My bones are chilled, my limbs sluggish as I lie slumped in a doorway. Across the street, people stride along, determination etched in every move. Flashing neon reflects in dark puddles and fine drizzle blurs the Christmas lights that light shop windows. I huddle closer to myself, thinking back to Christmases with Kim.
Kim loved Christmas, even when she reached her teens. Each year she would pull out the wooden advent calendar, and each day, we would act out the pictures behind the little doors. Card making, shopping, wrapping gifts, carol singing. Each took us a little closer to Christmas day and the picture of baby Jesus. He was the reason for our preparations and we would celebrate His birth with style.
“Why’s that lady lying there, Mommy?” A child stares at me before his mother hustles him off.
I shift uncomfortably as a dull ache clutches my spine. Maybe I should go down to the soup kitchen and get some warm food into me. Slowly and carefully, I drag myself up and tuck my belongings under my arm. Some hot soup will help defrost my leaden limbs. I don’t have the same hope for my heart which lies like a lump of stone in my chest.
My thoughts turn again to Kim. How did things go so terribly wrong? I analyse each step as I push through the crowds.
I lost my job.
I got depressed and refused to take my meds.
Kim rebelled and moved in with her freaky boyfriend.
I gave her an ultimatum, him or me.
She chose him.
I closed up my home and travelled for a few weeks.
Kim fell pregnant.
I lost the will to live and took to the streets, eventually making them my home.
The soup kitchen is just ahead. Housed in a large inner-city church, it’s marked by a large cross that glows yellow against the exterior wall. Inside, the dining area is laced with twinkling lights and a silver tree sparkles in the corner. My stomach clenches with hunger and the aroma of good cooking makes me feel dizzy.
I turn my thoughts back to Kim. Ten days until Christmas. Tonight we would have been making cookies. I’m filled with shame at how I spoke to her last month. She tracked me down on Main Street, heavily pregnant, and begged me to go home with her. “I’ve made mistakes, Mom, but I’m sorry. Please come home.”
I wonder what she’s doing tonight.
I reach the serving counter and notice a new face in the background. A young woman with bronze curls, holding a dimpled baby on her knee. I can’t remember the last time someone held me in their arms. There’s no tenderness on the streets. No loving touches. My heart feels shrivelled for lack of it. A dead lump inside me. She sees me watching her and smiles.
I’m almost finished eating when the chair opposite me scrapes. The lady from behind the counter sits down with her baby on her lap. “Hi. I’m Sharon and this is baby Abigail.”
“I saw you watching Abby and wondered if you’d like to hold her?”
“I can’t do that!”
“Go on. She won’t cry.”
“But I’m dirty.”
“Babies scrub up well.” She plonks the child on my lap and suddenly my arms are filled with warmth and life. Abby wriggles and coos, swatting me with gentle fists. It’s a slow realisation; the heart I thought was dead is merely numb. Pins and needles prick as feeling starts to return.
I close my eyes and a picture comes to mind. This baby reminds me of two others. The first is my unborn grandchild, due on Christmas day. The second is the one the Christmas story centres around; a baby who brought hope and forgiveness and reconciliation to the world.
I hold onto Abby a little longer, relishing the hope that stirs and increases with each moment.
I need a haircut, need a shower, need new clothes, but most of all, I need to go home. I want to wrap my arms round Kim and tell her I love her. I want to apologise and then, together, we can set up the advent calendar. We still have ten days left to prepare for a very special Christmas.
I lift Abby gently into her mother’s arms. “Thank you,” I say. “You’ll never know how much this has meant to me.”
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