The school bell rang and the children screamed in excitement. The final bell was the sweetest noise for the children. Everyone was in a hurry to reach home. It was the Christmas season. David jostled along with other children taking care not to trip smaller children and passed by the old church in front of the school. A bamboo frame in the shape of a star was already getting ready and so was the crib.
The priest always used colored candles to mark the advent season as a preparation for Christmas. It added color to children’s imagination.. The whole season of Christmas was associated with such sweet memories. The Crib !…The Star…The delicious sweets? the new clothes?.the carols?etc etc. Today he had to get fresh grass from the fields to make a crib. Every year he used innovative ideas to make the crib. The thoughts added more speed to his walking and now David was running home. He had to make a star too?.Dad always joined him in doing it.
The wooden gate creaked as he entered. Mother was busy mending her old saree probably for the umpteenth time. But she did not look up. There was a strange silence in the house. He paused cautiously. Silence always meant trouble?.usually for him or his mum. David was now curious to know what was in store for him that day. His dad seldom drank, and rarely lost his temper. Besides his mum was an angel. She always protected him from trouble. But today she was not even looking up ! That meant real serious trouble. He wondered if it had something to do with his aunt who had visited them that week. He hated her.
Aunt Mary worked in Kuwait. She was his fathers sister and she was the only visitor they had once a year. He disliked her huge size dressed in violent colors , decorated like a Christmas tree. David always imagined mischievously that she resembled a truck because of the way she moved and snored at night. It amused him to watch her huge stature without any feminine curves at all. But that was not the reason he hated her. Nor it was because she reeked imported scent , cigarettes and whisky all the time!
Aunt Mary had a horrible habit. She took sadistic pleasure in exhibiting her ornaments in front of his poor mum. His mum was a simple woman who always struggled with poverty and tried to make ends meet. But at times like this her womanly desires for the simple glamour of life used to trouble her deeply. Though small in age, David could understand the pain and frustration of his mum.
This year it was worse. Aunt Mary had insisted on leaving behind a diamond studded golden ring with his mum for the Christmas season. Of course she will take it back on her way back to Gulf. Poor mum was in a fix since the shining diamond ring looked out of place with her old tattered clothes. Her awkward dilemma seemed to please Aunt Mary immensely. She proceeded to Singapore promising to be back after Christmas. No visitor had come after that, but the ring kept on the Altar disappeared mysteriously.
That night David got the spanking of his lifetime from his Dad. But for his mama his dad would have literally killed him. The whole night dad cursed and mum wept. Strange but true no stranger had entered the house, but the ring had just disappeared. The pain of being called a thief hurt more than the sores on his back. In desperate hope he searched the altar on which the ring was kept. He found old candles, rosaries, medals, incense, coins reserved for the collection box, holy pictures, holy water, every weird item related to the other world…But the ring was not there. Like a magic curse the ring had shattered the peace of that lovely home.
The next day no one spoke and no one ate. It was sheer agony to David to watch his parents silently brooding. The neighborhood was busy with the Christmas preparations. The sweet smell of sweets, Sanna and pork, permeated the air in the back drop of melodious carols.
…Like a magic curse the ring had shattered the peace of that lovely home….
At night he could overhear the whispers and heated arguments of his parents. Finally they came to a deadly decision. The huge Teak wood tree that stood majestically in front of the house will have to go. It may fetch the right amount to buy a similar ring. They wanted to buy a similar gold ring and return it to Aunt Mary to save their reputation.
The Teak Wood Tree!!!… David almost screamed in distress. That was the only tree in that small patch of land. The tree fed on the water flowing from their small ‘Nani’ ( Bath room ) and due to their continuous attention had attained huge girth. Several enterprising and greedy neighbors had already approached them offering a fortune for that tree. Somehow his parents always had refused to sell that tree. They said it was going to fetch at least two lakh rupees sufficient to cover his college studies. He loved that tree because most of his childhood memories were linked to that tree along with his future dreams. He built imaginary houses under that tree, played ‘Mara Kothi ‘ with friends, sat on the branches to study and even used it as his hide out when dad was in a foul mood. Every year the Christmas star shone beautifully on that tree. Now it looked like the tree will have to go and so were his dreams of a future. He silently wept.
It was 23rd of December. The day of ?Kuswar ? Every year the family members sat together to make sweets. He loved the ‘Laddus’ ,’Gulios’ and ‘Kidi’ which his mum used to make . It was such a pleasure when all members of the family took part in Christmas activity. His dad always assisted in making a huge star, and a crib under the tree. But this year no one spoke of it. Instead Gabram, his father’s friend arrived in the morning with his ‘modu’ (axe). He was an expert in cutting trees. David sat gloomily and watched as his dad and Gabram chatted. The branches had to be cut first. Gabram, like a contestant of miss world first stripped to bare minimum. His lungi now served as a ‘Mundas ‘ (Headdress ).After securing his man glands tightly with his ‘Indian Tie’ Gabram climbed to the top of the tree with the expertise of a monkey. At times he seemed more at home on a tree than land.
On any other occasions David would have enjoyed this event immensely. But today every blow of that axe was resounding with the silent sobs of David who watched them with eyes filled with tears. The sparrows had made a nest on that tree. The anxious birds cried and flew round and round the tree adding to the overall gloomy scene.
At last with a sickening thud the top branch fell to the ground. The young and old watched as the nest of the sparrows shattered to the ground. As they stared at the broken home of the birds there fell out of that nest pieces of small shining chocolate wrappers, rosary beads, shining small parts of toys and…they could not believe their eyes ! There was the ring! The sparrows are known to collect shining items in their nests, but no one had ever expected them to carry away the ring from the Altar !!
With a sigh of relief Gabram gave up cutting any more branches. Dad had already disappeared from the scene . The word sorry and thanks was a taboo in that mangy home. However they had a way of expressing it in practical ways. With tears in her eyes mum silently applied ‘Kadenja oil’ on David’s back. It did not hurt….not anymore. As mum got busy with kuswar he saw dad come with long bamboo sticks. Happily they made the Christmas star and a crib with extra ordinary dedication. A light bulb inside the star gave the finishing touch to the lovely scene they created. As the shadows grew large and stars in the sky started twinkling the father and son hand in hand watched happily the star shining on the teakwood tree. Far away the church choir could be heard practicing?.? Joy to the world the saviour is born?..?
(All Names/characters are fictitious)
"Children are like wet cement. Beware of the impressions you make on them!"
Seasons greetings to all readers and well wishers – Richie Qatar.
Author: Richard D Souza- Qatar