Christmas Isn't Coming
Jimmy opened his eyes and stared at the ceiling. Last year he couldn’t stay in bed as Christmas approached, today he just wanted it to be over. He rolled over to see if Ed was awake yet, but Ed was still deep asleep, his leg and arm dangling from the cot next to Jimmy.
Reaching quietly under his pillow, Jimmy retrieved a neatly folded scrap of paper and a pencil. The pencil’s red foil, covered in waving Santas, made his stomach drop. He slowly smoothed out the paper and marked his 7th “X”, and let out a sigh; Christmas was tomorrow.
One week ago a massive earthquake ripped through Jimmy’s home town. Buildings were flattened, trees collapsed to the ground; thousands of people were hurt, or missing. His parents were missing too. In hushed tones Jimmy heard that some people even died.
When the earthquake hit Jimmy and Ed were at school. His class had just started art; they were making decorations for their Christmas pageant. Ms. Smith herded them under tables and chairs. After a roller coaster ride the shaking stopped; dust filled the room, children were crying. Jimmy’s aunt picked him and Ed up from school and brought them to the shelter. Every night since, they waited for word on his parents.
No one talked about Christmas. In his heart he knew Christmas wasn’t coming. How could Santa bring presents when no one had a chimney? How would he even know where they were? That’s when Jimmy had the idea, “If Santa can’t come for Ed; I’ll make sure Ed still gets a present.”
Jimmy quietly rolled out of his cot and put on his pants and shirt from last night. His aunt lay sleeping next to Ed, her arm wrapped around his waist, pulling him in tight. Jimmy could see she fell asleep crying, again.
He made his way out of the gymnasium where everyone slept and headed down the hall. As he approached the doors he could see Sal leaning back on his chair reading a newspaper, like always, guarding the door. “Where you off to this morning?” he asked with a smile.
“I just wanted to play outside.” Jimmy said as he looked at Sal’s toothy grin. Sal had been a good friend since they arrived. It was his job to guard the door from intruders, but unofficially Sal felt it was his job to look after the children.
“You know you aren’t supposed to go out without an adult Jimmy. It’s still dangerous out there, even for a ten-year-old.” Sal admonished as he neatly folded the newspaper to give Jimmy his full attention. Sal paused and looked Jimmy in the eye. “I have a better idea, why don’t you tell me what you want for Christmas while we look at today’s comics together.”
“For Christmas? I don’t know, it doesn’t really matter does it?” said Jimmy
“Doesn’t Matter?!” exclaimed Sal. “Of course it matters, how are Santa’s elves going to overhear what you want if you don’t tell anyone?”
“Well, since Santa isn’t coming I thought it really didn’t matter.” Jimmy said as he looked down at his shoes.
“Isn’t coming! Who told you that?” Sal put his hands on Jimmy’s shoulders. “Of course it matters. Mark my words; Santa never leaves a kid hanging.”
Jimmy looked at Sal’s paper. The headline read Damage from Unprecedented Earthquake Tops $4 Billion - Thousands Still Unaccounted For. “You don’t have to pretend Sal,” he said. “I know he isn’t coming this year, Not even for Ed. Where would he even know to look?”
Sal put his hand under Jimmy’s chin and pulled his gaze up to meet him in the eyes. “Mark my words Jimmy, Santa is coming. He has ways to find everyone, not matter where you are.”
Jimmy wiped a small tear from his eye. “Can I just please go outside?”
Sal looked down the hall to make sure the coast was clear. “You know, I think some fresh air will do you good. Stay near the building, and make sure to come back soon.” He then pushed open the door for Jimmy before settling back in to catch-up on today’s news.
Jimmy walked around the building and headed for the street. He knew Sal told him to stay nearby, but just down the street a few blocks was the toy store he always went to with his mom. He reached in his pocket and pulled out the ten-dollar bill he had been saving since last week. Ed loved toy cars, and with his savings he figured there would be enough for a car and maybe a treat for his aunt. A treat always helped him feel better and maybe it would help her not cry so much. Once he had seen a sucker at the store with a cricket inside; “that should cheer her up” he thought.
Even with a coat on, the cold was sharp and biting. He could see his breath crystalize as he exhaled a cloud of white smoke. Before long Jimmy was puffing smoke up in the air like the train he saw on TV last Christmas. In no time he would be at the North Pole, and he would tell Santa where all the kids were in town, and maybe Santa would fly him back in his sleigh, and, and…Jimmy looked down and wasn’t sure which way to go.
He stood on a street corner looking across at the opposite side. Jimmy looked up at the signs and didn’t recognize the names. The street was deserted; no one had anywhere to go anymore. He turned to go back and realized he didn’t know which way he had come to the corner. A sinking feeling filled his stomach as reality sunk in, Jimmy was lost.
The houses that lined this intersection we broken and twisted; like a preschooler’s drawing. Jimmy could hear a symphony of creaks and occasional crashes as the buildings continued to settle. He knew if he didn’t hurry Sal would come looking, or worse his Aunt, and then Christmas for Ed really wouldn’t come.
Thinking it better to keep moving Jimmy picked one of the two streets that were behind him, and started walking. He turned from one street to the next. “I’m sure I’ll recognize one of these,” he thought as he moved one foot in front of the other.
Just when he was beginning to think he would never find his way, Jimmy saw the sign for Main Street, and knew where he was. He looked at his watch and couldn’t believe how long it had taken him to get there; it was already 4:30, which explained the growling coming from his stomach. Before long the sun would be down and Jimmy wouldn’t be able to find his way back.
He rushed down the street as fast as his legs would carry him, skidding to a halt in-front of the store. At first Jimmy thought he had made a wrong turn again. The normally busy sidewalk was eerily empty; the only other living soul: a man huddled over a burning trash can two buildings down.
Jimmy looked at the windows, once portals to a world of wonder and joy, now covered with wood, and spray painted with the words “Condemned”. The once brightly lit sign, Treasure Trove, was missing letters and read, “rear roe.”
“No!” he cried. Christmas really wasn’t coming.
“What’re you crying for?” yelled the man by the fire. Jimmy looked up at the sound of the voice. He looked longingly at the fire. Only now did the cold seem to seep in. “You think it’s rough because the toy store is closed?” laughed the man.
“I’m not supposed to talk to strangers,” Jimmy said as he wrapped his arms around his body for warmth.
“My name’s Steve. See I’m not a stranger anymore. Come over by the fire and warm up.” Steve said with his sandpaper voice. When Jimmy didn’t budge he added, “Here, I’ll move over here if it will make you feel better.” Steve moved down another building away and leaned against the facade.
“Um, Thanks,” Jimmy mumbled as he moved over to the fire.
“It’s been closed since the ‘quake you know.” Steve flatly stated as he took a drink from a paper wrapped bottle.
“Figures,” said Jimmy refusing to look the man in the eyes. He had seen people like this sometimes when he was out with his parents. When they would pass, mom or dad would give them spare change; once his dad handed one of them twenty dollars. When he complained that they could have used that money for a toy, his dad grabbed him by the shoulders and looked him directly in the eyes. “These people don’t have homes,” his dad told him, “we have been very blessed with what we have, and if we can help them in some small way…well, it’s the right thing to do.”
“Shouldn’t you be home, by your fire, with your food, waiting for,” the man sneered, “Santa to come?”
“I don’t think Santa is coming this year,” Jimmy told the man.
“Of course he’s not coming!” Steve yelled. “You think someone like Santa would even think of coming here!?” he threw his arms wide, sweeping over the crumbling buildings on the street.
Jimmy felt like he had been hit by a hammer. He looked up at the man, sneering, nursing his drink. Deep inside Jimmy held out hope that Santa really was coming, and his plan was just a back-up, but to hear someone confirm his fear, it was just too much. Jimmy’s eyes filled with tears as he took in a deep breath and sobbed. “What about Ed?” he cried.
“Oh,” the man changed his tone to mock concern. “Ed’s not getting anything either. You see this whole town is on the naughty list. That’s why we had the ‘quake, and that’s why Santa isn’t coming.”
“Were my parent’s on the naughty list?” asked Jimmy as he openly cried.
“Your parents?” the man asked as realization began to set in. Even in his drunk haze he knew he had gone too far. “Look kid, I don’t know about your parents, but Santa isn’t coming. Nothing I can do about it.”
“I guess I should head back now. They’re probably worried.” Jimmy said as he convulsed with one last sigh.
“Who’s they? Your parents?” asked Steve.
“No, my Aunt and Sal, and everyone else at the shelter.” Jimmy said. The thought of the shelter brought his father’s words back: …if we can help them in some small way. “You don’t have to be out here in the cold by yourself. You can come there too you know.”
Steve looked long and hard at Jimmy before answering. “You really want me to come back with you, after the mean things I said?”
“Yeah, I do. I think it’s just down this street.” Jimmy said as he turned and started walking.
“Actually kid, it’s this way.” Steve said pointing the opposite direction. “I’ll walk you back, just to make sure you get there OK. It’s getting dark, and you don’t want to be wandering the streets when that happens.”
Jimmy walked with Steve back to the shelter. They talked about the earthquake, and where they had been when the shaking started, and what they had done after. Before he knew it they were standing at the gate to the shelter. “Are you sure you don’t want to come inside? There’s food and it’s warm,” Jimmy asked.
“Looks like it might be a cold night tonight,” Steve said as he looked up at the sky. “Looks like it’s gonna snow too.”
“Jimmy!” Jimmy’s Aunt ran out of the building with Sal close behind. He could see the tears streaming from her red, puffy eyes. Sal’s wide grin enveloped Jimmy like a warm hug from his parents. Together they scooped him up in their arms.
Steve took a step back, afraid to make a sound and ruin this intimate moment. Sal was the first to recognize the stranger. “Thank you for bringing him home to us.” He said, grasping Steve’s hand firmly. “Please come in and warm-up a bit before you go.”
“Actually, Jimmy said there might be something I could eat, maybe a dry bed tonight too?” Steve said as he pulled away from Sal.
“Of course, of course, anyone, especially a friend, is welcome here.” Sal said as they all headed indoors. Over dinner Jimmy shared his adventure with a rapt audience, leaving out the harsh words Steve had said. Steve told of his hard luck before the earthquake and his struggle to survive following the disaster. That night Jimmy’s aunt insisted Steve sleep near their family in the open sleeping hall of the shelter. Another refugee even offered his cot after hearing the story of how Steve brought Jimmy back.
Jimmy was just about to let the warmth of sleep envelop him when he heard Steve’s voice whisper in his ear, “Sorry about earlier kid, I hope someday we can both be off the naughty list.” He then fell asleep, surrounded by visions of reindeer, smells of gingerbread and cinnamon, and the sounds of laughter in the air.
“Jimmy, wake up!” Ed yelled in Jimmy’s ear. “It’s Christmas!”
“Great,” thought Jimmy, “He’s been waiting for me to get up, like every year, so we can open presents. It’s going to break his heart.”
“Jimmy,” Ed whined, “open your present already!”
Jimmy sat up and looked at Ed’s cot. Ed was perched with crossed legs grinning from ear to ear. He was holding up a new car proudly for Jimmy to see, torn newspaper like confetti covered he cot. “Santa came!” Ed exclaimed. “Open yours!”
On the floor next to Jimmy’s cot was a bundle. It had been oddly wrapped with too much tape, using the comics section of yesterday’s newspaper. Bright red letters were scrawled across, “To Jimmy, From Santa.” Jimmy tore into the newsprint as fast as he could to uncover a slightly used book. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
Jimmy looked over at Steve who was sitting up in bed, rubbing away the sleep, looking at the two boys with utter confusion. “Did Santa bring you something too?” asked Jimmy with a grin.
Steve frantically looked side to side, and down on the ground for another newspaper gift. His youthful exuberance quickly disappeared. “Looks like I am still on the naughty list” he sadly said to Jimmy.
“Check your stocking” Jimmy said as he smiled from ear to ear.
Steve looked at Jimmy more than a little confused. He looked down on the floor at his socks and shoes. He reached into the first sock, nothing, not even a lump of coal. Then his fingers brushed something in the other sock. He pulled out a worn, folded, ten-dollar bill.
“Merry Christmas Steve,” said Jimmy, “I guess you aren’t so naughty after all.