I stared at the window display, watching the toy train disappear into the tunnel, while elves repeated their sawing motion and reindeer perpetually pranced in fake snow. Scarfed skaters spun dizzily on mirror ice. The train chugged into view again, stopping at the station, while the conductor waved at passengers piled high with gaily coloured packages.
An idyllic scene, created to lure passersby into the store, hopefully to gather their Christmas purchases from the laden shelves within. It was worth a try, I thought, since I’d not bought anything yet, and it was already late into December.
I rummaged in my pocket for change for the red kettle swinging by the door; jingle bells would ring guiltily in my ears for hours if I didn’t. The attendant was convincingly sporting a white beard, all the more likely to convict me to give.
The aisles were festooned with garlands of tinsel, looped and swooped in sparkling swags. Smiling mannequins dressed in charming winter garb invited customers to browse through the merchandise on tightly stacked shelving.
I’d never find what I wanted. I didn’t need much, but the high gondolas of goods were nearly impossible to navigate, not likely to relinquish any tokens of affection for my friends and family. I felt pressed in on every side by teetering boxes of teapots, towers of towels, and cases of cookies.
A small figurine caught my eye. It was attractive, colourful. A possibility. Alas, it was plastic or resin or some other cheap counterfeit. Where would I find the real thing?
I passed a bubblegum-coloured aisle that threatened to give me a migraine, and narrowly escaped being knocked over by a youth on a skateboard. He was being pursued by a screaming princess on a flaming purple bicycle; her tiara was askew, her feather boa was streaming behind her. I wondered if Santa Claus was aware of their antics and if his pencil was stalling over their names. If the nonchalant woman with the full cart in the next aisle was their mother, I guessed not.
I flipped through a few picture books, admiring the arresting designs and attractive hues. The stories were nondescript, however, and lacking in content. I set them back on the shelf.
I did choose some crystal glasses, although they seemed a bit overpriced. They were beautiful, no doubt about that. So were the imported linens I’d selected. Finely done, exquisite. I knew they’d be appreciated.
Somewhere, a baby wailed, echoing my sentiments exactly. Probably the little one was overtired, overheated, and hungry. I glanced at my watch. Where had an hour gone? I could do with some refreshment myself.
Certain that there was a cappuccino bar somewhere on the premises, I walked the store’s perimeter, wary of skateboarders and cyclists. I marvelled at the number of overflowing carts I saw that were filled with toys and cakes, decorations and appliances. No one seemed particularly pleased with their acquisitions, however, as they peered over their mountains, steering their way to the winding line-ups at the cashiers. Rather, they looked grey-faced and defeated.
I enjoyed my drink and the friendly atmosphere in the coffee bar. Time was passing, though, and I needed to complete my purchases. But, coffee. There was an idea. I bought some packets of gourmet coffee, along with a few fancy mugs from the display area, pleased with my stroke of genius.
I found a few more items and proceeded to a long queue to wait my turn. Ahead of me, a woman was arguing with a salesperson about the price of poinsettias, another person was asking for help with a Christmas tree, and another wanted to know if there was any more outdoor lights.
It was then I saw the nativity set on a clearance shelf. A sign declared, 75% Off. Underneath, was penciled in, Jesus is Missing.
Mary and Joseph were gazing forlornly at an empty manger. Shepherds were holding tiny lambs aloft towards vacant space, and wise men were bestowing their riches on nothingness.
I considered the vexation and bother around me, the volumes of gifts, the joyless faces. I thought of my own frustration and discontent. It all made sense.
Finding an empty box on the shelf, I quickly gathered up the discounted nativity set. I’d found the missing piece to my Christmas.
The manger would remain empty, but Jesus was not missing any more.
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