“Hey Mister, what’s the matter?”
I looked up from my newspaper and looked around for the voice that seemed to be directed at me. At first glance I didn’t notice anyone nearby.
“Hey! Down here, Mister!” The voice was louder this time.
Slightly startled, I set down my coffee cup and slid my chair back a few inches. I looked downwards and to my surprise a young boy, no older that 7 was looking back up at. His bright, naive eyes sparkled curiously at me.
He repeated, “What’s the matter?”
“What do you mean? Nothing’s the matter”
“I think there’s something wrong with you, Mister.”
Puzzled, I tilted my head slightly trying to get a better look at this strange child. For a moment I was silent. I wondered what he could possibly see wrong with me. I wondered briefly if there was something wrong with my face. Before I could give it to much thought or find any answer, he spoke again.
“What are you doing here Mister? Where’s your family? My family owns this place, but we’re closing up soon. It’s Christmas Eve, ya know? So my parents said we’re closing up soon and then we’re gonna go home and bake cookies for Santa and watch my favorite Christmas movies. We do that every year! My mom usually tucks me tight into my bed and reads me ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas’ and I try so hard to stay awake so I can hear him come to my house! I stay as still and silent as I can hoping to hear his reindeer on my roof.” He paused for a second with a hint of sadness on his face. “But I always fall asleep. But this year I’m gonna do it! I’m gonna wait up til Santa gets here!”
I sat expressionless. What is he talking about? Who is this boy? Why are his parents letting him bother their customers? I looked around and realized that I was the only customer in the place. ‘Oh well’ I thought, I’m still never coming back here if this MisterMister boy is always here.
“So, what are you doing here, Mister? Why aren’t you with your family right now? What do you guys usually do on Christmas?”
At this point I was getting irritated. Family was a touchy topic for me and now I had this nosy little brat trying to pry into my business.
Agitated, I told him “I don’t have any family kid. Never have. Don’t need one. Now get outta here so I can enjoy the rest of this coffee in peace”. I picked my mug and newspaper back up and scanned the article for the spot I left off at.
I sat there engulfed in my reading. For quite a few minutes the peaceful silence from before had returned. The boy had not spoken a word since my last and I began to forget him.
Once again, my attention was drawn away from my paper. I looked back down to see the boy still sitting on the floor. His eyes were wet and his nose was pink.
“Jeez kid, what’s the matter?”
He continued to sit there silently with the exception of his nose sniffling every once in a while.
He finally spoke. “Gosh, Mister” he said, with a bit of a tremble in his voice. “That’s so sad. Everyone should have a family. Everyone NEEDS a family. ‘Cause without ‘em, we’d all just be alone all the time. Is that why you look so sad? ‘Cause you’re alone all the time? ‘Cause I think I’d be sad too if my family wasn’t around”
At this point, I didn’t feel like listening to anymore of his childish ideas of what should be. I pulled out a few bills from my wallet, threw them on the table, gathered my things and walked out of the shop. All the while, I did my best to ignore the calls from the boy, asking where I was going.
I stepped out into the cold air, the wind swirled around me, bringing with it the light flakes of snow that were falling. I walked down the street back towards my one bedroom apartment. As I walked among the snow and the Christmas lights hanging from store fronts and the trees that lined the streets, my mind was being tugged at. I tried to shake my head in an effort to clear away my thoughts, but it was useless. I was engulfed by the innocence of his words. “Everyone needs family”. ‘It was so naive’ I told myself. Or was it? I began to entertain the thought that perhaps the boy was right. Maybe I did need family. Maybe this aching in my chest that seemed to get worse around the holidays was a result of loneliness. ‘No. That can’t be’. ‘well, maybe it could be’. I hadn’t ever had anyone around me. No family, no friends, not even an acquaintance. But was it possible for me to feel lonely without ever having felt company?
I continued to walk as I pondered that thought; going over it again and again in my head.
I had had my hands in my pocket and my head tucked low and down this entire time in an effort to keep them shielded from the cold and the wind. As I continued to walk I noticed footprints in the freshly fallen, untouched snow. ‘Odd, I haven’t seen a single soul on the street since leaving the shop’. I took a few more steps and noticed that my foot fit perfectly into the imprints that I was following. I came to a halt. Looking up I realized that I had stopped paying attention on my journey home. Instead I had walked full circle and there I found myself standing back in front of the coffee shop.
The lights were out and the sign in the window was flipped to the “CLOSED” side. It was clear that they left shortly after I had to hurry home and begin their holiday celebration.
I began to turn away when something caught my eye in the doorway. I moved closer to examine it and as soon as I saw what it was, I recognized it. It was the stuffed bear that the boy had been holding the entire time I was in the shop. Attached to it was a piece of paper. I unfolded it and began to read:
I hope that you come back like I think you’re gonna, if not, Barry is gonna get real cold sitting out here, so I hope I was right about you. Barry has been my best friend since as long as I can remember. My dad said that he gave him to me on my very first Christmas. Whenever I’ve been sad, I just sit and hold Barry tight and as soon as I do, everything gets better again. I was thinking that maybe Barry could make you happy too. Maybe since you don’t have a family, he could be yours. Now that you have a family, you won’t be lonely anymore, right Mister?
With that, I re folded the note, tucked it in my pocket, picked up Barry and began the journey back home where I would make Christmas cookies for Santa and watch all of my favorite Christmas movies before I tuck myself and Barry into bed, read ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas’ and wait up all night for Santa to come to my house so I could hear his reindeer on my roof.