by Deepannita Misra
A bomber jacket burning red in the glow of yellow street lamps—it was the only speck of color on Neymar Street that evening. This lonely, hooded figure walking through the dark alley, caught somewhere between a girl and a woman. This was, in fact, a brooding teenager. And she was teetering on the precipice, looking over into the dark abyss of her myriad thoughts.
Christmas was upon them already, but the Sharma’s were not feeling festive. They were far from it. Anwita spent the entire morning rummaging through a pile of scratched CDs covered in ancient dust. But it was all in vain.
“Mom, are these all the CDs we own?” she cried out, a bit flustered.
“I don’t know, Anwita. I’ve got hundreds of things to do.”
“I just need the Christmas carols’ one. Where is it?”
“I don’t know! Find it out yourself!”
Mom was hunched over with office work, completely unreachable within the confines of her room. On this misty morning, even the sun couldn’t penetrate the otherwise tanned walls of the room. She was glued to her laptop’s screen, immersed in a whirlpool of e-mails going back and forth furiously. And the morning was in a serious peril. It was getting wasted without a single carol resounding through the walls, which once shook in the wake of Christmas cheer.
But that was way back in Anwita’s childhood—a different universe altogether.
“I guess you only get what you have,” she mumbled to herself, letting out a loud sigh.
Back in school, there would be lots of candies, rum cake, Secret Santa presents and handmade wreaths, painstakingly woven together by the students in their art and crafts class.
At the moment, Dad seemed like the last hope of salvaging the morning.
“Dad, have you seen our old CD of Christmas carols? I can’t find it.”
He raised one eyebrow—classic reply to something he didn’t know, or didn’t want to answer. Anwita was about to walk away when he sprang up from the couch and replied, quite unexpectedly—
“I don’t know, dear. Look, I’m going out to meet the new family in the other block now. And then I’m off to the market. Your mother is clearly very busy today, just like she is the whole year round. So don’t wait for me at lunch.”
And just like that, leaving a taunt hanging mid-air, he left. His leather shoes created large, black, dirt-streaked shoe prints behind him.
“But Dad, you were out until just an hour ago. Weren’t you out?” asked Anwita.
Dad waved his hand behind him, without looking back.
“Do your work, honey,” he said.
“Ha! I bet he’s never seen this much work in his whole goddamn life!” Mom shouted from the other room. She was rolling her eyes.
When Anwita slammed the front door shut, she returned to work.
Afterwards, when her eyes began to resemble little cherry tomatoes—all red, swollen and tender from staring at the laptop screen for too long—she
fell asleep. The walls of the apartment grew cold and hushed. The clock’s ticking was all that one could hear.
Tick-tock, tick-tock, tick-tock.
“Hello?” Anwita whispered into a void.
It went unanswered.
A tear trickled down her cheek discreetly and dropped to the floor. The morning’s deep yellow rays had given way to the amber glow of approaching twilight.
Everything was just like usual; each one of the Sharma’s was dancing to his or her tune. Both Mom and Dad were busy and worn out. Only one of them felt left out.
By evening, the ordinariness of hum-drum life had begun to seem enormously stifling. It was weighing down on Anwita with full force.
So at night, gasping for a breath of hope, a hooded figure in red locked the door behind her soundlessly, and tiptoed across the equally silent street. Wandering aimlessly, the figure came across fluorescent candy wrappers strewn across the grey tarmac. They glittered like gemstones.
It was a beautiful sight, blushing with fond childhood memories.
Suddenly, Anwita became aware of footsteps approaching.
“Hey!” a familiar voice came from behind.
Anwita looked back. It was a man in Santa Claus’ costume—very poorly disguised. He was lean, had only half a moustache and his cap was nearly falling off his head. The boots didn’t fit and he clearly had black hair, not a streak of white visible under the cap.
“Sorry. I meant “HO! HO! HO!” I guess,” the man let out a nervous laugh and looking apprehensive, stretched out a shaking hand towards Anwita. Sugar candies were bursting from his fisted palm.
“Merry Christmas, dear,” he raised an eyebrow, smiling weakly.
“Merry Christmas, Dad,” Anwita replied after a while.
She snatched the candies from his palm, tore off the wrapper of an orange one, inspected it lightly with her fingers and popped it into her mouth.
The sudden burst of tanginess made her wince and scrunch up her eyes.
Dad slid his cold, gloved hand into hers, and said, “I’m sorry that you’re not a kid anymore. I miss those days, you know. But I figured you’d miss them even more. We’d take you to the Christmas Carnival and have a nice dinner every year. Your Mom wasn’t working back then. But boy, do things change fast!”
Anwita looked up at him so pensively that he stopped speaking.
“Thank you, Dad,” she finally said.
“For what, dear?” he dared to ask.
“For saving Christmas, for salvaging my childhood, and for rescuing me—thank you,” she said.
“You’re welcome,” he gave what he thought was a fitting reply.
“By the way, this costume looks ugly on you. I prefer my Santa without oversized boots,” Anwita managed to speak, trying to control her giggles.
Dad burst out laughing. Pulling her closer, Santa hugged her tightly.
That night, enclosed in mist, a poorly dressed Santa and his daughter—the hooded figure in red—walked back home hand-in-hand.
Anwita was a child once more, shuffling colored candies in her pockets.***