I hate Christmas Day. After the whirl, bustle and preparation, the streets fall silent. I picture families celebrating together, tree-lights winking and homes drenched with laughter and companionship.
In the doorway where I lie, there are no decorations and no cheer, just bleak shadows and a crushing chill. I need to get up, get moving to restore circulation to frozen limbs. Some days I wonder why I bother. I’m just another worthless tramp.
A clock strikes nearby and I count as chimes echoes across snowy streets: eight, nine, ten o’clock Christmas morning. I stuff my blanket away and limp across the road to the public restrooms. The mirror reveals a mess of grey. Grey hair, grey whiskers, grey stumps where teeth have rotted, grey clothes engrained with filth. No wonder people avoid me.
Another homeless man wanders in. “Merry Christmas.” he says. I spit towards the hand basin in reply. I suppose I should be grateful that he acknowledged me. To the masses, I’m a depressing blot on their urban landscape. Even those who toss coins to me don’t communicate much. Besides what would they say? “Lovely day, Mr Tramp. How’s your garden doing? Been on any trips recently? Have you seen the new suits at Chester’s Department store?”
I stomp out of the restroom and across the sidewalk, snow crunching beneath ancient shoes. My stomach is grumbling and I decide to head down the street to Lamberts Restaurant. If I position myself across the street, I may get a few scraps.
The restaurant is decked in red, gold and silver and lights twinkle in the windows. I find a place to sit, directly opposite the door. I place my battered enamel bowl on the street and a plastic sheet to sit on. The first family to come past ignore me. The second cross the road when they see me in their path.
It’s almost two when I see a figure approaching. Unlike the others, this one is heading directly for me. He looks young, maybe twenty, and his hair is dreadlocked into coarse ropes. To my surprise he stops in front of me. I stare at him and he meets my eye. “Do you mind if I join you?”
No one has ever asked me that.
He drops down next to me and swings his backpack to the front. “I’ve got some hot turkey sandwiches.” He hauls out a package and hands it to me. “Open it up while I get the cola out.”
“Hold on. Who are you and what do you want? Are you from the soup kitchen?”
He shakes his head while handing me a plastic plate. “Nope. I just want to spend some time with you.”
I’m suspicious, very suspicious, but hunger wins the battle. I shovel one sandwich after another down my throat with no regard for table manners. “So what’s your name?” I ask.
“And why aren’t you home with family?”
“We celebrated on Christmas Eve.”
I belch loudly after a swig of fizzy drink. I wish it was wine, warming my innards and dulling the pain but cola is better than nothing. Leaning back against the wall, I look across at my benefactor. “So what’s the catch? You doing a newspaper article on drunken bums?”
His eyes smile as he answers. “I told you, I came to spend some time with you.”
“No one in their right mind sits on a frozen street with a tramp.” I gesture at families spilling through restaurant doors, their laughter sprinkled with exclamations of joy. “You belong with them.”
“And where do you belong?”
“Right here.” I smack the sidewalk next to me for effect.
Zach shakes his head. “Why do you say that?”
“Because I made foolish choices years ago. I don’t deserve anything better.”
I see the cross tattooed on his forearm as he stretches out to take another sandwich. “You’re one of those religious nuts!”
He smiles again. “I love God but that doesn’t make me religious or a nut.”
“Why aren’t you preaching at me then?”
“Would it make any difference if I did?”
I’m silent as he continues. “Christmas Day is a celebration of God’s love in sending Jesus to us. I’ve simply come to share that love.”
The conversation turns to lighter things but I’m aware that something has begun to change. Something is shifting beneath my grime and brokenness. I can’t explain it but for the first time in a decade, I don’t hate Christmas Day.
Inspired by a true story.
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