning to be almost dying of such a shocking statement. Debbie loved dramas such as these.
But it was a temporary phase, for her attention soon shifted to the giant Christmas stockings and massive Christmas trees adorning the shops.
Her pace slackened as she observed the clinking of the golden bells as they glided against the cut-outs of Santa Claus.
“You know Pat, one day when I become Mother Superior I shall buy all of these. Four bells, four stockings, two Santa Claus and a g-i-a-n-t Christmas Tree”, she announced.
“Why in fours and twos?”, Patrick was curious.
“ ’Coz they would be for the school chapel silly! Four for the windows and two for the doors. And I would place the Christmas Tree near the gate. I would stand there and hand out gifts to the girls- two to each”.
Pat laughed at her innocence and pulled his sister closer to himself. Her woolen gloves were old and worn out. Three of her fingers had managed to peep out of the gaping holes and had nearly turned blue.
“Put your hands inside my coat, Debbie”, he urged his six-year old sister.
She was only too glad to accept the offer. Being close to her brother not only gave her a sense of warmth, it added to her sense of security. She would have perhaps carried on further with her immense future plans till a faint trace of music made her stop in her tracks.
“What is it Debbie?”
“Can you hear it Pat?”. She trained her ears to find it’s source.
“Are you talking about the music ? They are playing it in the new restaurant they opened yesterday”.
“May be it is Dad who is playing?”, she looked eagerly at her brother, hoping for an answer in affirmative.
There was a certain light in her eyes which made him nervous. He tried not to look at her as he answered her.
“It is perhaps not possible Deb. Dad’s been in the hospital” , he answered softly, not wishing to shatter her hopes.
Two years, or may be a few days more than that, Dad has been languishing in the hospital, far away in the city – getting only worse by the day. Being of only four years then, Debbie hardly remembered the active man, only relishing the stories of him and his feats with his saxophone. Patrick was luckier. For him his father was a hero….his flowing brown hair, his golden saxophone and his slim body swaying to the rhythm of music…..
Patrick closed his eyes for a second. He didn’t want to let the image vanish from his eyes.
The trials of the last two years had made him too mature for his fourteen years. He tugged his sister along without another word as she kept looking back at the source of music, just in case…….
Melissa glanced at the watch again as she raced against time to complete the remaining matter for the content writing assignment. If only she could submit within a day there would be some money for Christmas. Another fifteen minutes! By then the stew should also be ready….She could already smell the heady scent of cinnamon and bay leaves as her stew bubbled away. She looked at her children. While Patrick was trying to repair the faded Christmas tree, Debbie was attempting to write something on a piece of paper. Before she could get back to her work Debbie was over with her work.
“Here it is.”, she held out her piece of paper.
“What is it sweetheart?”
“Letter for Santa, ofcourse!”. Debbie looked genuinely surprised. “ It is just one more day for Christmas eve. Ain’t we supposed to send our letters by now?”
“Ah, ofcourse! How silly of me!”.
“Are we late already? Are the elves, who would take the letter, already on their way to SantaLand?”, she grew suspicious.
“Of course not my love, they would be here tonight. Can I have a look at it in the meanwhile?”
“Yeah…that is why I gave you”. Then she reached upto her mother’s ears and whispered, “ There can be some spelling mistakes you see. But you mustn’t correct them yourself. I will correct them. Otherwise Santa will know it’s your handwriting”.
“Never! I’ll take care of that”, her mother assured her in whispers as she carefully unfolded the note.
The contents were written in crayons in multiple hues. Her lines were never straight and her alphabets a bit too twisted. Ah! Just like her Dad! Melissa smiled to herself.
“Dear Santa,”, it read, “This year I have been extremely good. I have not fought with Pat. I have tried to mend my writing. I have helped Jo get up after I punched him (for which I even asked a sorry). I helped Father Daniel carry heavy books (and he even said that I was a very strong LADY), I took a sick sparrow to the church altar and prayed for it and I even scolded Jo for throwing stones at the dogs. For all these and more I will ask for a simple gift. I know, last year I had been greedy and asked for a Barbie doll. And I didn’t even mind that you gave a fat doll instead. I know you are poor. I have even prayed to God to make you richer. But please Santa, this year I want my Dad….only for a day….just to hear him play his saxophone – just once, for me. Mommy says Santa always listens to good kids. And I have REALLY been a good girl. Please, please grant my wish. Yours, Deborah Cairns”.
Melissa sat motionless with the paper in her hand – for seconds, minutes or may be ages. The stream of tears that she had kept locked in her heart threatened to pour out any minute but she knew she couldn’t afford to unleash them.
“Are there any mistakes?”, Debbie asked anxiously.
Her mother readjusted herself and pulled her daughter to her bosom.
“ It is just perfect dear. But you know, it would be a bit difficult for the old man to bring your Dad all the way from the city hospital. May be you can ask for a new school bag?”
“But he does have one entire sledge with reindeer to bring Daddy. Won’t he have a space for one?”
Melissa looked helplessly at Patrick. She really didn’t have an answer.
“Umm…I am sure Santa will grant your wish”, Pat smiled and answered. “Atleast you would be able to hear him play the music.”, he assured his little sister. Then he gave a return glance to his clueless mother. There was something in those eyes that held hopes of reassurance.
Her mother moved from one story to another – all about her Dad, as she cooped inside her little blanket. As she spoke, streams of tears flowed endlessly through her cheeks, down her chin. It scared Debbie a bit because she hadn’t ever seen her mother cry so much. She placed her little palms on her mother’s tummy. It made her happy. But she was confused as well. Shouldn’t mummy be smiling ? Afterall Dad was coming home after days – even if for a day! She could almost hear her own heart-beat. She listened in rapt attention as to how her father’s music had kept the audience enthralled, how people used to give standing ovation after each of his performance. She could almost see her father – a brown haired man in a red dress swaying to the music of saxophone.
It didn’t take long for the muffled snores to emerge from the pink nose, partially covered with the blanket.
“Has she slept?”, Patrick whispered.
“Hmm”, Melissa signaled to her son.
He quietly slipped out of the blanket and tiptoed his way to the window sill. From behind the curtains he took out the music player and put it on.
A soothing piece of saxophone music wafted through the room. It was one of the very few recorded portions of Dad’s music.
As the music reached crescendo Melissa looked at her sleeping daughter. Her baby eye-lids quivered a little and then gradually – very slowly- her lips carved into a smile. It was almost like the sun appearing bit by bit and then suddenly there is a total sunrise. Her eyes remained shut, as she had promised to her brother, while her lips spoke of the immense trance that she was in. By the time the music faded she had slipped into a deep sleep – one that came out of sheer contentment.
Melissa gently lifted her pillow and placed an old saxophone with a tiny note: “For you to learn…till I come back – Dad”.
The church crowd had just begun to thin out. Some of the older ones still hung around, enjoying the warmth of the morning sun. The children huddled in groups – some showing their Christmas gifts, others planning for the day ahead.
Melissa brought out her phone and dialed with swift fingers.
“Dr.Saldanah? This is Melissa Cairns. We shall be there in another hour. I will collect a few of my relatives and my son and be there. We shall take his body directly to his family burial ground. Thank you so much for taking this trouble for me”.
“I am sorry to intrude Mrs. Cairns….But I am just a bit curious…..Your husband died in the evening hours yesterday but you chose not take his body, neither inform your relatives till today. Is there a special reason?”
Melissa kept quiet for some time, then spoke slowly, “ For the sake of the belief of a little child, doctor! If the news had somehow reached her, it would have shattered her belief in the miracles of life. She would have never grown up with the belief that wishes do come true.”
There was a total silence at the other end. Melissa disconnected the phone. She knew she had a lot of things to do – break the news to Patrick, inform her relatives and leave Debbie with her neighbours.
She glanced at the tiny figure amidst a group of children. Clad in red satin frock, the saxophone and the note in hand, Debbie was excitedly explaining to her friends how Santa had brought in her father last night to play music just for her.
No, not today…..today wasn’t the day for her to know the truth. Let her live on with the hope that her Dad would come one day- just to hear her play the music on his saxophone.