22 Dec 2012

3 Days to Christmas

"Bah, it's the same stupid Christmas specials again!"

The old woman sighed and turned off the TV. The holiday was just getting too stale for her now. The same old shows, same Christmas songs... the novelty was wearing thin. With the freezing weather making gardening impossible, what else was she left to entertain herself with? Knitting? There wouldn't be anybody to appreciate her half-hearted attempts anyway. 

Maybe she should have learned to use the computer and surf the Internet more proficiently, but it would take her really long to get used to the so-called "user-friendly interface". More like "youth-friendly", she thought. How did those whippersnappers make sense out of the strange pictures and rectangles? Seeing her son doing an Internet search was already like watching an alien operating foreign machinery...

The point was, she didn't want to be cooped up in her home any longer. Perhaps some fresh air would do her good and lighten her spirits.

And so she found her way back to the streets. She might be old, but she was still fit as a fiddle and sharp as a tack, which she attributed to taking long walks like this. She was searching for the bistro restaurant where she met her to-be-husband (bless his soul) for the first time, and was later proposed to a few years after that. The same restaurant had taken in her kids as new customers, and following them her grandchildren too. Now if she could find the exact same table that she and her husband liked to sit at...

What do you know? Still virtually unmoved from its original position. Wait... was that... it can't be. Was she hallucinating??? But there's a man sitting right there who looked like her husband from the back! How could that be?

"Excuse me..."

The man turned around. It really wasn't her husband. Silly her, to think he could come back from the dead! Although she really wouldn't mind if he did...

"Oh sorry, do you want this seat, ma'am?"

"Ah... my mistake, I thought you were someone else! Why is a young man like you having white hair?"

"That's actually my natural hair colour! No really, do you want to sit down at this table?"

"Oh no no no, you can go ahead with your business. I won't disturb you anymore."

"I was supposed to meet a friend, but unfortunately he had a last-minute appointment to keep. I really don't want to waste this extra drink..." He pointed at the earl grey tea on the opposite side of his table.

And earl grey tea just so happened to be her favourite.

"Well, if you so kindly insist, young man... thank you!" she replied as she gracefully relaxed into the straw chair provided. The aroma of the tea was teasing her nose already.

"Judging from your faint smile," the man commented, "you really like earl grey, don't you?"

She giggled slightly. "It reminds me of my youth, when during the Christmas season my family and I would huddle together, watch the black and white television shows, and listen to wonderful stories. My parents didn't really like chocolate, but instead preferred earl grey tea as the beverage of choice to warm ourselves up."

The woman held the cup between her wrinkled hands and sipped... tasted just like home.

"It's quite troublesome to keep addressing you as a 'young man'... I'm sure you have a name, right?"

"Yes, I'm Dominic. Likewise, I'd prefer to address you by name as well."

"I'm Bertha."

She suddenly looked solemn as she stared into her half-filled cup.

"...it's been so long since my husband passed away that anybody has called my name..."

"I'm terribly sorry."

"Oh don't be! I've gotten over the fact that he isn't here with us anymore. The problem I have is that he was the only one that spent Christmas with me, ever since my children moved to different parts of the world and started their own families. Without him around, even my close neighbours only know me as 'that sweet old lady'."

Dominic took a sip of his own latte. 

"How have you ever coped with that? It must be depressing to feel alone during the holidays."

Bertha sighed, looking straight up into the grey sky.

"Strangely enough, I don't feel miserable at all. I actually feel... irritated. Irritated that the few things I enjoyed about celebrating Christmas seems to be gone. I don't have anybody to be with to sit down in front of the telly, and even then most of the shows on now are quite dull. I don't have anybody to give presents to, or receive presents from either..."

Suddenly she felt his hand on hers.

"There is still lots to do this holiday. You don't have to follow in others' footsteps, like going shopping or getting drunk at the bars or participate in door-to-door carolling! Even nice strolls out when the decorations are lit up at night can still be mesmerising. You just have to look harder for the magic hidden within."

"Pfft, even then I'd still be pretty much alone this Christmas..."

"You don't have to be this time. I can keep you company this year."

Huh? Keep her company? Was this man trying to avoid some event? Or did he have too much free time on his hands?

Noting the confusion written on her face, he clarified: "I'm hosting a Christmas night party at my place. If you like, you can come over instead of staying home by yourself."

"Ooh my! Why are you being so generous to a old lady like me?"

Dominic smiled. "Everybody deserves the chance to enjoy the holiday as much as possible, no matter the age."

"Oh bless your heart! You're such an angel! Thank you so much!"

Dominic took out a little piece of crumpled paper and passed it to Bertha.

"My name and address are written on it. It'd be such a delight for you to come."

"I'll try my best to be there, Dominic. ...I really don't want to bother you any further, so I'll just leave right no–"

"Don't go so soon!" he objected. "You've barely finished your tea! Besides, I'd like to know how your family spent your past Christmases! I'm quite interested in your story, Bertha!"

Bertha? 

At last her ears picked up on a familiar sound that she longed to hear from another's mouth again.

"Well... since I don't have anything else to do at the moment, sure. Thankfully I still can recall the very first Christmas I celebrated with my parents. I was so astonished that a man in a red suit would give presents to kids at night! And on that first night, I received a cute little toy that..."

The hours flew by quickly, and she finally enjoyed every second of it.

The earl grey tea was a delicious bonus too.