Story by Ebina Cordelia
“THUD! THUD! EEEEEK!”
Brian woke up to the hiss and screech of the train. He peered through the window bars. The train was pulling into Ponmalai Station.
“Mama, are we at Nana’s place? Are we at Ponmalai? Pinch me if it’s real!” Brian’s voice rose in excitement.
Brian’s Mom pinched his forearm gently.
“Ouch, Mama, it hurts! I was joking, Okay?” Brian pulled his hand away.
“Yes, Brian, we are finally home after a year. I bet Nana will be waiting for you at the gates,” said Rita.
A little while later, Brian and his parents stood outside the railway station. They planned to take an Ola cab to his Grandparents’ home, “The Lourdu Villa.” It was near the railway colony Ponmalai in Tiruchirappalli.
“Honk! Honk!” An auto pulled up near them, and the driver raised his eyebrows to ask if they wanted a ride.
“Papa. Shall we take a ride in the auto?” asked Brian excitedly.
“Brian, let’s hire an Ola cab. It will be comfortable,” said Rita.
Brian shook his head stubbornly. His eyebrows became arched in anger, and his eyes turned red. He twisted on his toe, swung his body in circles, and landed on one knee. He rested one fist on the ground and held another up in the air, shouting, “No, I want to ride in an auto!” Brian was an ardent lover of Marvel Superheroes, especially Captain America and Thor. He was always dramatic in his expressions.
“Brian, bury your Superhero in public, dear! You are making a scene,” said Rita.
“Why do you insist on an auto, Brian?” Irvin, his father, demanded.
“Papa, remember they have the Shandy…. “Ponmalai Sandhai” on Sundays. We can look at all things displayed at the fair if we travel by auto. I would love to, Papa,” pleaded Brain.
Brian’s father smiled and waved the auto man over. Brian beamed with excitement as they loaded the suitcase and travel bags. He sat in the corner of the corner so he could gaze out as they passed the “Ponmalai Fair.” The auto turned into the streets of the Railway Colony.
“Ma, have a look. It’s as if someone has strewn flowers on the path to welcome us,” said an overjoyed Brain.
Rita stuck her neck out. The smell of musty pollen filled the air. There was no sight of the tar road. The streets were filled with various flowers- Yellow Flame, Champak, Rain Tree, and Gulmohar.
Rita’s eyes widened at the beautiful sight! “Ooooh! I love how the flowers bloom every winter! Do you know Brian, when we were kids, we used to take out sepals from the Gulmohars, peel them at the bottom, and stick them to our nails, pretending to have long, sharp nails,” she smiled at her childhood memories.
“We’re at the Shandy! Annaa, Annaa, can you please drive us through the streets of the Shandy?” Brian asked the auto driver.
The shandy was a sea of colours. Little boys walked around holding vibrant stars while others fiddled with colourful serial lights. Christmas trees, big and small, stood on one side of the street. If you wanted Christmas decorations, this was the place to be. There were multi-coloured beaded garlands, Christmas wreaths, candles, Santa Claus figures, and more. Looking at them, Brian thought that everything under the sun was available there. But that wasn’t all. There were stalls for pet lovers with ornamental fish, parrots, love birds, and puppies, all waiting to be taken to their new homes. Vegetable and fruit stalls with their heaped baskets were crowded as people shopped for the holiday. Oh, and not to forget the stalls selling toys for kids. “No one goes home empty-handed from Shandy, do they, Ma?” The festive air had Brian firmly in its loop.
When they reached Nana’s home, Grandpa was on the veranda waiting for them. Brian shot out of the auto and ran into his arms.
“Grandpa! I missed you very much,” he put his face on grandpa’s chest and stayed still for a minute.
“Yummm. I can smell Nana’s baking from here. I know what she’s making! It’s Christmas plum cake, isn’t it? I know that smell from anywhere-the spices, fruits, and nuts soaked in wine; Mmmmm,” sniffed Brain as he went to the kitchen.
Nana was scooping up a cup of flour, her apron, cheeks, and hair all dusty with flour!
“Nana, I am home,” Brain shouted joyfully.
Startled, Nana’s hand shook. It looked like she was going to hurl the cup of flour in the air. But it scattered all over her face, and the container landed on the floor with a thud!
“Ha! Ha! Ha!” Brian laughed. “Nana, you look like Mr. Baker!”
“We have started Christmas eve with a bang,” laughed Nana as she pulled him to her.
“Nana, what are you making for this Christmas?” asked Brian. What’s a festival if you can’t munch on the goodies?
“Well, I’ve made Christmas cookies, gingerbread man, candy cane, Christmas pudding, and your all-time favorite Christmas fruit cake. Does that make you happy, little one?” Nana tilted her head.
“Wait, what about Turkey biryani and minced pie?”
“Yes, kiddo! That’s for Christmas lunch,” said Nana. Brian couldn’t have been happier. Christmas at Nana’s was the best. There was everything that he wanted-his grandparents, Nana’s food, and the friends he met only here.
“Ma, Papa, I’m off to play with Angel and Joseph if that’s okay with you.” At their nod, he ran out to the backyard.
Nana’s house shared the backyard with another family. They had been friends for a long time.
“Joseph! Angel! Where are you guys?” Brian ran into their hall, shouting for his friends.
Thum, Thum, Thum, footsteps thundered down the stairs. Two sets of feet and arms went flying in the air and landed on Brian.
“Why were you late, da?” asked Joseph.
“Hey, the train was on time. We took an auto, so I could have a good look at the Shandy,” said Brian.
“Guess what Amma has made for Christmas? We have murukkus, olai pakodas, Kalakalas, adhirasam, sev… oh, and your favorite, ladoos!” Angel counted the goodies as she reeled them out.
“Kids, it is already late. The crib and tree are in the backyard. Go, go, decorate it,” Jerin aunty shooed them out of the house.
The two families shared the Christmas tree so the kids could celebrate together. The children unpacked the boxes and hung the decorations. Brian was fond of putting the crib. Jo and Angel were decorating the Christmas tree.
“Brian, you know Gia, don’t you? She spent a day at the orphanage and took some gifts for the kids. She showed me some pictures,” Joseph told his friend.
“Oh, okay,” Brian nodded.
“Shall we also go there to distribute gifts and take photos with them?” asked Angel.
“Yeaaaa, we could do that….” That would be nice, thought Brian.
The following day, the two families went to a nearby orphanage. The children in the institution liked having visitors. Brian, Angel, and Joseph started a conversation with them.
Other neighbours from the Railway Colony were there as well. There was Uncle Rajan, Uncle Murthy, Aunty Mala, and Aunty Ramya. They all were dressed up as Santa but had their faces uncovered.
“Uncle Rajan, why didn’t you cover your face with Santa’s mask? You are no Santa without a long white beard”, said Brain laughing at Uncle Rajan.
“Aaah, but if I cover my face with a mask and beard, how will the kids know I’m giving the gifts? I am their Santa!” Rajan Uncle smiled back.
Soon there was a big din in the garden. The adults started giving out the gifts, not caring to talk to the kids.
“Hello, kids, come along. Here, stand in line to collect the gifts,” Uncle Murthy called to them.
“Let us take a selfie with kids,” Uncle Rajan piped in.
The aunties rushed to pose near the kids.
“You cannot click a selfie without us,” giggled Aunty Mala.
“Yes, we are going to photobomb you,” chuckled Aunty Ramya.
Brian watched the adults pose as if handing the gifts to the children. The children looked so eager to tear the wrapping paper and see what was inside. But the kids knew they must wait for the photo session to be over. They were too polite not to understand the rules.
“Wow! The clicks have turned out good,” said Uncle Murthy.
“Murthy, send us the snaps soon. I’ll post it on Facebook and Instagram and make it my WhatsApp status,” said Aunty Mala.
“Earth calling to Brian, Earth calling to Brian!” Joseph’s voice shook Brian out of his thoughts. “Come, we’ll take snaps and share them with our friends.”
Brian stood there hesitating.
“No, I am not for it,” he shook his head firmly.
“Why don’t you want to be known as the Santa of those kids?” asked Joseph.
“No, Jo. I don’t want to be known as their Santa. I want to be a SECRET SANTA, whom the kids can never see,” replied Brain.
“Secret Santa?” Angel and Jo looked at their friend questioningly.
“Yes. I want to be a Secret Santa and remain anonymous. I don’t want to be known as a generous giver to any circle of friends. I want to be anonymous. We should be motivated by our passion for helping others, not by how many people appreciate our work. As our Lord said, I don’t want my left hand to know what my right hand does. Let the Lord be a witness to our deeds,” Brian declared.
Their visit ended with a delicious dinner and choruses of ‘Merry Christmas.’
When they reached home, the kids went to the backyard to finish decorating the crib and the Christmas tree.
Brian gave the final touches to the crib. Was there enough space for baby Jesus to be placed there after the midnight service? Yes, indeed! Christmas is the season of love, hope, and joy. Baby Jesus was waiting to be born in many little hearts.