A Christmas Gift

It was the month of December. A month when the cold valiantly establishes its rule, a month when sleepy eyes prepare to hibernate, a month when every tree save the evergreens are robbed off their garments. It also marks the onset of a festival, the birth of Messiah and ever since the world has been celebrating this merry occasion. Christmas was in four days time, a celebration so mesmerizing, and every entity was doused in the fervour.

The spirit of the festival was humbly evident from Mylliem, a little village nestled between mountains in the heart of Meghalaya not far from the capital town of Shillong. Joyous chubby-cheeked children, a shade of red, with sparkling eyes diligently cleaned the Church, humming a happy tune. Their faces radiated an ethereal ecstasy, momentarily masking the misery each one was prey to. There was cheerfulness in the atmosphere, the season of happiness. Much like a cloud protecting the parched earth from the scorching rays of melancholy and pain. With the cleaning done, Father Keenan announced the fir tree decoration ceremony; a loud echo of cheer followed. Father Keenan, an elderly pious man with snowy hair adorning his head and a little bent now, was a pool of patience and guide to the entire village. With his twinkling eyes, screened by a pair of horn-rimmed glasses, he assisted the curious ones with the meagre decoration items. Little polychrome plastic stars, sparkling bells and fleecy puffs of cotton balls covered the conifer embellishing it with beauty. Curious eyes gazed as each decoration found its place on the tree. Then it was the idol of an angel, smeared in white, which was placed at the tip of the tree. Thereafter Father Keenan carefully twined the colourful fairy lights around the tree. When lit, it was puzzling to determine what ushered in a sudden brightness, the illuminated bulbs or the sparkle in the eyes of the enthralled children. With all the chores completed, the children gradually dispersed save three little ones. Sanbor, a twelve year old boy with a round face, docile eyes and fluffy hair, a shade of brown, Ebhalin, his seven year old sister with a secluded look about herself and Banshai, a three year old toddler always glued to his sister. They stayed back for Father Keenan whose hovel was beside their shabby one. The Father had an outlandish affection towards them. He had known their family very well, the children and their invalid father and was a witness to their misery and the unpleasantness that had always intoxicated their lives. They had no bygone memories to cherish but he was optimistic and believed. Faith as small as a mustard seed can evict mountains and plunge them into the ocean, he remembered and prayed. There were good tidings in the offing, a adoption that was to be.

The hut they called home was a mirror to the poverty that chocked their lives. On the door Ebhalin had glued a star that she had sketched to welcome Christmas. Their father, a paralytic, eagerly awaited their return, a futile wait. He regretted his failure and the brunt his children had to bear for his pains. Sanbor and Ebhalin had mastered the appalling truth of ignoring their childhood and toiled hard with petty chores. Stomachs were always unfilled and sleep was never ample. Their fragile bodies had mastered the art of patiently accepting the yoke of malevolence. No night differed from the other, after a petty dinner, the fervent children would narrate their innocent adventures to their Pa and then he would tell them stories. Today he described Christmas tales-birth of Christ, gift the Magi, the three wise men, who brought for infant Jesus, angels singing in heaven. They listened with awe and were soon lulled into so peaceful a slumber dreaming about Christmas.

The following day, Father Keenan received a letter, that he awaited for days. The Irish couple, who had wished to adopt children from the village, were coming the next day. It was a hysteric moment for the Father. He had suggested the names of Sanbor and his siblings and, now, he knew the haze of melancholy and bereavement would soon be wiped off from the faces of these children, indeed the best Christmas gift. He hurriedly went to their father with the news. A flicker of happiness seeped through him when he imagined the joy his children would be have and his happiness soon turned into sorrow when he realized they would be separated from him. His was the plight of a helpless father. He did not, but, let his serene selfishness deter the goodness that awaited his children and confining his tears inside his broken heart he accepted the mandate. Later that day, he explained to the children their nigh future, blissful days, sufficient to eat and plentiful sleep. They stood bewildered, it was perplexity rather than happiness. They disapproved and Banshai, too small to comprehend anything only stared at everyone. Their father tried hard to cajole them, but in vain. Much after a heated argument his request moulded into a command and Ebhalin had to accept the bitter sweetness. But Sanbor would not give in and rushed out to Father Keenan. He cried his heart out for his father meant the world to him. He cared little about not much to eat, he did not mind sweating and toiling,  he did not deplore not sleeping enough as long as it was under the roof of his shabby hut. Father Keenan, with his usual soothing ways elucidated to him what the Lord once said. Men who follow Gods commandments are His true father, mother, brother and sister. He was young to appreciate the Fathers sayings and disagreeing he wiped his tears, swallowed hard and left with his stubborn self.

The Irish couple arrived the next afternoon. Bizarre was their greeting, puzzled onlookers and enthralled children ran about as the motor car chugged through the muddy road. After a brief meeting with Father Keenan and the children’s father and the legal procedure they were ready to depart with Ebhalin and Banshai. Ebhalin forced herself a smile through her tears as she gazed at everyone for the last time. They left and Sanbor could not help staring at the car until it disappeared out of his sight and merged with the horizon.

Two days hence life was no longer the one Sanbor used to know. There were no adventures, no happy gatherings before bedtime, no stories to drown into. It was Christmas day and he sat at the porch of his house gazing at the heavenly bodies and holding onto the star Ebhalin had sketched. He knew that the Magi had come for his sister and brother but little did he know that he had exalted himself to the heights of the Magi for it is transcendental to give than to receive.

“So humble yourself under the mighty power of God, and in his good time He will honour you” – 1 Peter, 5:6.

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