Published December 2015 by Times Colonist (Christmas Stories)
Once upon a snowy evening, two freezing nights before Christmas and many years ago, a young street person huddled outside a grocery store. Her frozen fingers trembled in the biting wind as she extended a gloveless hand in silent supplication to passersby
To their credit, most who noticed her dug deeply into their pockets only to discover a bit of lint, or a debit or a credit card – but no spare change. One man discovered a $20 bill he didn’t even know he had, wedged tightly in his wallet. Suddenly loath to give it away, he frowned. What would this street person actually do with his money? Probably waste it on drugs, alcohol, or cigarettes! Jamming his wallet back into his coat pocket, he glanced in the other direction pretending not to see her, and walked away briskly, whistling a tuneless version of Jingle Bells.
Pulling into the busy parking lot, an old car shuddered to a stop. Its fuel gage hovered on empty. The driver, a single mother, sighed and quickly ran through a mental shopping list of what was needed to tide her little family over the next few days… including gas, and payment for the babysitter. Although bittersweet, she was grateful she and her daughter were invited out for Christmas dinner this year. They didn’t have much and it was the first Christmas since her mom passed away.
On her way into the store she noticed the young street person. Pricked with pity that she had no money to spare, the woman paused instead, and said hello with a friendly smile. The young street person’s dark, fathomless eyes regarded her briefly in surprise.
The woman quickly purchased her family’s sparse groceries. As she wheeled her buggy towards the till, her thoughts rested on the unfortunate person outside. Suddenly, she whipped her buggy around, and tore through the store aisles tossing in practical items that someone homeless could easily use. So what if this would throw her own budget off, there was someone worse off than she was… Someone cold and hungry outside.
The woman had the cashier bag the groceries separately, and she quickly left the store. The street person was trudging away through the icy snow covered parking lot toward the main road. The woman ran slipping and sliding to her car, and flung the groceries onto the back seat. The car sputtered and lurched exiting the parking lot and she drove up beside the street girl. Leaning across the seat, she rolled the passenger side window down and called out asking the girl if she needed a ride.
The street girl stopped walking. Her eyes carefully searched the woman’s face. She nodded, and hopped into the front seat. The car suddenly reeked of dirty clothes and unwashed humanity.
Highly sensitive to smells, the woman tried not to gag. “I’m Jane,” she choked out. “What’s your name?” As casually as possible, Jane rolled the driver’s window down several inches, enough to bring in some fresh air.
“I am… Nina. Thank you for the ride. Turn left.”
They did. The car fishtailed.
Jane clenched the wheel and wondered what would happen if Nina hadn’t a place to stay tonight. “Do you have a warm shelter tonight Nina?”
“Yes, I will be very comfortable, thank you for asking.” Nina’s low, melodic voice paused while she diverted Jane down another side street. “Stop. This will do,” she said.
The car lurched to a crunchy stop deep in the unmarked snow. Nothing had travelled this way for a long time. It was starkly beautiful. The light from the street lights sparkled like tiny diamonds on the snow. Nina opened the door and stepped outside. “Thank you Jane.”
Clearing her throat Jane didn’t quite know how to do the next part. “I, uh, um… I bought you some groceries?” Jane’s voice trailed off uncertainly.
Nina, silent for a moment, sighed sadly, “I am sorry. I cannot accept these gifts from you, Jane.”
“Then, then…” Jane racked her brain, “Please accept this gift… in memory of my mom?”
Nina nodded. “Yes. That I can, and will gladly do.”
Jane flung the back car door open, shoved her own grocery bag aside, and hauled out two big bags of groceries for Nina. She placed them shyly into Nina’s waiting arms, and with a lump in her throat whispered, “Happy Christmas Nina!”
Nina inclined her head graciously. “Thank you Jane. May God bless you, and your mother Rebekkah.” Nina turned and slowly walked away, feet crunching in the ice crusted snow.
Feeling a warm glow, Jane put the car in reverse and backed up carefully. Two seconds later she slammed her foot on the brakes and leapt from the parked car, engine running. “I never told Nina my mom’s name!” she thought. “How did she know? Nina! Wait!”
But within those 10 seconds, Nina had disappeared. With the car head lights shining ahead, Jane easily followed Nina’s fresh tracks in the snow. However, about fifteen or so feet away from the car, Nina’s footprints ceased completely, and disappeared.
Dumbfounded, Jane walked back to the car. It was late and the babysitter would be wondering where she was. Jane backed up, and began the drive home. She glanced down at the dashboard.
Astoundingly, the gas tank indicator now read as full! Then, hearing rustling papery sounds from behind, Jane turned to see three huge bags of groceries bumping merrily together on the back seat…
“Thanks Nina,” Jane whispered. “Happy Christmas!”
© by Barbara Bruce
Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.