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The Spirit of Christmas
by Ramendra Kumar

Tony counted the notes and coins. 8 ten, 12 five and 7 two rupee notes and 9 one rupee coins - Rs. 163 in all. This was the sum total of all his savings in one and a half months. He put the money in his pocket. Today was Christmas eve and he had some important shopping to do. He peeped into the bedroom. His mum, Janet, was lying in bed reading a magazine.

"I am going to the market, mum."

"Don't take too long son," she replied. "And bolt the door from outside. I am too tired to get up."

As he walked towards the market he thought of Christmas eve last year. How lovely everything had been. His father, Jacob Kurien, and he had decorated the Christmas tree. He had gone with his mum and dad to the church to attend the midnight mass. The next day his mum had baked a huge Christmas cake. He had spent the entire morning opening the gifts which his parents had given him. His dad had got him a brand new bike and in the evening he had shown it off to his friends. Later, he and his parents had danced and sang late into the night.

Two weeks later, just a few days before his twelfth birthday, his world had been completely shattered.

Jacob was a Correspondent working for The National Tribune'. He had been sent to a terrorist infested area in the north east to do a special story. He had been kidnapped by the terrorists and a week later they had issued a press release mentioning that Jacob had been killed while trying to escape.

Janet and Tony had slowly tried to pick up the pieces of their broken and mutilated lives. They had moved to a smaller house in a different locality. Janet had started supplying lunch to the office goers who worked in the offices situated in the multistoried buildings close by. Tony had shifted to a less expensive school closer to their house.

To supplement his mother's earnings he had taken up the job of delivering newspapers on his cycle early in the morning.

Two months ago Janet had fallen ill. The doctor had diagnosed typhoid. She had been advised complete bed rest but hadn't paid any heed. As a result, a month later, she had a relapse. Whatever savings they had were spent on her treatment. And with her unable to cook her catering business too had come to a standstill.

Tony had taken up another part time job as a sales boy in a stationery shop.

The entire day today Janet had been very depressed. Tony knew she must be thinking about how happy they were last year. He had decided that he would buy a nice gift for her and a Christmas cake. He was sure this would cheer her up atleast a wee bit.

After reaching the main market Tony stepped into a textiles shop.

"Can you show me some ladies shawls please? " he asked the pretty looking salesgirl.

She took out a bundle and started displaying the shawls. He looked at the price tags - 230, 325, 440....they were all much beyond his budget.

"D...don't you have any cheaper ones?" he asked hesitatingly.

"Why don't you tell me your range?"

'I'll need around forty for a cake,' he thought to himself and then looking at her he said, "I would like something in the range of around Rs.125."

The sales girl removed another bundle and opening the shawls one by one she showed them to him.

"I'll take that one," Tony said pointing to a light pink shawl which had a blue border. His mother was very fair and pink color would really suit her.

"That's Rs 130."

Tony handed her the money and after getting the shawl packed he walked out feeling quite thrilled with his purchase.

He next went to a bakery which was right across. When he entered the shop the delicious aroma made him aware how hungry he was. There was a fascinating range of cakes on display. They were of all shapes and sizes with each one looking more delicious than the other. At the counter was a middle aged man with a kind and gentle face.

"Uncle can I get a cake for Rs 33 please?"

The man looked at him and smiled.

"I am sorry son. The cheapest we have costs Rs 40."

Disappointment writ large on his face Tony turned back and started walking out."

"Hey? Young man wait a minute. Don't look so sad. Today is Christmas Eve. I don't want to see any sad faces today. Here take the cake and Merry Christmas to you ."

"Merry Christmas Uncle and thank you so much," Tony handed him the money, took the cake and walked out into the cold night air.

As he was walking on the pavement he heard a voice calling out, "Please son, have pity on my starving children. Please give me some money or my kids will die of hunger. May God bless you son throw me few coins."

Tony stopped and looked around. An old woman was sitting on the pavement under a tree begging. She appeared blind. Two kids, a girl aged six and a two year old boy, were sitting beside her. Seeing him stop the girl came forward limping. It was evident that she had been afflicted by polio.

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