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A New Beginning

by Gowri Bhargav

 

The entire town of Louisville appeared like a winter wonderland with several inches of snow on the ground. The Main Street- the most happening place in the town was twinkling with multicolored lights. Wreaths adorned with poinsettias hung from all the lampposts. Horse-drawn carriages decorated with Christmas embellishments ran across the streets. Christmas carols were being played inside every shop. The smell of gingerbread cookies and freshly baked cakes wafted through the air. There were serpentine queues inside all the shops and people were seen making last-minute purchases for friends and family during Christmas Eve. Joy was in the air.

Mr. Philips was the owner of ‘Good Eats Bakery’- a popular bakery shop on Main Street. A short and stout man in his late fifties, he had penetrating eyes that always seemed to scan people from head to toe. His furrowed forehead and eyebrows indicated that he frowned frequently. It was the busiest day of the year for him. He excitedly counted the mounting orders that had to be delivered that night amidst the several phone calls that he answered impatiently. People loved his creamy red velvet cakes, chocolate muffins, gingerbread cookies, and cinnamon buns despite the exorbitant cost.

“Work harder lazy bones. We have a lot of cakes to deliver. I don’t plan to send you home until we deliver all of them. And, don’t you sneak any cakes into your bags without my knowledge. I would smell anything fishy,” he yelled at his employees in the kitchen who were working double shifts for the past three days.

His employees despised him for being ill-mannered and hard-hearted. Nevertheless, they worked without complaining for the fear of losing their jobs.

As he was busy counting the currency bills, he noticed a little boy in tattered clothes, worn-out shoes and unkempt hair standing outside the shop. He was staring at the cakes that were being packed. Mr. Philips was always under the impression that little boys from the economically weaker sections of society were troublesome brats. He was very disturbed and irritated looking at that boy. After a few minutes, the boy entered the shop. Though the boy appeared to be poor, he had a twinkle in his eyes. He approached the counter to Mr. Philips’ surprise.

“What do you want? Why did you come in? I don’t have even a coin to spare. Go away,” said Mr. Philips with a frown on his face.

“Sir! I have a lot of money that I have been saving for over a year in my piggy bank. Here it is. Can I buy that three-tiered red velvet cake?” he said sounding very excited. He emptied all his pockets and placed the coins on the counter. The coins rolled in all directions before settling down one after the other with a clinking noise.

The whole table was flooded with coins. However, they were very low in denomination.

“Silly boy! Are you out of your mind? There may be a lot of coins here but I don’t think you realize that they all add up to practically nothing. Did you steal these coins from a wishing well?” Mr. Philips sounded very rude.

“Sir, please! I have promised my sister and friends to get us the three-tiered red velvet cake to celebrate Christmas.”

“Haha! I’m sorry. You must have thought well before making promises. But you see, I have a generous heart. Here is a packet of miniature candy canes. This is all your money can fetch,” he said tossing the pack of candy canes at him in a nonchalant manner.

“No Thank you, Sir! I will take back my money. I will save more money and come back next Christmas.”

Tears trickled down the little boy’s cheeks. He was heartbroken. He counted the coins carefully before stuffing them back into his pockets.

“Look, father! That boy looks like a beggar,” said a young boy pointing at him.

“Now get out, you little brat before other customers see your wretched face. I can’t entertain beggars like you,” yelled Mr. Philips unsympathetically. The other customers who were inside the shop stared at the boy.

Mr. Philip’s caustic words pierced the boy’s heart as he hurriedly left the shop before anyone else could question his presence.

Despite leaving, the boy stood in a corner outside the shop and stared at the colossal red velvet cake through the glass window. Several thoughts stormed his mind. He could hear the popular carol being played inside the shop;

“You better watch out
You better not cry
You better not pout
I’m telling you why
Santa Claus is coming to town…”

Haha! So timely that this carol is being played. Is it a sin to be born poor? Why are some born rich and some poor? Mom said we are all same in the eyes of God. But Santa? Strange! Santa seems to visit only the houses of children who already have everything, not to our houses. But mom always tells me not to lose faith and hope. I wonder if my letters ever reach Santa… Maybe they don’t. 

And, and I thought I had a lot of money so that I could go back home with that cake. I had promised my sister and friends. They will be eagerly waiting for me. What am I going to tell them? They will be disappointed if I go empty-handed. Where are the angels? Where is Santa?

Soon it became dark. The boy did not realize that he had been standing there for over an hour. After a while, he saw Mr. Philips coming out of the shop. His employees came out carrying several boxes and loaded them inside a small van to be delivered across the town.

As Mr. Philips turned, he saw the little boy still standing outside the shop.

“You are still here? Are you planning to steal something? Don’t you come anywhere near the shop. Now run away, before I call the cops.” He sounded furious.

“Sorry, Sir! I will leave. I was just admiring the cake.”

Mr. Philips then began walking towards the bus stop which was two blocks away. He failed to notice his wallet slipping off his pocket and falling on the pavement. The boy however did.

He walked swiftly and picked the wallet before anyone could see it. Currency notes were bulging out from it. His mind came up with a hundred ways to spend the money.

That’s a lot of money. Is it luck favoring me? With this money, I could buy a three-tiered red velvet cake and so much more- maybe a lot of toys, gifts for my sister, mother, and friends. They would be so happy. After all, Mr. Philips is such a miserly and ill-tempered man. Why should I return this to him? He called me names and insulted me in front of others. Let him search for his wallet.

He held on to the wallet and began heading back home. But as he walked he could hear a voice in his head;

Stop! This money does not belong to you. Do you say you want to buy a lot of things with this money- money that does not belong to you? Do you think your mom would be happy if she comes to know about this? Spending this money is the same as stealing. If you use this money, you will repent in the future. Be honest. Return the money, return the money NOW.

The boy stopped. He couldn’t silence his conscience. He decided to hand over the wallet to Mr. Philips.

Mr. Philips was still at the bus stop, oblivious to the fact that his wallet was missing.

“Sir, Sir! Your wallet,” said the boy running towards him.

“What? My wallet?” Mr. Philips was puzzled.

“Sir, your wallet fell off your pocket while you came out from the shop. Luckily, I saw it. Please take it. I know it’s your hard-earned money.”

Mr. Philips shuffled his pockets to check for his wallet.

“Goodness gracious! You are right. I wonder how I was so careless. It has a huge amount of money.”

“Here! Take it, Sir. Merry Christmas to you.”

“Merry Christmas! Thank you very much. And hey! I forgot to ask you. What’s your name? Where do you live?”

“Sam. My name is Sam Daniel. I live in Madison Street, just three blocks from here.”

“Oh! Madison Street- the narrow street that always stinks? The houses there look like tiny mushrooms. Here, take this money. That bakery shop around the corner is still open. Go treat yourself to a slice of red velvet cake. It’s a reward for your honesty. I’m sure you will be happy,” said Mr. Philips giving him a bill. He considered himself to be very generous.

“That’s very kind of you sir,” said Sam accepting the bill.

But he stared at the bill for a few seconds and returned it to him.

“Thank you very much, Sir. But I don’t need it.”

Mr. Philips seemed very puzzled.

“Why? Why are you returning it? You wanted the red velvet cake, didn’t you? Don’t be stupid.”

“Yes Sir! But it wouldn’t be fair if I alone relished something while my sister and friends can’t. I had promised that I would buy a three-tiered red velvet cake so that we all could celebrate together. Anyway, I just hope I do that at least for next Christmas. I’d better hurry now. Everyone must be waiting for me at home.”

“But… but.., don’t be silly, come on Sam. Opportunity does not knock twice.”

Sam did not wait there to listen to what Mr. Philips had to say. He was afraid that the more he waited, the more he would yield to the temptation.

Mr. Philips called out but Sam ran without looking back.

Mr. Philips took the bus and went home. He sat all alone by the fireplace with a cup of hot chocolate. As he sipped his hot chocolate he could not stop thinking about the boy.

Sam is such a small boy. How did he have the heart to decline my offer? He could have bought himself a piece of cake and relished it. But he was very concerned about the happiness of the people he loved. And besides, he could have spent all the money from my wallet to buy whatever he wished for without returning it to me. But he chose not to. He chose to be honest. I thought him to be a poor brat. I mocked at him, ridiculed him but in return, all he did was speak kindly to me. 

For the first time in all these years, a small boy had caused Mr. Philips to think out loud. Mr. Philips’ heart melted and he did not realize the deluge of tears that were rolling down his eyes. He began to introspect deeply. He realized how cold he had been to all the people around him.

All these years the only thing that ever mattered to me was money. I have been very selfish. I thought that the world revolves around money and so forgot all about the good virtues. I have refrained from helping others. That is probably the reason why I don’t have anyone to call my own- neither friends nor family. It’s time I put my money into some good cause. The little boy Sam, is indeed a messenger of God. I have learnt a lesson through him. I have to thank him- thank him right away.

Mr. Philips made a few phone calls. He then wore his coat and hurriedly went outside. He recalled the name of the street that Sam had mentioned and decided to go there in person to meet him.

After a while, he reached the street. His assistants came there holding a colossal red velvet cake. There were several houses in the street. Mr. Philip wondered where Sam lived. Then he saw a few children walking hurriedly somewhere.

“Hello! I am looking for a boy named Sam Daniel. Do you know where he lives?” he inquired.

“Oh, Sam Daniel! He’s very popular. We all are going to Sam’s house to celebrate Christmas. We can guide you,” said a little girl.

Mr. Philips walked behind the girl along with his assistants.

Finally, upon reaching, he saw Sam waiting at the door. He was surprised to see Mr. Philips.

“Mr. Philips! Why did you come, Sir?”

“First of all, I apologize for having been so rude to you. I shouldn’t have been so harsh. And secondly, I’m grateful that you steered my path in the right direction, Sam. You have indeed opened my eyes. And guess what? I have a surprise for you… Here’s the red velvet cake that you wished to buy,” he said and asked his assistants to place the cake on the table inside his house.

Sam was too young to understand the sudden change in his behavior. But the word ‘Red velvet cake’ did ring a bell.

“Red velvet cake? You have brought the red velvet cake? Sorry Sir, my mom will not be able to pay for this.”

“She doesn’t have to. This is a gift from me. I hope this will feed everyone.”

“Gift? Thank you very much. Oh yes Sir, it will! ” Sam’s face was beaming with happiness.

By then Sam’s mom who was in the kitchen came out. She was surprised to see the colossal cake on the table.

“Sir! This cake is very expensive. I can’t accept this without knowing the reason for this sudden generosity from your end,” she said.

“I will explain everything. It is a long story,” he said.

Mr. Philips narrated everything in detail to Sam’s mom.

Sam’s mom felt very proud of her son. She knew there was always something special about her son.

“Thank you very much. Merry Christmas everyone. I shall leave now,” said Mr. Philips.

“Wait, Sir! You don’t have to leave so soon. You can spend some more time with us. The children will entertain you with a few carols. I have prepared a huge pot of gruel for dinner. You are our guest. Please accept our humble invitation,” said Sam’s mother.

The children had recreated the nativity scene in a corner. They all began to sing in chorus;

Silent night, holy night
All is calm and all is bright
Round yon virgin, mother and child
Holy infant, so tender and mild,
Sleep in heavenly peace

The whole atmosphere seemed serene and peaceful. For the first time in so many years, Mr. Philips felt very happy and loved though surrounded by strangers. He enjoyed listening to the carols and relished the hot gruel to his heart’s content. He had learned the greatest lesson of his life from a little boy.

Finally, Mr. Philips bid them adieu and promised to visit them quite often. He felt a strange feeling of contentment that night. He lit candles near his fireplace. He knelt and closed his eyes in deep introspection. He had found a purpose in life. He decided to spend the rest of his life serving others. Sam was God-sent and the reason for Mr. Philips’ spiritual awakening.

* * * *

This story was written for the prompt Two2Tango given by Penmancy for the monthly contest held in November.
It was awarded second place.

 

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