The dirty little boy waved his hands at him when Servaas breezed past. It was the day before Christmas and like everybody else, he hadn’t finished his quest for presents. The shopping centre in Upington was like an ant colony with people dashing from shop to shop in the vain hope of still finding something small, affordable and meaningful.
In the midst of all this bustle, the boy (he must be about four or five years old) sat, holding out his hands with the two coins in it. A piece of carton, suspended by a bit of string, dangled from his neck: Chrismas, Plees.
When one gets to the point where the plight of others gets filed under ‘I’, for Impossible or I don’t care or Indifferent – it really doesn’t matter what you call it, the meaning remains the same. In our modern society with its advanced social structure, the beggars on every street corner become Invisible eventually. They simply don’t exist.
Yet this boy made Servaas stop in his tracks, despite the rushing stream of bodies that wanted to ferry him along to the next cashier to buy meaningless gifts for people he didn’t really like. Maybe it was his eyes, or the plaintive sound of the two small 10c pieces he shook in his hands – he knew he shouldn’t have, but he stopped.
He really was a very dirty little boy, with grime in his hair and hands that hadn’t seen soap for ages. His clothes were tattered and of course, he had no shoes. A typical street urchin, right out of Oliver. By now Servaas realised it was his eyes that made him stop. In stark contrast to the rest of him, they seemed clear, clean and unspoilt. The large pupils had a Disney-like look reminiscent of Bambi.
Servaas looked at many beggars in his life. This was the first time he actually saw one.
He turned away without a word, went to the overfull supermarket nearby, and bought groceries with his small gift-budget. Bread and milk; sardines, some cheese. A small Christmas teddy bear found his way into the basket, as did a new T-shirt, pants, sandals and cap. It was a time to bring Christmas cheer to those in need. It was his Christian duty, after all…
Returning triumphantly to the boy’s spot, Servaas looked around; sure he was there somewhere.
Back home he placed the bags on the kitchen table. The house was empty, like it always is.
Then Servaas realised why the eyes made him stop. It struck the lonely person inside him with a force that left him breathless for a second.
Rushing to the bathroom, he skidded to a stop in front of the mirror. He was reluctant to look at the image in the glass; almost scared to see the reflection. There, like he knew it would, two eyes stared back at him. And in the large pupils he read the sign.
This story is for everybody who spends today alone. The begging boy lives in everybody – I really mean everybody – for Christmas is actually a day for reflection. Introspection, by definition, isn’t a group activity. To get to the real meaning of Christmas and understand what the day is supposed to mean, you have to sit down quietly somewhere – alone. Christmas is after all not a day to spend in a wine-induced and oh-so-artificial sense of bonhomie with some drunk going hohoho all the time. Christmas is a day to remind us that we are all beggars – lonely people on street corners of Life watching the rush of humanity chasing meaningless goals. We all have a little placard reading Chrismas, Plees, hoping that love, joy and peace will somehow find a way to change our worlds.
That’s why spending Christmas alone is maybe the only real way to find the true meaning of the day. To gather around a large table with family and friends is a great privilege for some and I have no quarrel with that. But, sometime during the day we all should glance at the mirrors of our lives. Look carefully at the eyes staring back at you.
Only then will you understand the meaning of Chrismas, Plees.
Being alone on Christmas isn’t a bad thing. It’s the only way to see we are all little beggars, every one of us. And that no amount of tinsel or laughter can take away the cardboard signs around our necks.
Merry Christmas? Of course! Have a ball and tell the same jokes you did last year. Laugh with the others and fill up your glass. And tomorrow, when you pack away the decorations and throw out the empty bottles, you’ll remember the boy in the mall. In crystal-clear reality, we all want the same thing.