I’m tanning in the Christmas sun.
The last Christmas celebrations…I cannot even remember. They all blend into a single memory of lunch at grandma’s house, which is like every other lunch except that we sit at the dinner table and take longer than usual. We’ve never been a jolly family as a whole. Most of our best moments together were spent in batches of different configurations, my sisters and I, my parents and I, mom and I... So this Christmas, to save me from sneers, I would give up the forcing of “special”.
(Un)Conveniently, this Christmas fell on a Tuesday, which was a pain, alas, if you happened to have the extended family’s humble abode be tucked away somewhere in the far reaches of Lebanese topography, and have work on both of the days that snuggled the 25th ever so tightly.
But as much as you’d like to fight the Christmas spirit, it catches up on you as all friends retreat to family and friends’ dinners, as the streets empty to the point where you can walk down the asphalt spine of Gouraud Street without touching the sidewalk, as cars leave empty parking spaces to clog mountain and valley road flanks, as everyone shuts their doors expecting that even the loneliest of people had made plans for the eve.
I hadn’t made any and I was going to stand by the notion that the best plan is no plan. If the night were meant to be magical, the faeries would find me in some form or colour, regardless of my hideout.
When I was a little human forty-eight inches tall helping to decorate the house with paper snowflakes pressed on frozen window panes, or when I was only three foot six waking up in the middle of the night to see whether Santa had delivered my modest requests, Christmas was the day when the books and stories that I read came to sit with me and only me. Maybe it’s because I didn’t take the hiding seriously, or maybe it’s because somewhere deep inside I did not really want to be alone on the night that was the most awaited time of my childhood years, that the ho ho ho came knocking on my door.
It was unexpected that at an hour to midnight I’d be greeted by a lovely lady in red after a day’s worth of tire shopping, car shoeing, street roaming and poster gluing. , She introduced me to grandmas, aunties, uncles, cousins, nieces, nephews, one of whom handed me a plate of pumpkin soup for company. Imaginary-Extraordinary-Him was nowhere to be seen except on my phone’s screen.
“Wainik? I can meet you down. I’m waiting for you to eat.”
And then he appeared looking slightly fazed but quite handsome, and looking at the lady in red I deduced that good looks ran in the family.
It felt strange that I was happy, far removed from familiar faces, yet so warmly surrounded by a large family that didn’t seem to have ever indulged in the well of Mediterranean disputes. Of course, it is always easy to idealise an image that one covets to be one’s own.
And then came a touching moment, that stirred the walled-off barricaded me. Imaginary-Extraordinary-Him had grabbed a stool and a Santa hat to hand out the gifts. He called my name. My eyebrows reconfigured into a puzzled wave.
“Yes, you, come over here and give Santa a kiss.”
It was so endearing that he had fished out a last-minute emergency gift, probably meant for someone else, and wrapped it up from him to me. It was the only gift I would receive this Christmas, but it got to me like only a simple loving gesture could. I took my time to open it, savouring the notion that someone cared, enough, and I felt a crack run down my wall, split me open just enough to see that I sort of cared enough about him as well.