It was a lazy morning during the Christmas week, I do not recall the date, but I do recall it was the time rich cake tasted very poor. This usually happens around the twenty ninth of December. Eating too much of it. The balloons were getting their first lines of deflation. Christmas feeling was still very much around, serenading in the night, carols in the air, a continuous exchange of visits and gifts, an extended celebration of a two thousand year old birth.
We were enjoying one of those pleasant after breakfast chats, supplemented by a free flow of coffee. The doorbell rang and there was a little girl, standing at the doorway with a piece of paper in her hand and a face that carried an expression of want. Rather a common sight during Christmas.
She very humbly murmured that the paper was her booklist and that she was going around begging money to buy her schoolbooks. She said this to my children and they went inside and brought some coins for her. This kind of incident happens very often in my hometown, especially during Christmas.
From where I was seated I could see her clearly. She looked about ten years, her feet were bare and she wore a dress two sizes bigger than her. She had one of those “nobody knows the troubles I’ve seen” faces. She spoke in a clear and humble voice and looked me straight in the eye. Something made me get up and speak to her. I am glad 1 did, as the words we shared made a big difference to me. Rather a world of difference to me and my otherwise mundane Christmas.
In answer to my questions, she said that her mother made hoppers (local pancakes) and she sold them before going to school. That was their livelihood. She had done well in school. For the new class she was entering the textbooks were given by the school, the list was for the rest. The hopper money was not adequate to cover the list and hence, she was going from house to house asking for help.
Her voice told me the story, her eyes told me that it was the truth. Who was I to judge? I said I’d buy her what was in the list.
We drove to a nearby bookstore. In silence she sat, with a strange look on her face. It’s a look the needy have, a hard to believe ‘what’s happening to me’ look. It’s a desperate yet special look. Somewhere along your life, you need to have eaten a lot of bread and salt to recognize it.
At the store the clerk was ticking each item and taking it out of a show case. The little girl kept staring as if dazed. A faint trace of a smile on her face. Perhaps she had never possessed so many new things before. They were merely exercise books, pencils, felt pens and such things. We bought her what was in the list and she whispered her thanks in utterances. Her gratitude was all over her face, the happiness sparkling through her eyes. Strange, I hadn’t been aware that giving such simple things to one in need, could bring me such a lot of happiness.
As we drove back I could see in the mirror the little girl. All the gifts I’ve given in my life never lit a face so much. She was clutching the parcel with her little hands and smiling to herself, perhaps thankful that someone had taken the time and trouble to buy her a gift. The total event made us all very happy. Our Christmas became more meaningful, for the birthday had come, we bought our share of gifts, without forgetting the birthday boy.
I’ve written this story as it happened, in all its simplicity. I share the facts, but not the feeling, unless you too experience the pleasure of buying a gift for the birthday boy. I cannot remember the gifts I’ve given for Christmas, nor the ones I’ve received. They are mostly a meaningless social obligation. Yet, I remember every detail of the one gift I bought for the birthday boy, a little gift that did not cost much. I feel very happy every time I recall it. I am thankful that I was blessed with an opportunity to accomplish it.
The birthday is just around the corner. We do not go for birthday parties buying gifts for everybody and ignoring the birthday boy. There are many who represent the birthday boy. Many who would go through Christmas hoping for a little change, a little light, a little shine, which usually is denied. It is not for us to question validities, but to lend a hand when we can. A gift is something we give to make us happy. Buy gifts, by all means buy gifts for everyone, but when you go to the party don’t forget the birthday boy.
This story was written by Captain Elmo Jayawardena, Founder and President of the non-profit association AFLAC International. He is also author of “Rainbows In Braille,” a collection of short stories. All sales of the book go towards AFLAC International and copies can be purchased for $10 by emailing him directly at: elmojay at sltnet dot lk