by Rrashima Swaarup Verma
‘But Ma honestly, I’m a big boy now!’
Sarah smiled even as her eight-year-old spread his hands out in a gesture of sheer helplessness. Tall and broad for his age, he already almost reached Sarah’s shoulders. To say that he was the apple of his mother’s eye, would be an understatement. But that wasn’t just because she was his mother. With his sunny smile and compassionate nature, Noel was easy to love. At that moment however, he wasn’t smiling. After all, trying to convince his mother that he really was too old to write a letter to Santa was proving to be a futile task.
‘Come on! Santa’s always been so generous with you. Besides, there must be something you want for Christmas.’ Admittedly, she was a pushover when it came to Christmas but then, could anyone really blame her? After all, Christmas was such a joyful, heartwarming time of year.
‘But Ma, I’m eight! And I decorated the tree with you, didn’t I?’
To give him credit, he had worked hard at the tree with her earlier that day. There it stood, occupying pride-of-place in the living room. Adorned with twinkling fairy lights and sparkling ornaments, it was indeed a sight to behold. Noel had scattered bits of cotton wool here and there to give the impression of snow and there was a shining star at the very top to symbolize the star of Bethlehem.
‘And I helped you bake all those Christmas cookies too!’ Now he was beginning to sound very indignant and Sarah decided to change tack.
‘Santa will be very hurt if he doesn’t receive a letter from you this year.’
Noel sighed. ‘Okay, but what did you say his real name was?’
She could see the doubt on his face and her heart constricted at the thought that he really was growing up too fast. Only yesterday, she had read that article in the newspaper about how children above the age of eight stop believing in Santa and unlike most parents, she wasn’t just disappointed. She was heartbroken at the thought. She knew all parents struggle between wanting to prepare their kids for the real world and letting them relish the magic of childhood a bit longer, but after all, wasn’t childhood a magical time in itself? The world is new, everything is an adventure, there are boundless dreams to explore and discover and your imagination can make anything and everything possible. Well, she certainly didn’t want her little boy’s childhood to lose its magic just yet.
‘Saint Nick.’ She answered his question with a bright smile. ‘And you know where he lives,’ she added. There! That would surely work. After all, they had visited Helsinki only last summer and even though they hadn’t gone to Santa’s village, Noel knew where it was.
‘Oh yes! I remember. I even bought that snow cap from there.’ He nodded then and held his hand out for the paper and pencil. Yaay!
She happily handed him the stationery and then watched as he proceeded to laboriously write out his annual letter to Santa. She noticed that despite the initial hesitation, the list hadn’t become shorter. A new video game. Fidget spinner. Lego Technic. She glanced at the letter as he chewed the pencil, wondering if he’d missed anything.
‘How about a warm coat for Bruno, that stray doggy?’ An eight-year-old needs a bit of prodding sometimes.
‘Oh yes! Thanks Ma!’ He wrote it down and then smiled that sunny smile that always made her heart melt. ‘And a pair of sneakers and a new football for Aunty’s son.’ Aunty was the family cook and Sarah looked at her child proudly even as he added the new request to his list. He might need a gentle reminder now and then but Sarah knew for sure that the basics were in place. Somehow, somewhere they had done something right.
‘Done!’ He handed the letter to his mother with a flourish and she slipped it into an envelope, looking impressed.
‘Good job! Even your handwriting is perfect this time.’
They laughed together and then she glanced at the clock. Almost dinner time. ‘Do you want to read a bit before dinner?’ she asked him and he immediately nodded enthusiastically.
They headed to the blue and white, checkered bookcase together and as usual, it took them a while to agree on a story. ‘Horrid Henry,’ said Noel, pulling it out from the corner of the back shelf. Sarah wondered how he always managed to find the things that she so painstakingly tried to keep from him.
‘How about The Magic Faraway Tree?’ She pointed to her favourite book that, even after all these years, managed to bring back the most wonderful memories.
‘Nah! I already read that one. Besides, there’s no such thing as magic. Fairies and elves and brownies! It’s all hogwash.’
‘Hogwash! Where did you learn that word?’ At eight, he was learning something new every day.
‘Dunno.’ He shrugged his shoulders. ‘It isn’t a bad word, is it?’ He looked a little worried. ‘No, it isn’t a bad word. Just not a nice one.’ Sarah tried to be as specific as she could which, as an eight-year-old’s mother, she struggled to do all the time.
‘But there really is no magic,’ he said again, even more emphatically. ‘It’s all fake.’ That was something he wasn’t going to concede to but she wasn’t ready to give up either.
‘Of course there’s magic. There’s magic everywhere. You just have to believe.’ She smiled at him. ‘Anyway, it’s almost time for dinner so let’s pick a book fast. How about A Christmas Carol since it’s Christmas time?’ He readily agreed and they settled down to read together.
Like every year, Sarah awoke early on Christmas morning. After wrapping herself in a warm robe, she tiptoed into the living room of her 3-bedroom, Vasant Kunj apartment. Throwing open the curtains, she saw that the fog had thickened considerably. Thankfully, the sun was out and it was a beautiful morning in Delhi. Golden light was streaming in through the windows, casting little specks of sparkle all over the tree, making it look more ethereal than ever. There was a pile of presents under it but instead of the usual colorful gift-wrapping paper, they were wrapped in recyclable brown paper. Santa seems to be as concerned about the environment as us, she thought with a smile. The mug of milk and plate of cookies that Noel had left for Santa albeit a bit uncertainly, was now empty.
She slipped a CD of carols into the music player and felt a little burst of joy as Boney M’s jubilant voices broke into song. Despite claiming that he really was a big boy now, Noel’s favorite was still Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer and sure enough, as soon as she played it, he walked into the room, sleepy-eyed and tousle-haired but looking happy and cheerful. Noel’s dad and grandmother followed and soon they were all sitting around the tree, drinking cups of hot chocolate. Before long, the living room was filled with the sounds of family chatter and laughter.
‘So Noel, it seems Santa came last night,’ remarked his dad with a smile. ‘See! He’s polished off the milk and cookies you left for him. And just look at that enormous pile of presents!’ He pointed under the tree. ‘He’s certainly been very generous this year.’
‘Hmmm.’ Noel looked more skeptical than delighted but Sarah didn’t let that dampen her spirits.
‘Come on! Let’s open some.’ She pulled him over to the tree and they spent the next half hour, happily opening the packages. Yes, indeed, Santa had been generous.
‘He’s remembered everything on your list huh?’ Sarah remarked when at last, everything had been opened, even the coat for Bruno and the new sneakers and football for Aunty’s son. ‘Do you want to give them to her now?’ she asked but Noel didn’t wait to answer. Instead, he gathered up the shoes and football in his hands and headed straight for the kitchen. The delighted shriek that they heard a minute later told them that the good deed had been done. Noel reappeared then, looking appropriately pleased with himself.
‘Can you believe it Ma? Aunty told me that this is just what her son needed. In fact, she was saving up money to buy a new pair for him. And he really wanted a new football too. She asked me how I had been able to read his mind so well.’
‘Well, you can tell her that there’s always a bit of magic around on Christmas,’ Sarah answered with a mysterious smile but Noel laughed evasively.
‘Anyway, now that we’re at it, let’s get that coat to its rightful owner.’ She picked up the coat and some dog biscuits and they walked out of the apartment together, hand in hand.
Bruno was a black, mixed-breed dog who lived across the street. He was actually a stray but had been sort of adopted by several of the residents of the apartment complex. The result was that he was a well fed, healthy looking dog with bright eyes and a cheerful demeanor. Noel was fond of him as were many of the kids in the neighborhood. Dr. Roy in the next tower who happened to be a veterinarian, made sure that Bruno was regularly vaccinated and so the kids were allowed to play with him. Now he greeted Noel and Sarah with a vigorous round of tail wagging and was so excited to see them that they could hardly tie the warm coat around him. They finally managed and he licked them both as though to say thank you. It was a red and white checked wool coat and looked grand on Bruno’s shining black body.
‘Oh how nice of you Noel!’
They turned around to see Aisha, one of the teenaged girls in the complex watching them. It was common knowledge that she loved all animals. ‘He really needed a warm coat what with the weather getting nippier every day. In fact, I heard him howling in the cold last night and was planning to get him one myself,’ she said then as Noel looked at his mother in surprise.
‘How did you know what to get for Bruno Ma?’ he asked her with wide eyes. ‘You’re the one who suggested I write it down in my letter to Santa.’
‘Well like I told you, there’s always a bit of magic around on Christmas,’ Sarah answered, handing him the dog biscuits to give to Bruno who was only too happy to gobble them down. Noel didn’t say anything but Sarah noticed that he was a little quiet as they walked back home together. Perhaps he was considering what she had said.
‘At least Bruno won’t howl because of the cold anymore,’ he said at last when they reached home five minutes later.
‘Yes, that was a good thing we did.’ Sarah bent down to kiss him. ‘But that’s what Christmas should be all about isn’t it? Doing some good in whatever little ways we can. Sharing the love. Sharing the blessings.’
Just then the doorbell rang and she turned to answer it, wondering who it could be at 10 o’clock in the morning. She swung the door open and was most astonished to see Arjun, Noel’s best friend standing there, beaming all over his face. Arjun had had a nasty fall from the slide a month ago and had hurt his head and arm. He’d fractured his arm and even though the head injury hadn’t been serious, he’d had to stay in the hospital for a while. Obviously, he hadn’t been coming to play since then and naturally, Noel had missed him like crazy. Now the elated shrieks and shouts of sheer delight that followed were proof of the fact that the two boys were absolutely thrilled to see each other. They hugged, they back-slapped, they high-fived, they jumped up and down in the greatest excitement as though they hadn’t seen each other in years.
‘Let’s go in, shall we?’ Sarah suggested then with a laugh. ‘Before the neighbors start complaining.’
She took both boys inside. The room was cozy and warm from the heater which she’d switched on earlier that morning but the thing that really warmed her heart was the huge smile that she saw on Noel’s face as he excitedly chattered with his friend.
‘Arjun, I can’t believe you’re here with me,’ he said joyfully as they played together. ‘I feel so happy! Isn’t it amazing Ma?’
‘Yes of course it is.’ She caught his eye then. ‘On Christmas morning too! It’s the best Christmas present you could have got, isn’t it?’
‘Yes, it is,’ he said, looking a bit sheepish then.
She laughed and shrugged her shoulders. ‘But don’t I always say that…’
‘There’s always a bit of magic around on Christmas!’ Noel finished the sentence for her and they exchanged a secret smile before she went in to get hot chocolate for both the kids.
About the Author:
Rrashima Swaarup Verma is a writer and poet, her works have appeared in several leading magazines and literary publications. She is currently working as a Senior Vice President with leading, global business research and strategic consulting firm.