Christmas With The Enemy

Merry Christmas, everyone! We shall be publishing our last entry in the “31 days of Christmas” series. This particular short story was written by the highly revered author, Kiru Taye. I had hoped we would be able to go all the way to the 31 days of December, but unfortunately, we have to draw the curtain at this juncture. Let me use this opportunity to appreciate every one who sent in their entries. You made my Christmas. Also, a big thank you to subscribers and readers of HaroldWrites. You are the reason I am here. Thank you for an amazing 2016. Here is cheers to a much more amazing 2017! Can’t wait to see

Once again, have a Merry Christmas and a prosperous New Year. Don’t forget to thank God for His mercies and grace which brought you this far in 2016. If you are a Christian, I would implore you to not fail to go to church today. A Christmas miracle awaits you!

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Ladies and Gentlemen, please welcome the Commissioner for Health, James Ebie to the Godson’s Christmas Ball!

The announcer’s voice is loud and eloquent, his words travelling across the grand hall above the guests murmurings. Two of them echo in my head, the reverberations of my world crumbling like shattered glass.

My past is here to haunt me.

James Ebie. My enemy.

Thick bile clogs my throat. Loathing coats my tongue with bitterness. Instinct tells me to walk back to the kitchen. My empty tray needs refilling with drinks and hors d’oeuvres.

Still, I twist my neck to get a better view. The ballroom is full, every dignitary of note in Delta State present. The ladies’ glittering jewels compete with their glitzy evening dresses, their tresses of Brazilian hair extensions coifed to perfection, their hands and feet manicured to reflect every colour of the rainbow.

My clothes are much humbler. A white short-sleeved blouse and navy-blue fitted skirt, one size too big. A standard issue for domestic staff in the Inemi-Spiff household. My hair is a wash, twist and go style. Low maintenance. I can’t afford the cost of a weekly stylist or the chemicals to get it looking sleek. The payments for my lecturers’ handouts are higher on my list of needs.

As luck will have it, a gap appears providing a direct vista to my quarry, for at the moment he is the prey and I’m the hunter. The notion bolsters my courage, giving purpose to my actions.

I suck in a deep breath to quell the excited churning of my stomach, the scent of spiced apples and mulled wine mixed with more local spices fills my lungs. The hosts have spared no expense creating a traditional Christmas feast in this old British Consulate building.

Except, there are no log fires or snow. This is Africa after all, and though it hasn’t rained for a few weeks, outside, the air is humidly warm. The quiet hum of the hidden air-conditioners fills the space with cool air.

A rich sound of laughter draws me deeper into the room. There is something about it so vibrant and compelling that has me taking steps I know I shouldn’t. It’s as if the owner of the voice has corded my body with ropes and is pulling me closer to him. He calls to me in a way nothing else ever has.

Standing before Mr and Mrs Inemi-Spiff is a tall man in a black slim-fitting tuxedo. I don’t need to see his face to know that he is the new state commissioner for Health.

My breath snags in my throat as something unnameable unfurls in the depths of my belly.

Even from behind he is breathtaking—shoulder-length black locks brushed back and held together with a black band, square broad shoulders and torso that taper at the hips. The way his silk trousers cling to his backside makes me imagine tight, sinewy muscles beneath the fabric.

Despite the warmth, my body trembles. Lifting my empty hand, I rub my left upper arm covered in goose bumps.

Something makes him turn and he stares straight at me.

I swallow. Hard. The most captivating black eyes I’ve ever seen keep me enthralled, swirling in an abyss of black and gold desire. His gaze is intense as if he sees me, reads me. Knows me.

Never! Shaking my head, I lower my stare, although my cheeks heat with the fury of a gas burner.

I’m not the innocent little girl who adored him once. A long time ago. That was before everything changed. Before his family tore mine to shreds.

Angry, I swivel and walk back to the kitchen, where I should’ve been in the first place. I won’t think of him again.

For the rest of the event, I avoid any table or corner with James in it. The live band plays a mixture of jazz and highlife. The crystal chandeliers glitter immaculately, adding more sparkle to the atmosphere.

A lady in a glamorous black dress totters backwards in stilettos, crashing into me. My tray slips, sending glasses of champagne crashing onto the polished marble floor. For a moment all I can hear is the deafening crack of crystal against stone.

A rush of heat scalds my neck and face with embarrassment. Kneeling down, I pick broken shards onto the aluminium tray. The hem of my skirt is soaked with champagne but I don’t care. My job is on the line and I can’t afford to lose it.

Anyway, if I don’t look up, I won’t see the contemptuous expressions on the faces of the guests.

“Evelyn, are you okay?”

The kind female voice has me looking up. Christy, the new mistress of Godson Villa and my boss, leans over me in her sleeveless fitted ball gown—a green silk Basque top and ruffled Ankara skirt. Her beautiful heart-shaped face is very expressive. She is truly concerned.

“I’m sorry, madam.”

She dismisses my apologetic murmur with a wave.

“Colin, bring a mop and bucket,” she says to another servant before turning back to me. “You need to be careful so you don’t cut yourself.”

“Christy, there you are. Joshua sent me to find you. It’s time for your dance.”

That voice again!

“Hi, James. I’m just trying to sort out this spill so it doesn’t cause any further accidents.”

Colin arrives and starts cleaning up.

“I’m so glad you and Joshua worked things out,” James whispers.

But my ears are attuned to his voice and I strain to capture every word even though I’m eavesdropping.

“So am I.” Christy laughed. “I’m having the best Christmas ever. Now it’s your turn to find the woman of your dreams.”

James’s deep chuckle vibrates through me. At the same time he lowers his gaze to meet mine.

I’m caught again. James’ intense expression alarms me. It is as if he’s found the woman of his dreams.

And it’s me!

Agitated, I grip the wrong end of glass. Drops of crimson coat the tray as pain shoots up my arm.

A warm hand wraps my shoulder. Another reaches for my bloody fingers.

“Let me see that.”

James stoops beside me, his scent—a mixture of cologne and male spice—rumbas around me provocatively.

“Oh no! I told you to be careful.” Christy arms enfold me as she helps me stand.

“Go and dance with your husband before he comes looking for you,” James says, his words oozing with charm. “I’ll take care of her. I’m a doctor.”

He winks at me and grabs a clean napkin to bind the cut.

“Okay. Evelyn, take the rest of the day off.”

“Madam, I can’t. I need the job,” I protest.

“Don’t worry. You’ll get paid. Come and see me tomorrow and I’ll see about assigning you something less strenuous.”

Relieved, I nod and she walks away.

I tug out of James’ hold. “Thank you, but I can take care of this.”

Somehow, walking away from him requires a lot more will power than staying. Halfway to the exit, he catches up with me and blocks my path.

“I wasn’t joking. I’m a qualified surgeon and that cut looks bad. If you don’t treat it properly, you could lose your finger.”

Blood drains from my face, my jaw slackens.

The nightmare of trying to write or type without an index finger flashes through my mind. What will become of my degree programme? I couldn’t drop out so close to the finish line.

He notices my skin’s pallor and smiles with a mischievous twinkle in his eyes.

“Maybe you won’t lose your finger.” He shrugs. “But it could get infected and God knows what will happen.”

“Okay. You win,” I snap. My hand throbs with acute pain. “You can treat it.”

It’ll be silly to refuse free treatment. If I went to hospital, I will have to pay even before a doctor sees me and I can’t afford such luxury.

Anyway, the cut is James’s fault. His attendance at the ball instigated my injury.

He leads me outside into the warm sunshine. The sweet scent of purple hibiscus mixes with the briny sea breeze. Pink bougainvillea hangs down white walls and trellises.

Anxious knots tighten in my stomach as we arrive at one of the holiday villas tucked in a secluded corner behind hibiscus hedges. I shouldn’t be alone with this man who elicits such jumbled emotions with his mere presence.

Inside is an open plan living area with kitchen units and a breakfast bar in the corner. The walls are off-white, the furniture brown earth tones. In another corner stands a decorated Christmas tree, tinsel and baubles glittering gold with boxes of presents underneath.

“Please, take a seat.” James waves in the direction of the sofas. “I’ll bring out the emergency kit.”

Not long after I sit down, he returns with a physician’s bag and bowl. He proceeds to clean and bandage the wound. His actions are clinical, his kindness evident from his gaze. I know then he’s an excellent doctor.

What I would’ve given to have someone like him treat my mother when she was ill? Tears prickle the back of my eyes and I shut them tight, drawing in a slow, calming breath.

“Here, have these.”

I lift my lashes and behold a welcome sachet of painkillers. Popping two in my mouth, I accept the glass of water he holds out.

“Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.”

He clears up and returns to sit beside me on the sofa. I shift as far away as I can.

“So what do you do?” he asks, his hands braced against his knees, his gaze fixed on me.

“I’m a final year law student.” Though there’s space between us, his warmth wraps me in an encompassing cocoon. I shrug off the intoxicating effect and stand. “Thank you for your help but I have to go.”

“Stay…please.”

The tendril of his gentle plea reaches within me, turning my hard resolve to liquid compliance.

“There’s something about you that reminds me of a girl I used to know long ago.”

My heart stops…and thuds away with the ferocity of jungle drums. I stare at him, mesmerised, the urge to leave dissipating. He isn’t looking at me, but someplace beyond the large windows.

“Your beautiful, intelligent, brown eyes remind me of someone whose mother used to take care of my family home. I don’t know. Perhaps it’s just my imagination.”

His shoulders lift and the sigh that leaves his lips is one of resignation.

“You can go. You don’t have to listen to me live through my past.”

Something dark and tortured floats in his eyes. Instantly, I recognise the lost soul within, as tormented as mine.

Without thinking, I reach for him. “Tell me about this girl.”

His black gaze searches my face.

“Her name was Evelyn Dokubo. Her parents used to work for us, her dad as our gateman, her mother as the housekeeper. She was a lot younger than I was, much closer to my sister’s age. They played together sometimes.”

Memories flood back, overwhelming me with powerful emotions. Playing with Jemima, and helping my mother run errands in the large Ebie mansion. Good times, lost forever. I suck in a shuddering breath.

“Something terrible happened. There was a robbery at our house resulting in my sister getting shot.”

I squeeze my eyes shut as I know he’ll see my anguish otherwise. But I can still hear agony in his voice as he continues.

“Her father was implicated as an inside man and sent to jail. The rest of her family were sent away and I never heard from them again.”

He lets out a ragged sigh.

“Now my father is a sick man filled with regrets. He admits he was too harsh for letting a little girl and her mother pay for her father’s crimes. Now he wants to find her and pay restitution. I too have regrets for not changing my father’s mind before it was too late. Now I’ve lost the only woman I ever loved and I’m left half the man I could be. I just wish that wherever she is, she can forgive my family.”

Just hearing him speak the words of remorse is like someone turning on the faucet. I let go of all my bottled-up emotions. Tears flow unrestrained.

“My mother died not long after that. I guess the shame of what my father did and the destitution we faced broke her.” I force the words through a clogged throat.

He stands rock still, staring at me with expectation.

“I don’t want your father’s money but I’ll take your love.”

Kneeling before me, he palms my face. In his eyes, his love and desire burn bright. The young man I loved once stares at me. The man I love now.

“Joshua knew I was searching for you. So when he told me you worked for him, I had to come here.” His Adam’s apple bobs as he paused. “I need you.”

He seals our lips together. Passion erupts. Clothes fly. We’re flesh to flesh in his bed. Our loving is fervent, just the way I always imagined it.

Later, he recovers a box from beneath the tree, and kisses the back of my hand, sending tingles down my spine. “Marry me, my love. Make me whole again.”

“Yes,” I squeal with delight, even more awed as I stare at the sapphire engagement ring.

As we make love again ‘Locked Out Of Paradise’ by Bruno Mars plays on the radio.

Serendipity is an awesome thing. My past will frame my future.

My enemy is now my lover.

 

Copyright Kiru Taye 2012

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Christmas with the Enemy is a short story spin off from Bound to Passion (Bound series #3) by Kiru Taye.

About Kiru Taye

Kiru Taye is the award-winning author of His Treasure and the 2015 Romance Writer of the Year at the Nigerian Writers Awards. She is a founding member of Romance Writers of West Africa and has written 20 romance books so far. Her stories are sensual and steamy. Born in Nigeria, she currently lives in the UK with husband and three children.

You connect with Kiru on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google+ or Pinterest

Sign up to receive Kiru’s newsletter and be among the first to find out about new releases and sneak previews via her website: http://www.kirutaye.com

If you’re in Africa, you can buy Kiru’s eBooks from okadabooks.com. Download the okadabooks app on your phone/tablet and search for ‘Kiru Taye’.

 

 

 

 

The Girl With The Red Fan

31-days

I met her on a bus going out of Yaba. She looked a bit sad coming in but my mom’s advice stopped me from asking what was wrong.

“Don’t talk to strangers,” she used to tell me. Despite the fact that I was 21 and no longer a little child in danger of being kidnapped, I still held highly prized the memory of her dragging me to her side in the market and hushing me.

One hour passed. Then two. Silence reigned between us, unbroken only by the man with a tall stack of N100 books. She bought one and I bought none because I thought she’d paid N1000. Then when she opened her book, when her fingers began to caress the aged spine and the brown paper, my lips loosened and I asked my first question of her tremulously.

“Good morning. How much did you buy that book?”

“N100.”

“Really? I didn’t buy because I thought you paid N1000”

She laughed and the musical sound of someone much used to laughing came forth.

“He’s always sold his books for N100. I should know. I’ve been his customer for at least 7 years.”

Then she turned to go but for some reason, I suddenly became desperate to continue the conversation.

“I just wish there was one more person in this bus with us.”

“Are you in a hurry?”

“Yes. I have a modeling shoot by 11:30 and I hate being late.”

“Well, I know for a fact that people hardly go to Berger this time of day. Your best bet would be to get two buses. One going to either Ketu or Ikeja and you’ll get a bus going to Berger from there.”

“Can you show me, please?”

“You’re not familiar with Lagos?”

“No. No I’m not. This is my second visit here. I’m based in Abuja. And what about you, are you not in a hurry?”

“No. I’m actually not.”

“Oh. Can you show me the way, regardless?”

“Sure. I should probably leave with you too.”

The bus driver saw both of us leaving and questioned us.

“We no fit wait. We don wait almost 1 hour 30 minutes, nobody else don come.”

He nodded his head and we left.

I was reminded that we were in a market by the people thrusting their wares in my face and the boys grabbing at my arm, my shoulder, my hands. I also noticed that most of them never touched her. Just me. She noticed this as well and extended a hand to me. I took the hand and I was reminded of my mother holding me close to herself and leading me through the market.

Several people stopped to talk to her but she kept walking. She answered all of them politely with “Nos” and “thank-yous” and I was in awe at her politeness.

We had to run across the road to get a bus going to Ikeja and this time when she dropped my hand, I extended my hand for hers.

At the other side of the road, I noticed she was sliding her hand out of mine and I dropped it. Once we entered the bus, I realized that the bottle of soda I bought had made me short of N100 of the transport fare. She asked me what was wrong. I told her.

While I was frantically looking for an ATM nearby, her hand resting on my arm paused my search.

“I got you. Don’t worry. I’ll pay your fare.”

And so she did. And then, the painful silence of benefactor and unlikely recipient set in. I thought perhaps she was angry at the additional expense and regretting her decision already. And I resolved to reimburse her at the earliest opportunity.

On the way to Ikeja, it started raining – a torrential downpour that caused people to hurriedly close their windows. The bus quickly became stuffy and the unpleasant body odor of the person seated in front of me permeated the entire bus.

I closed my nose, cursing myself for not packing my scented handkerchief when she opened her red fan and handed it to me.

I did pay her back, short about N50 for the trip. But I always remember the girl with the red fan at Christmas time. She was the perfect illustration of Jesus’ teachings to me.

****

Author Bio: My name is Obianuju Ayalogu. Nickname: OBJ. Administrator of Tendrils, (website address: http://insearchofperfecthair.wordpress.com), trained legal practitioner, amateur pest, mischievous human being, God lover, aspiring entrepreneur, generally happy person. Nice to meet you.

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Would you like to feature your Christmas-themed short story or poem on this blog? Kindly send a mail, attaching your short story to haroldwrites.official @ gmail.com . Each day of December, I shall publish a Christmas-themed short-story. You can write on any genre.

 

 

 

 

 

The Christmas Tree and the Wedding

In furtherance of our “31 Days of Christmas” series, here is a weird, but very deep short story written in 1848 by revered Russian novelist, Fyodor Dostoyevsky. I thoroughly enjoyed this one. It has such a deep theme which is prevalent even in modern time, particularly in northern Nigeria. Read and let me know your thoughts on this.

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The other day I saw a wedding… But no! I would rather tell you about a Christmas tree. The wedding was superb. I liked it immensely. But the other incident was still finer. I don’t know why it is that the sight of the wedding reminded me of the Christmas tree. This is the way it happened:

Exactly five years ago, on New Year’s Eve, I was invited to a children’s ball by a man high up in the business world, who had his connections, his circle of acquaintances, and his intrigues. So it seemed as though the children’s ball was merely a pretext for the parents to come together and discuss matters of interest to themselves, quite innocently and casually.

I was an outsider, and, as I had no special matters to air, I was able to spend the evening independently of the others. There was another gentleman present who like myself had just stumbled upon this affair of domestic bliss. He was the first to attract my attention. His appearance was not that of a man of birth or high family. He was tall, rather thin, very serious, and well dressed. Apparently he had no heart for the family festivities. The instant he went off into a corner by himself the smile disappeared from his face, and his thick dark brows knitted into a frown. He knew no one except the host and showed every sign of being bored to death, though bravely sustaining the role of thorough enjoyment to the end. Later I learned that he was a provincial, had come to the capital on some important, brain-racking business, had brought a letter of recommendation to our host, and our host had taken him under his protection, not at all _con amore_ (sic). It was merely out of politeness that he had invited him to the children’s ball. Continue reading

A Home for Christmas

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His little beady eyes scanned the horizon as he watched people pass by. He was standing in the alleyway, pieces of paper and garbage strewn around him. The pile of cluttered papers where he had spent the night before now lay in a disordered clump as he had prowled through them earlier this morning looking for bits and scraps to eat. A distant noise soon brought him running on all four paws of his to a nearby building where he began sniffing about for pieces of bone. Luckily for him, he soon found a half eaten bar of chocolate discarded on the floor. No sooner had he taken a bite than he was kicked at and shooed by a disgruntled man dressed heavily in a wool jacket. He yelped in pain and scampered back to the alleyway from which he had come, tail in between his legs, the chocolate all forgotten. Safely hidden between two Dumpster cans, he began to lick his furry coat as if in consolation. He has had a difficult life, for crying out loud, he was just a puppy. A cool gust of wind blew past making him shudder a little, if the temperature drops by a degree again, he would be dead by midnight. He moaned unhappily at the thought of that. He tried again but to no avail to scout for food. Walking down to the front of the alleyway, he looked at the people going home with happiness written all over their faces. They were all heavily draped in their fur coats and leather boots to think about an abandoned scruffy puppy like him. He shook from the cold as he imagined the warmth provided them by the heavy coats and jackets, shielding them from the onslaught of the chilly wind. They seemed happy and even looked so, their faces registered joy and excitement. He couldn’t tell what it was but he could feel it. Maybe it was the delicious smell wafting from the bakery opposite him but no one ever offered him a bun or maybe it was the sound of happy laughter emanating from the kids as they played happily on the street but none of them ever glanced or smiled at him. No one thought about him, he was just a lost poor dog. Abandoned by his owners few weeks after birth, he had learnt to fend for himself, most times; he had been bullied by larger and stronger dogs. Their menacing faces and bulk always sent him running for safety. Another chilly wind blew across again, even colder than the former. He walked back sadly, thinking to himself that he had better find other pieces of paper to curl himself on, that was if he hadn’t frozen to death by then. Continue reading

The Parable of the Person Who Couldn’t Find God*

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Once upon a time a certain East African country had many mountains and valleys, rivers and plains. All the people lived in one big valley. The large extended families included grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and many children. These East African people were ordinary human beings with both good and bad qualities. They followed all the seasons of human life:

A time for giving birth … a time for dying.

A time for planting … a time for uprooting.

A time for knocking down … a time for building.

A time for tears … a time for laughter.

A time for mourning … a time for dancing.

A time for loving … a time for hating.

A time for war … a time for peace.

A man named John Shayo lived in this large valley. He was a faithful Christian who prayed every Sunday and regularly participated in his Amani Small Christian Community. He helped the poor and needy especially the lepers who lived on one slope. John tried to fulfill all his Christian responsibilities. From time to time he failed, but in general he was a very good Christian.

In this large valley there was jealousy, fighting, drunkenness and all kinds of discord. Thieves and tricksters walked about openly and regularly stole cows, goats and sheep. Families and villages lacked peace and harmony. Witchcraft and superstition were part of daily life. After patiently enduring this bad situation for a long time John Shayo decided to move somewhere else. He said, “Certainly God isn’t present here. He is the “All Peaceful One” who doesn’t like fighting and discord. He wants peace and harmonious relationships in his human family.”

John Shayo saw a very high mountain far in the distance. It rose majestically in the clear tropical air. John said, “Certainly God our “Great Ancestor” lives in peace and quiet on the top of that East African mountain. I will go there to find God who “Dwells on High With the Spirits of the Great.” So John set off on his long safari. At the end of the first day he reached the foot of this high mountain. The burning equatorial sun had drained his energy. He rested. Very early the next morning he started out again. After three hours of difficult climbing he was tired and sat by the side of the rough footpath.

After a few minutes John was startled to see a bearded man about 30-years-old making his way down the mountain. They greeted each other. “Jambo (‘Hello’). What is the news?” John told the traveler that he was climbing to the top of the mountain to find God our “Creator and Source.” The traveler said that his name was Emmanuel and that he was climbing down the mountain to live with the people in the large valley. After talking together for a few minutes they said good-bye to each other in the traditional African farewell: “Good-bye until we meet again.” As John continued his safari up the steep mountain he said to himself: “That man is a fine person. He is very intelligent and speaks well. I wonder why he wants to go down to my former valley?”

Soon John Shayo was engrossed in his arduous climb. The air grew thinner. He climbed more slowly. By late afternoon he reached the top of the mountain and said to himself: “There is peace and quiet here. Now I will surely find God.” He looked everywhere. No one was around. John was very disappointed and asked out loud, “Where is God?”

Suddenly a gaunt old man appeared and greeted John. “Welcome. Relax after your long, hard safari.” Shayo began to describe the arduous trip and his desire to meet God the “All Peaceful One.” The old man said, “I’m sorry, but God isn’t here on the top of this high mountain. I live alone here. Surely you met God on the mountain path. He was going down to the big valley to live with the people there and to help them with their problems and difficulties.” John was astonished and exclaimed out loud, “You mean the traveler I met on the path was God. I didn’t recognize him. I thought that I would find him here on the top of the mountain.”

The old man said, “I’m sorry. You see God doesn’t want to live here all by himself. He wants to join with the human beings he created. That’s the meaning of his name “Emmanuel. God is with us.” John Shayo exclaimed: “But in the valley there are arguments and fighting. Many of the people are thieves, tricksters, troublemakers and drunkards. Why does God want to live with them?”

Quietly the old man answered, “God knows the lives of his people and their problems and weaknesses. There is a myth about an East African hunter who disobeyed God’s command and shot an arrow into the clouds. The sky bled and God withdrew into the high heavens to get away from human beings. But God the “Great Elder” loved his human family and wanted to show his tender care. So God our “Great Chief” sent his Son to pitch his tent among us, to live with us, to share our joys and sorrows, our successes and failures, our strengths and weaknesses in order to save us. We celebrate this mystery of salvation on the feast of Christmas — the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ our “Eldest Brother.” For this is how God loved the world: He gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”

John Shayo was deeply moved by these words and listened intently as the old man continued. “Jesus Christ — Emmanuel” was born and lived among us human beings as an ordinary person. He surrounded himself with simple, needy people just like the farmers and herders in the villages of your valley. He helped the people with their daily problems. This is the meaning and mystery of Christmas — we learn to live like Jesus, Emmanuel our God and a person for others.

“John, from time to time you can come to this mountain top to rest and pray, but know, my friend, that the heart of Christmas is to live with the people in the valley and share their daily problems and difficulties.”

John suddenly felt that he had learned much wisdom on this East African mountaintop. Deeply touched he said, “I’ve changed my mind. I’ve decided to go back to the large valley and live with the people as Jesus Christ Himself does.” The wise old man put his hands on John’s head and gave him a blessing.

John Shayo turned slowly. Seeing the large valley stretched out below him, John began to walk down the mountain.”

***

*”The Parable of the Person Who Couldn’t Find God” is a story by Rev. Joseph Healey, M.M., from Nairobi, Kenya.

Credit: Afriprov.org

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Would you like to feature your Christmas-themed short story on this blog? Kindly send a mail, attaching your short story to haroldwrites.official @ gmail.com . Each day of December, I shall publish a Christmas-themed short-story. You can write on any genre.

The Gift Of The Magi*

I first read this Christmas story by William Sydney Porter (known by his pseudonym, O. Henry) some years ago and I fell in love with it. I got a muse from it and planned on writing an African version of it, but I never got the time and chance to do so. Luckily for me, I now have the opportunity of presenting the story to you in my “31 Days of Christmas” series, in unadulterated form. I hope you enjoy it like I did (and still do).

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One dollar and eighty-seven cents. That was all. And sixty cents of it was in pennies. Pennies saved one and two at a time by bulldozing the grocer and the vegetable man and the butcher until one’s cheeks burned with the silent imputation of parsimony that such close dealing implied. Three times Della counted it. One dollar and eighty- seven cents. And the next day would be Christmas.

There was clearly nothing to do but flop down on the shabby little couch and howl. So Della did it. Which instigates the moral reflection that life is made up of sobs, sniffles, and smiles, with sniffles predominating.

While the mistress of the home is gradually subsiding from the first stage to the second, take a look at the home. A furnished flat at $8 per week. It did not exactly beggar description, but it certainly had that word on the lookout for the mendicancy squad.

In the vestibule below was a letter-box into which no letter would go, and an electric button from which no mortal finger could coax a ring. Also appertaining thereunto was a card bearing the name “Mr. James Dillingham Young.”

The “Dillingham” had been flung to the breeze during a former period of prosperity when its possessor was being paid $30 per week. Now, when the income was shrunk to $20, though, they were thinking seriously of contracting to a modest and unassuming D. But whenever Mr. James Dillingham Young came home and reached his flat above he was called “Jim” and greatly hugged by Mrs. James Dillingham Young, already introduced to you as Della. Which is all very good.

Della finished her cry and attended to her cheeks with the powder rag. She stood by the window and looked out dully at a gray cat walking a gray fence in a gray backyard. Tomorrow would be Christmas Day, and she had only $1.87 with which to buy Jim a present. She had been saving every penny she could for months, with this result. Twenty dollars a week doesn’t go far. Expenses had been greater than she had calculated. They always are. Only $1.87 to buy a present for Jim. Her Jim. Many a happy hour she had spent planning for something nice for him. Something fine and rare and sterling–something just a little bit near to being worthy of the honor of being owned by Jim.

There was a pier-glass between the windows of the room. Perhaps you have seen a pierglass in an $8 flat. A very thin and very agile person may, by observing his reflection in a rapid sequence of longitudinal strips, obtain a fairly accurate conception of his looks. Della, being slender, had mastered the art.

Suddenly she whirled from the window and stood before the glass. Her eyes were shining brilliantly, but her face had lost its color within twenty seconds. Rapidly she pulled down her hair and let it fall to its full length.

Now, there were two possessions of the James Dillingham Youngs in which they both took a mighty pride. One was Jim’s gold watch that had been his father’s and his grandfather’s. The other was Della’s hair. Had the queen of Sheba lived in the flat across the airshaft, Della would have let her hair hang out the window some day to dry just to depreciate Her Majesty’s jewels and gifts. Had King Solomon been the janitor, with all his treasures piled up in the basement, Jim would have pulled out his watch every time he passed, just to see him pluck at his beard from envy.

So now Della’s beautiful hair fell about her rippling and shining like a cascade of brown waters. It reached below her knee and made itself almost a garment for her. And then she did it up again nervously and quickly. Once she faltered for a minute and stood still while a tear or two splashed on the worn red carpet.

On went her old brown jacket; on went her old brown hat. With a whirl of skirts and with the brilliant sparkle still in her eyes, she fluttered out the door and down the stairs to the street.

Where she stopped the sign read: “Mne. Sofronie. Hair Goods of All Kinds.” One flight up Della ran, and collected herself, panting. Madame, large, too white, chilly, hardly looked the “Sofronie.”

“Will you buy my hair?” asked Della.

“I buy hair,” said Madame. “Take yer hat off and let’s have a sight at the looks of it.”

Down rippled the brown cascade.

“Twenty dollars,” said Madame, lifting the mass with a practised hand.

“Give it to me quick,” said Della.

Oh, and the next two hours tripped by on rosy wings. Forget the hashed metaphor. She was ransacking the stores for Jim’s present.

She found it at last. It surely had been made for Jim and no one else. There was no other like it in any of the stores, and she had turned all of them inside out. It was a platinum fob chain simple and chaste in design, properly proclaiming its value by substance alone and not by meretricious ornamentation–as all good things should do. It was even worthy of The Watch. As soon as she saw it she knew that it must be Jim’s. It was like him. Quietness and value–the description applied to both. Twenty-one dollars they took from her for it, and she hurried home with the 87 cents. With that chain on his watch Jim might be properly anxious about the time in any company. Grand as the watch was, he sometimes looked at it on the sly on account of the old leather strap that he used in place of a chain.

When Della reached home her intoxication gave way a little to prudence and reason. She got out her curling irons and lighted the gas and went to work repairing the ravages made by generosity added to love. Which is always a tremendous task, dear friends–a mammoth task.

Within forty minutes her head was covered with tiny, close-lying curls that made her look wonderfully like a truant schoolboy. She looked at her reflection in the mirror long, carefully, and critically.

“If Jim doesn’t kill me,” she said to herself, “before he takes a second look at me, he’ll say I look like a Coney Island chorus girl. But what could I do–oh! what could I do with a dollar and eighty- seven cents?”

At 7 o’clock the coffee was made and the frying-pan was on the back of the stove hot and ready to cook the chops.

Jim was never late. Della doubled the fob chain in her hand and sat on the corner of the table near the door that he always entered. Then she heard his step on the stair away down on the first flight, and she turned white for just a moment. She had a habit for saying little silent prayer about the simplest everyday things, and now she whispered: “Please God, make him think I am still pretty.”

The door opened and Jim stepped in and closed it. He looked thin and very serious. Poor fellow, he was only twenty-two–and to be burdened with a family! He needed a new overcoat and he was without gloves.

Jim stopped inside the door, as immovable as a setter at the scent of quail. His eyes were fixed upon Della, and there was an expression in them that she could not read, and it terrified her. It was not anger, nor surprise, nor disapproval, nor horror, nor any of the sentiments that she had been prepared for. He simply stared at her fixedly with that peculiar expression on his face.

Della wriggled off the table and went for him.

“Jim, darling,” she cried, “don’t look at me that way. I had my hair cut off and sold because I couldn’t have lived through Christmas without giving you a present. It’ll grow out again–you won’t mind, will you? I just had to do it. My hair grows awfully fast. Say `Merry Christmas!’ Jim, and let’s be happy. You don’t know what a nice– what a beautiful, nice gift I’ve got for you.”

“You’ve cut off your hair?” asked Jim, laboriously, as if he had not arrived at that patent fact yet even after the hardest mental labor.

 

“Cut it off and sold it,” said Della. “Don’t you like me just as well, anyhow? I’m me without my hair, ain’t I?”

Jim looked about the room curiously.

“You say your hair is gone?” he said, with an air almost of idiocy.

“You needn’t look for it,” said Della. “It’s sold, I tell you–sold and gone, too. It’s Christmas Eve, boy. Be good to me, for it went for you. Maybe the hairs of my head were numbered,” she went on with sudden serious sweetness, “but nobody could ever count my love for you. Shall I put the chops on, Jim?”

Out of his trance Jim seemed quickly to wake. He enfolded his Della. For ten seconds let us regard with discreet scrutiny some inconsequential object in the other direction. Eight dollars a week or a million a year–what is the difference? A mathematician or a wit would give you the wrong answer. The magi brought valuable gifts, but that was not among them. This dark assertion will be illuminated later on.

Jim drew a package from his overcoat pocket and threw it upon the table.

“Don’t make any mistake, Dell,” he said, “about me. I don’t think there’s anything in the way of a haircut or a shave or a shampoo that could make me like my girl any less. But if you’ll unwrap that package you may see why you had me going a while at first.”

White fingers and nimble tore at the string and paper. And then an ecstatic scream of joy; and then, alas! a quick feminine change to hysterical tears and wails, necessitating the immediate employment of all the comforting powers of the lord of the flat.

For there lay The Combs–the set of combs, side and back, that Della had worshipped long in a Broadway window. Beautiful combs, pure tortoise shell, with jewelled rims–just the shade to wear in the beautiful vanished hair. They were expensive combs, she knew, and her heart had simply craved and yearned over them without the least hope of possession. And now, they were hers, but the tresses that should have adorned the coveted adornments were gone.

But she hugged them to her bosom, and at length she was able to look up with dim eyes and a smile and say: “My hair grows so fast, Jim!”

And them Della leaped up like a little singed cat and cried, “Oh, oh!”

Jim had not yet seen his beautiful present. She held it out to him eagerly upon her open palm. The dull precious metal seemed to flash with a reflection of her bright and ardent spirit.

“Isn’t it a dandy, Jim? I hunted all over town to find it. You’ll have to look at the time a hundred times a day now. Give me your watch. I want to see how it looks on it.”

Instead of obeying, Jim tumbled down on the couch and put his hands under the back of his head and smiled.

“Dell,” said he, “let’s put our Christmas presents away and keep ’em a while. They’re too nice to use just at present. I sold the watch to get the money to buy your combs. And now suppose you put the chops on.”

The magi, as you know, were wise men–wonderfully wise men–who brought gifts to the Babe in the manger. They invented the art of giving Christmas presents. Being wise, their gifts were no doubt wise ones, possibly bearing the privilege of exchange in case of duplication. And here I have lamely related to you the uneventful chronicle of two foolish children in a flat who most unwisely sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house. But in a last word to the wise of these days let it be said that of all who give gifts these two were the wisest. O all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the magi.

 

***

*“The Gift of the Magi,” one of the best-known American short stories, was hurriedly composed in a few hours after its deadline had already passed. Celebrated American short-story writer William Sydney Porter, known by his pseudonym, O. Henry, wrote the story for New York Sunday World magazine in 1905. It was published in 1906 in a collection of his short stories, The Four Million. The story contains Porter’s characteristic ironic plot twists and surprise ending, and is set in New York City, Porter’s home from 1901 until his death in 1910. The city was a common backdrop for his stories. Today Porter is memorialized in the O. Henry Awards for short stories. These stories have been published annually in anthologies since 1918.

Source: Microsoft ® Encarta ® 2009. © 1993-2008 Microsoft Corporation.

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Would you like to feature your Christmas-themed short story on this blog? Kindly send a mail, attaching your short story to haroldwrites.official @ gmail.com . Each day of December, I shall publish a Christmas-themed short-story. You can write on any genre.

 

Papa Panov’s Special Christmas*

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It was Christmas Eve and although it was still afternoon, lights had begun to appear in the shops and houses of the little Russian village, for the short winter day was nearly over. Excited children scurried indoors and now only muffled sounds of chatter and laughter escaped from closed shutters.

Old Papa Panov, the village shoemaker, stepped outside his shop to take one last look around. The sounds of happiness, the bright lights and the faint but delicious smells of Christmas cooking reminded him of past Christmas times when his wife had still been alive and his own children little. Now they had gone.

His usually cheerful face, with the little laughter wrinkles behind the round steel spectacles, looked sad now. But he went back indoors with a firm step, put up the shutters and set a pot of coffee to heat on the charcoal stove. Then, with a sigh, he settled in his big armchair.

Papa Panov did not often read, but tonight he pulled down the big old family Bible and, slowly tracing the lines with one forefinger, he read again the Christmas story. He read how Mary and Joseph, tired by their journey to Bethlehem, found no room for them at the inn, so that Mary’s little baby was born in the cowshed.

“Oh, dear, oh, dear!” exclaimed Papa Panov, “if only they had come here! I would have given them my bed and I could have covered the baby with my patchwork quilt to keep him warm.”

He read on about the wise men who had come to see the baby Jesus, bringing him splendid gifts.

Papa Panov’s face fell. “I have no gift that I could give him,” he thought sadly.

Then his face brightened. He put down the Bible, got up and stretched his long arms t the shelf high up in his little room. He took down a small, dusty box and opened it. Inside was a perfect pair of tiny leather shoes.

Papa Panov smiled with satisfaction. Yes, they were as good as he had remembered – the best shoes he had ever made. “I should give him those,” he decided, as he gently put them away and sat down again.

He was feeling tired now, and the further he read the sleeper he became. The print began to dance before his eyes so that he closed them, just for a minute. In no time at all, Papa Panov was fast asleep.

And as he slept he dreamed. He dreamed that someone was in his room and he knew at once, as one does in dreams, who the person was. It was Jesus.

“You have been wishing that you could see me, Papa Panov,” he said kindly, “then look for me tomorrow. It will be Christmas Day and I will visit you. But look carefully, for I shall not tell you who I am.”

When at last Papa Panov awoke, the bells were ringing out and a thin light was filtering through the shutters. “Bless my soul!” said Papa Panov. “It’s Christmas Day!”

He stood up and stretched himself for he was rather stiff. Then his face filled with happiness as he remembered his dream. This would be a very special Christmas after all, for Jesus was coming to visit him. How would he look? Would he be a little baby, as at that first Christmas? Would he be a grown man, a carpenter- or the great King that he is, God’s Son? He must watch carefully the whole day through so that he recognized him however he came.

Papa Panov put on a special pot of coffee for his Christmas breakfast, took down the shutters and looked out of the window. The street was deserted, no one was stirring yet. No one except the road sweeper. He looked as miserable and dirty as ever, and well he might! Whoever wanted to work on Christmas Day – and in the raw cold and bitter freezing mist of such a morning?

Papa Panov opened the shop door, letting in a thin stream of cold air. “Come in!” he shouted across the street cheerily. “Come in and have some hot coffee to keep out the cold!”

The sweeper looked up, scarcely able to believe his ears. He was only too glad to put down his broom and come into the warm room. His old clothes steamed gently in the heat of the stove and he clasped both red hands round the comforting warm mug as he drank.

Papa Panov watched him with satisfaction, but every now and then his eyes strayed to the window. It would never do to miss his special visitor.

“Expecting someone?” the sweeper asked at last. So Papa Panov told him about his dream.

“Well, I hope he comes,” the sweeper said, “you’ve given me a bit of Christmas cheer I never expected to have. I’d say you deserve to have your dream come true.” And he actually smiled.

When he had gone, Papa Panov put on cabbage soup for his dinner, then went to the door again, scanning the street. He saw no one. But he was mistaken. Someone was coming.

 

The girl walked so slowly and quietly, hugging the walls of shops and houses, that it was a while before he noticed her. She looked very tired and she was carrying something. As she drew nearer he could see that it was a baby, wrapped in a thin shawl. There was such sadness in her face and in the pinched little face of the baby, that Papa Panov’s heart went out to them.

“Won’t you come in,” he called, stepping outside to meet them. “You both need a warm by the fire and a rest.”

The young mother let him shepherd her indoors and to the comfort of the armchair. She gave a big sigh of relief.

“I’ll warm some milk for the baby,” Papa Panov said, “I’ve had children of my own- I can feed her for you.” He took the milk from the stove and carefully fed the baby from a spoon, warming her tiny feet by the stove at the same time.

“She needs shoes,” the cobbler said.

But the girl replied, “I can’t afford shoes, I’ve got no husband to bring home money. I’m on my way to the next village to get work.”

Sudden thought flashed through Papa Panov’s mind. He remembered the little shoes he had looked at last night. But he had been keeping those for Jesus. He looked again at the cold little feet and made up his mind.

“Try these on her,” he said, handing the baby and the shoes to the mother. The beautiful little shoes were a perfect fit. The girl smiled happily and the baby gurgled with pleasure.

“You have been so kind to us,” the girl said, when she got up with her baby to go. “May all your Christmas wishes come true!”

But Papa Panov was beginning to wonder if his very special Christmas wish would come true. Perhaps he had missed his visitor? He looked anxiously up and down the street. There were plenty of people about but they were all faces that he recognized. There were neighbors going to call on their families. They nodded and smiled and wished him Happy Christmas! Or beggars- and Papa Panov hurried indoors to fetch them hot soup and a generous hunk of bread, hurrying out again in case he missed the Important Stranger.

All too soon the winter dusk fell. When Papa Panov next went to the door and strained his eyes, he could no longer make out the passers-by. Most were home and indoors by now anyway. He walked slowly back into his room at last, put up the shutters, and sat down wearily in his armchair.

So it had been just a dream after all. Jesus had not come.

Then all at once he knew that he was no longer alone in the room.

This was not dream for he was wide awake. At first he seemed to see before his eyes the long stream of people who had come to him that day. He saw again the old road sweeper, the young mother and her baby and the beggars he had fed. As they passed, each whispered, “Didn’t you see me, Papa Panov?”

“Who are you?” he called out, bewildered.

Then another voice answered him. It was the voice from his dream- the voice of Jesus.

“I was hungry and you fed me,” he said. “I was naked and you clothed me. I was cold and you warmed me. I came to you today in everyone of those you helped and welcomed.”

Then all was quiet and still. Only the sound of the big clock ticking.

A great peace and happiness seemed to fill the room, overflowing Papa Panov’s heart until he wanted to burst out singing and laughing and dancing with joy.

“So he did come after all!” was all that he said.

 

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“Papa Panov’s Special Christmas” is a story by Leo Tolstoy.

Credit to: AboutEducation

Would you like to feature your Christmas-themed short story on this blog? Kindly send a mail, attaching your short story to haroldwrites.official @ gmail.com . Each day of December, I shall publish a Christmas-themed short-story. You can write on any genre.

 

31 Days of Christmas

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Sometimes, I think I don’t give enough publicity to my blog posts or plans. I don’t know why. Maybe, I am sceptical about coming across as a pest. You know, maybe I don’t want to be that blogger who is always in your face with news about their posts/plans and all…

Anyway, if you like my page on Facebook [www.facebook.com/haroldwrites] , you would have probably seen my plan about publishing one Christmas-themed short story on each day of December. I had requested interested writers to send in their Christmas-themed stories if they would like to feature on the blog. Well, so far, I have a few entries. The plan is to have at least 31 stories. I don’t have that number yet. But I will still go ahead with the plan.

I know a couple of people who have signified interest in sending a story or two, but I am yet to receive their entries. [Hello Aunty Kiru Taye and Seyi and Karo]…. *clears throat* The initial deadline to send in entries was November 20, but I have decided to extend it.

So, are you a fiction writer and would like to share your Christmas-themed story on this blog? Please kindly send it to my email: haroldwrites.official @ gmail. com . Both established and aspiring writers are encouraged to partake in this. You can write on any genre: crime, fantasy, gothic, mystery, realism, romance…as long as it has a Christmas feel to it. Please include a short author bio to your mail as well. My email again is: haroldwrites.official @ gmail.com .

Thank you.