My Christmas story for my boys
Adopted for my audience from: The Little Match Girl, by Hans Christian Anderson
That particular Christmas Eve was exceptionally cold, even for Delhi. The wind blew through the streets making late shoppers hurry to get home. Unnoticed by the dwindling crowd, a 9 year old boy, Arun, called out, “Sparklers, sparklers, Christmas sparklers”, holding out a box of sparklers. Nobody paid attention to him; he was just another one of the myriad of boys and girls, large and small, peddling their wares.
As the evening progressed, one by one the lights went out as the shopkeepers downed their shutters. And with the darkness came the fear.
Already, a big beggar boy had beaten Arun on his face with a stick and forcefully removed his slippers – slippers that had belonged to his mother. Though too big for him, they had protected his feet from the numbing cold.
As the prospect of selling any of the sparklers dimmed, he briefly considered going home, but he dismissed the thought. There too was fear, as his father would certainly savagely beat him for coming home without some money to buy his country liquor; neither would there be an escape from the cold, as the wind was blowing through the many cracks in the walls of the shack he called home. As for hunger, he would not escape from that at home either, as there was not a scrap of food in the shack that his father would not have already eaten.
Not knowing what else to do, he curled up against the back wall of a big bungalow, only for a moment, he told himself, to escape the wind. There was no way to escape from the cold, neither from hunger and fear. When he could not fight his fear and cold any longer he decided to light a sparkler; “Only one,” he promised himself.
The sparkler burst into light. In the light of the dancing sparks he saw, to his amazement, that the wall he was leaning against was transparent, and he saw tables laden with food for a Christmas party. With a little shriek of joy he reached his hand through the wall to grasp one of the dainties. Then the sparkler sputtered out, the mirage disappeared, and the darkness returned – his hunger unassuaged.
Having forgotten his promise he quickly lit another sparkler, “The last one,” he promised himself. This time the sparkler conjured up a new scene. The side of the shop he was facing suddenly lit up, the walls became translucent and displayed shelves and tables stuffed with warm blankets and beautiful clothes. He leapt up with a squeal of joy trying to grab a blanket, but before he could reach it, the sparkler sputtered out, the mirage vanished, the oppressive darkness returned, and the cold seemed more intense.
Then the tears started, tears which he had kept in abeyance; boys don’t cry, but now the sheer weight of disappointment and loneliness of hunger and cold overwhelmed him.
Let his father do to him what he wants; he was beyond caring; he lit another sparkler. The next scene must have resulted out of his loneliness that bore down on him, for he saw a beautiful garden with children running and playing and singing. Then there was a man; he was far away, but then suddenly Arun recognized him from a picture he had seen somewhere. “Jesus,” he whispered. “Jesus!” now louder as he reached out to the distant figure, pleading with the sparkler to hold on a little longer, “Just a little longer, please!” he pleaded. His last “Jesus” mingled with the sound of the dying sparkler. And the darkness returned. The loneliness became unbearable.
No power in heaven or on earth would stop him from lighting the last sparkler. He had to see Jesus again! His shaking hand just managed to make it catch the flame from the dying match. As the sparkler blazed into life, he was not disappointed. Yes, the same garden, the children were playing and, yes, there was Jesus. He was very close, now looking at him. He cried out “Jesus” in desperation and with all his strength, stretching out his arm with longing. Just then the sparkler started its death sputter, but before it died, the hand of Jesus reached out to him, drew Arun to himself. This time – the darkness did not return.
The next day the shopkeeper found the emaciated body of a little boy on a heap of garbage next to his shop. His face marked by an angry bruise, a bruise that still could not hide the happy smile. He didn’t know why; he saw only the body; the spirit was with Jesus.
This is the real meaning of Christmas: Jesus came from heaven to take us to heaven.
Some might accuse me of having produced a tear jerker; my children were entranced as they entered the reality of little Arun’s life. This accusation is born out of ignorance of the real situation in which even some of our boys lived in the slums. One lady brought some pillows and clothes for our kids for Christmas. She told a friend of ours, “These children are very happy.” Indeed they are, because they know what they have escaped from. Sure they enjoy going home for a “holiday”, because they return there as “tourists”; living there as “citizens” is a different matter. It often is hell.
Some of my readers have used up many sparklers in pursuit of many things that briefly illuminated their life – only to have the darkness return. Of those which we have left shall we not use one to reach out to Jesus, to call out to him? Then, when that last sparkler sputters out – the darkness will not return.