By Anthonia Nicol
Adrian was cold; the winter breeze tore through his worn-out clothes and pierced him like sharp knives, but he kept on walking.
As he fought through the raging storm, he thought of his sister, who was sick and had nothing to eat for 2 days. She was all he had, he couldn’t lose her too. She, a five-year-old toddler, wasn’t spared the pain of watching their parents leave this world in a car crash, in front of the shopping mall.
Three years ago.
The foster home was a nightmare; he had to get them out of there but when they found their way home, they discovered that home wasn’t home anymore. Another family lived there now and they were preparing for Christmas.
Christmas, he thought, as cold tears trickled down his face. Wasn’t this the season of giving? He thought the festive season would soften people’s hearts and at least, earn them a piece of bread when they opened their doors to see them under the mistletoe, but he was wrong.
As he approached his old home, he looked through the frosted glass at the happy family, sitting warm by the fire, watching TV; the man drinking beer and the woman placing a pot of roast potatoes on the table.
What he wouldn’t give to make this a merry Christmas for Tania, he wished. Suddenly, he remembered the hole and his face lit up. He scurried to the backyard and tried to remember where it was; hoping the new owners hadn’t discovered it.
‘X marks the spot’, he said through his icy breath, counting 10 steps from the swing to the fence and walking around till he could feel the uneven earth beneath his feet. ‘Found it’, he said and he started digging with his hands.
He dug faster and faster, as thoughts of his sister flashed through his mind. ‘I can make things better, Tania’, he said excitedly.
His fingers touched the metallic box; where all his savings, from three years ago, lay. Suddenly, he felt a sharp pain at his back and he fell forward.
‘What are you doing here? Who are you?’, asked a very angry-looking man, holding a shovel and wearing a lumberjack shirt and blue jeans. Adrian moved back but stayed quiet. ‘You better speak up or I will call the police!’
The man’s wife peeped through the window, in front of Adrian, observing what was going on with her husband and the stranger in their backyard.
Adrian forgot about the box and ran.
The man dropped the shovel and went back to the living room, to have another bottle of beer.
Adrian kept on running; the fear of being dumped in a foster home, separated from his sister, who he left all alone in an abandoned building, fueled his legs through the terrible weather. As he rounded the corner to the street where she was, he stopped. He was going to her empty-handed. No food, no medicine, no hope. He fell to the ground and wept uncontrollably.
‘Dear, dear,’ said an old woman, patting his back. Adrian looked through teary eyes, at her. He couldn’t remember where he had seen her before but he noticed that she had a bag full of bread. ‘Don’t cry my boy! It’s Christmas!’ she said, waving her hands in the air. ‘I hate Christmas’, Adrian cried. ‘I hate everyone.’
‘Now you don’t mean that she said, bringing out a piece of bread from her bag. ‘You must be hungry. Here have some bread’, she said. He was, but his sister needed it more. ‘Why are you not eating, my boy?’
‘My sister needs this more than me’, he said, as he started to get up. ‘Thank you so much for the bread’.
‘Aw, don’t mention it! Here’s another one for you. It’s Christmas and it’s the season of sharing and caring. I can see you love your sister very much.’
‘Yes, She’s the only family I have left. I wish I could give her a better life. I wish I could give her a family’, he said in desperation. ‘Thank you again. I must get back to my sister’. He started walking away from the woman.
‘Wishes are powerful things, especially at this time of the year’, she said. ‘Never give up! You made your wishes, now believe them, Adrian’.
He stopped when he heard his name. She knew him! How?
‘How do you…’ but she was gone and he was shell shocked.
He hurried off to Tania. She was buried in heaps of clothes, in the corner of an abandoned church. The bread was gone in a jiffy and Adrian gave her a piece of his; his thoughts were on her. Somehow, the encounter with the mystery woman gave him hope. As he drew his sister close, he felt someone behind them and he turned sharply, to look at the intruder.
The wife of the angry man, at their old house, came in with the metallic box in her hands. Adrian’s eyes opened wide when he saw the box. ‘ I believe this is what you were looking for. ‘, she said as she handed it over to him. His sister caught her eye and she felt pained at the sight of the girl.
Adrian jumped into her arms and thanked her. ‘Thank you so much, madam. May God bless you!’
She hesitated. ‘How did you know the box was there?’
Adrian looked down to the floor; the memory of what they had lost, haunted him at that moment.
‘Ma’am, that house used to be our house. Our parents…well….they are not with us anymore.
The woman gasped. She took a good look at Adrian and his sister again.
‘Come with me’ she said, carrying Tania up.
Going away with strangers went against everything Adrian’s parents taught him but this woman looked kind and sincere. Besides, she brought him the box and if she tried any funny business, he would defend himself and his sister.
She took them to their old house. Her house.
As she opened the door, the smell of fermented beer pinched their nostrils. The angry man towered over them like a grizzly bear. ‘Who are they?’ he asked, staggering towards them.
‘Still remember the way to your room?’ she asked Adrian. He nodded and took Tania with him, while observing the angry man, cautiously.
‘I know him!’, the man said, pointing his fingers at Adrian. ‘That’s the kid that was digging through our yard a couple of hours ago. He can’t stay here!’
The woman motioned him to keep going to his room.
‘Harry, those are the kids, she said, once they closed the bedroom door.
‘What kids?’ he asked, collapsing on the sofa.
‘The kids whose parents you killed’, she snapped.
Harry looked like the grim reaper had come to get him. ‘What?’ he said, in a hushed tone.
The woman held back tears,’ Look at what you did! The party! All the drinks you had! You ruined their lives!’
Harry started shaking, ‘I looked for them, Becca. I did but I couldn’t find them. The foster home said they ran away. I….’ He smashed the bottle in his hand.
‘Do you want to scare them away?’ she yelled. ‘You gave up Harry. We gave up. We have taken enough from them. We need to do right by them’.
Harry burst into tears and nodded.
‘That’s why I bought the house, Becca. I thought they would come back. I’m sorry, Becca. I’m so sorry. I’m sorry!’ he cried.
She remembered that fateful day, when her husband, who insisted that he was sober, smashed through the back of a green Honda Civic, when he lost control of the car.
He was let off easy, with involuntary manslaughter, when the police realized that the brakes of his car failed and there was no way he could have stopped in time.
It broke him.
His addiction worsened.
She held him in her arms. ‘Quit drinking now. It’s time to stop. No need to numb the pain anymore. God has given us a chance to make up for our mistakes.’
‘Will they ever forgive me?’, he asked, as his wife rocked him in her arms.
‘They won’t if they see how messy this house is! Come on, let’s clean it up.’
Becca brought some hot food to the room. She hesitated before opening the door, hoping the kids didn’t hear what they were saying downstairs.
‘Here’s some food for you both, she said, with a big smile on her face. Adrian wasn’t smiling. ‘You took them from us’, he said with the most heartbreaking tone.
Becca felt her heart break. She carefully put the tray down by the bedside table and knelt in front of them.
‘I know there is nothing I –we can say that can make the pain go away. We can only ask for your forgiveness and hope that you will forgive us someday.’
Adrian held his sister close, almost like he felt Becca was going to take her away.
She gave him a weak smile. ‘I promise to look after you and your sister from now on. We will give you the best that we can! You don’t have to call me mum. Becca is fine…. just please give us a chance. Please’.
Harry came into the room. He had changed his clothes and now smelled of mint and perfume. He looked at the floor, unable to meet the children’s eyes. ‘Please forgive me. I promise I will make things ok’.
‘Adrian, can we stay?’ Tania asked, still holding on to her brother.
Adrian closed his eyes, thinking of what to do.
He thought of the mysterious woman with the bread; the one who showed them the first act of kindness. He remembered his wishes.
‘Yes, we can Tania, we will stay with them’.
Becca didn’t know when she started hugging and kissing the both of them.
‘I need to get you new clothes! Yes and new toys! Oh, the stores are closed now. Tomorrow, I will get them. I’ll buy the whole store! God bless you both!’
Tanya laughed at Becca.
‘Can we get a Christmas tree?’, she asked, jumping off the bed. Adrian was surprised at how lively she had become.
Harry beamed, ‘Of course we will! It’s late but I can show you all the decorations we will be putting on the Christmas tree! Want to see?’
She glanced at Adrian, who gave her an approving nod and she went off with Harry.
‘I have tons of Christmas books and movies!’ Becca chirped. ‘Will you…’
‘Books’, Adrian said and she ran down the stairs to search through her collection of books.
When she returned, Adrian had helped himself to some food. ‘Thank you for the opportunity’, Becca said. ‘Here are some of my favorite all- time classics!’
He looked through each cover and one of the books caught his eye. He knew that book. His mother read it to him when he was little. He looked at the woman on the cover. He froze.
‘I need to get your sister to eat something. She’s so excited!’ Becca said, skipping out of the room.
He didn’t respond. He took the book and stepped out to the balcony, where he could see the stars.
He smiled as he stared at the cover of the book.
‘Seeing this book made me realize I had made the right decision. I know you are watching over me and my sister. Thank you for granting my wishes. I will always remember what you said and never give up.’
Then he went back in to join his sister and his new family.
She smiled back.
‘Mrs. Claus, you are getting really good at this!’
‘Why thank you, Mr. Claus! I can’t let you have all the fun! Where to next?’