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The Spirit of Christmas 2
by Ramendra Kumar

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 largess.

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....."

A few meters later Tony came to the City Park and sat down on the bench. 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 couldn't 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 atleast 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. Some one 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?"

"Telegram."

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 onto 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....   

18-Dec-2005
 
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