A SMALL GIFT
“Our problems often blunt us around edges that ought to be sharp, and make us prickly as thorns in all the wrong ways. But every so often, a gesture as small as warmth in the blood once more reaches out to infuse life in a cold heart.”
Christmas was here, and even though it was still very early morning, her mood was fouled. Recently, she spent almost every waking moment depressed; she tried to lighten up when returning home, for the sake of her kids. But it was hard, and getting harder each day she returned empty handed. When school was in few month back, she had barely managed to save enough for school fees. But the holidays had come and for two weeks running, rather than making profit, she just kept incurring losses. She was strung tight as harp strings and often shouted at them, hurting inside even as she did so. But kids – Lord help them – will always be kids; they persisted in playing tricks that picked at her already raw nerves. And each time – like the previous night with Mikey her oldest – she responded with a rebuke and even a beating. They forgave her, weren’t they children after all? But it still hurt.
Worse, the only way she knew to make amends was going to be impossible this year; she couldn’t get them new clothes for Christmas. In the previous years, when things hadn’t been as tough, months before Christmas she would already have the clothes in storage, five pairs – a pair for each of them. This year however, she couldn’t afford it and to avoid getting their hopes up, she had already broken the news to them, gently. Her only consolation was their reaction, they had taken it in stride as though they already knew, and told her not to worry. While she was grateful for the gift of such kids, she was saddened that they could see how their Mama worried. Kids needed new clothes for Christmas, not the responsibility of a parent’s worry. Which was why she hoped today at the market would yield profit. If the fates were kind she might still be able to surprise them on Christmas day, just four days away.
It was sunny out and the market place was teeming with rush-hour Christmas shoppers. Sellers always took advantage by hiking the prices. Years ago when things were good, she remembered being a last minute buyer, and the thrill she always got from haggling over items. She had always enjoyed shopping. On the other side of the table now, and in dire need of money, she hoped she wouldn’t have to resort to that today.
By 11am she had made only a couple of sales, but she still hoped. Since her goods were seasonal items, she reasoned that today would be a perfect day to make huge turnover. To help fate help her, she decided to hawk her wares. She weaved and forced her way through the throbbing mass, all the while announcing her goods in a cheery monotone. The longer she walked however, the less cheerful her voice. And after three hours of schlepping through the crowd, she could no more force cheer into her voice than she could break into nursery rhymes.
There was no method or process to it, except that she continued her hawking, gaily announcing her goods; maybe the fates awoke, or the galaxy spun around in her direction but by evening, she was more than willing not only to sing rhymes, but to dance as well. She made much more than she could ever have imagined, enough to buy those longed-for Christmas clothes. They would each get only one this year, but it was more than enough.
At home, she could hear Mike, Tommy and the girls discussing as she approached their room. She stopped in her tracks as their words reached her. Her heart constricted painfully, as though she would stop breathing, and tears began to flow profusely.
Tommy was saying how mummy was always sad, and sometimes cried in the middle of the night when she thought they wouldn’t hear. She hadn’t known that her quiet sobs often woke them from sleep, and that they would sometimes tiptoe to the door. Not knowing what to say to her if they went in, they stayed there and joined her in crying, believing it would lessen her grief. Then the next day they would all be excessively cheerful, so she wouldn’t catch on. All this while, they had been aware and she hadn’t known. She placed her hands over her mouth to muffle her sobs, but couldn’t bring herself to leave so she kept listening. They were talking about her not being able to get them new clothes, and what they would do on Christmas day to convince her that they didn’t mind. They then decided that they would thoroughly wash and iron the clothes they each liked best, and use them on that day. They would dress the little one, Kit, in her fading but beautiful navy blue dress. Mikey would borrow Tina’s fairly new white t-shirt, and Tommy would wear his khaki overalls. Tina and Claire would put on last year’s cloth. At this point, she could no longer subdue her tears. Stumbling blindly to her room, she slid to the ground, overwhelmed by tears. She said nothing to them concerning the clothes.
On Christmas morning she woke up to the sounds of excited chattering, and going out she beheld her five children, neatly dressed as they had said they would be, and gay as skylarks. They were hushed into grateful surprise when she gave them their new clothes. It was a gift to her, watching their enchanted surprise and bubbles of laughter as they tried on the clothes. But knowing that their joys were complete even without them was the best Christmas gift she had ever been given.
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