Michael Stetson was sweeping the halls between the public bathrooms of Gulf Point Mall in Raleigh Hills, Tennessee. At forty-one years of age, his back and shoulders hurt as he repeatedly pushed the broom back and forth. He leaned down to scoop some of trash he’d been sweeping into a dustpan when he heard his name.
“Stetson! Food court!”
“You got it, Boss.” He replied to his 21 year-old supervisor, who was gone as quickly as he had appeared.
Michael placed the broom and dustpan into his utility cart and wheeled it out into the Mall’s food court, fittingly named “The Eating Place.”
The hustle and bustle of the season was in full swing. Every table in the food court was occupied. Some patrons, with their food in one hand and drink in the other, had to stand while they ate. Others sat. Some children ran around, others too young to run kept to their strollers. Lines at each of the fast-food restaurants were longer than Michael had seen all year. Soon this group of eaters would be replaced with the next as the shuffling of shop, eat, shop continued, a collective entity with one purpose: to get their shopping lists filled.
And there was trash everywhere.
He started with the trash on the floor. There was too much foot traffic to get it all, so with broom and dustpan in hand he got only the larger items. Once completed, he concentrated on the waste cans that were systematically placed around the food court. There were six in all. He took a fresh extra-large white trash bag for each full bag he replaced. Carefully he lifted the full bag, making sure not to spill any of the waste – particularly the leftovers from customer’s drinks – and tied them up securely. With bag in hand, he walked back to the bathroom area into a service corridor that led outside, and set the bag against the wall. The cool night air hit him each time he went into the corridor, reminding him how cold it would be once he got outside.
After he had all six bags in the hallway, he went to the maintenance area and found a large trash cart used to move the larger quantities of trash and waste. He rolled it out through the food court toward the back.
With all six trash bags loaded into the larger trash bin on wheels, he began the walk down the long corridor to the dumpsters outside.
He hummed a familiar Christmas carol as he walked. He’d made this trip before, this being his third Christmas at Gulf Point. Gulf Point was Michael’s ‘night’ job. Times were tough.
The cold night air hit him in the face when his trash bin on wheels pushed open the double doors leading out into one of the back parking lots of the mall. His breath was suddenly visible and his body shivered. Somewhere he could hear music playing, and from another direction there was the sound of laughter.
Michael was almost to the dumpsters when his cell phone vibrated. He stopped and reached into his pocket.
He looked at the LCD screen glowing in the night.
One text message.
He retrieved the message. It was from his wife and it displayed one word.
Michael smiled. He’d played this game before. With shivering hands he typed in the next word.
He waited for her reply.
They kept at it until they had finished the phrase.
Jesus is the reason for the Season.
When they were done, his wife sent him one more.
Come home soon. I love you and miss you.
Michael Stetson smiled again, put the phone back in his pocket, and resumed the job at hand…
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