Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: It’s Christmas Day (in the present or living memory) (11/27/08)
By Jack Taylor
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The red-tasseled knit cap bobbed up and down outside Ketchum’s Department Store. The little boy attached under the cap was like a yo-yo as he stretched on tip-toes to see the display train scooting in and out of the mountains and towns. His deep chocolate eyes sparkled in the glow of the Christmas lights as the last rays of the day slipped unnoticed behind the distant hills.
The urchin’s slightly chapped lips didn’t stifle the smile that broke out spontaneously each time the train whistle erupted at the little crossings. Clenched fists and involuntary shivers revealed that his raggedy maroon windbreaker wasn’t enough to warm him. The tennis shoes, one with laces missing, clung precariously on his feet as he continued to bob up and down.
The old man hugging himself in the shadows near the Safeway Dumpster across the street noticed it all. His sharp eyes frequently scanned the streets up and down for any sign of a parent or guardian who would claim the boy. Thirty minutes passed and no one came. Still the boy bobbed. The lights on the store dimmed and the last of the laughing employees locked up and strolled down the block without even a glance at the small boy.
Creaking knees and a muffled uumph betrayed the sloth-like movement of the huddled figure in the shadows. He unfolded himself from his accordion position and flared his elbows to stretch his tightening shoulder muscles. In slow motion he retrieved a duffle bag from off the ground. With precision steps he moved toward the little one so focused on what was just beyond his reach.
A single car slowed in front of the store as the man reached the curb and he hesitated. The driver noticed the closed sign but not the little boy and he moved on.
The first flakes of a promised flurry began to fall as the vagabond stepped carefully off the street and over the curb. The boy had crossed his arms and was vigorously patting himself.
The man noticed the name “Marvin” stitched across the chest of the windbreaker and he used that to his advantage. “Marvin?” His voice was gentle and compassionate and brought no alarm for the boy. Marvin turned to stare up at the over-coated giant with his khaki duffle bag. “Emmanuel” was scrawled in black felt near the zipper.
“Marvin, where’s your home, boy? It’s late to be out here on your own. You should be home having Christmas with your family.”
Marvin turned back to stare at the train without saying a word.
“Where’s your family?” probed the old man as he tugged his baseball cap a little snugger against the breeze.
It was just a whisper but the old man’s ears heard it clearly. “No family.”
“What do you mean, ‘no family?’ You can’t be out here on your own like this. You’ll freeze to death.”
The old man looked at the boy’s reflection in the store window and saw the tears streaming down. The glisten in those brown eyes was gone. The smile on those little chapped lips existed no more.
The unzipping of the duffle bag prompted the boy to turn and watch the old man pull out a vest and heavy sweater. Without asking for permission the man shrouded the boy with his wares. The boy accepted the action without comment. A pair of mittens was extracted from the bag and pulled over the shaking hands. Everything was three sizes too big but somehow it was all just right.
“Used to be my boy’s before he and his momma died in a car crash.”
“My momma died having a baby and my daddy disappeared. Isabella says I’m just a refugee.”
“Marvin, I need your help. Down at the shelter they’re setting up for a celebration. It’s Jesus’ birthday today and you’ve been missing out on the party. I know who you are. I’ve been watching you. Did you know Jesus was a refugee just like you? When he was just a little boy even smaller than you.”
“Someone gives parties to refugees?”
“The best parties. They even have a train that has to be set up. Think you can help with that?”
“The best train just for you.”
“My momma told me that every time the train whistle goes it’s her blowing me kisses. Now I’ll always know she’s near me.”
“This is Christmas, Marvin. Let’s go. Your momma and Jesus want you to get your kisses.”
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