Ruth lived with her mother Mary and five siblings in a small house in slums. Education was not free in their country, so it was a matter of careful selection when it came to the choice of elective subjects.
‘I want to take home economics and fine arts as my subjects’, Ruth said assertively.
‘How nice, I appreciate. You have a fine taste for art. Your pencil sketches are amazing, saying that you know our problem, we are too poor to pay for canvas, paints and all requisition for these subjects. The expenses are added to the fee structure’, Ruth’s mother Mary described.
‘Every time, everything comes to a halt for this reason. You know mom I could draw a lot better than all the girls in my class. They have the resources, I have the talent, so they win’. Ruth sighed.
‘You can sing, not everyone is blessed with a voice like you. A lot of people told me how proud they were to listen to you in the church, you are very talented’. Mary replied.
‘Can I hire a teacher to work on my singing skills sometime’? Ruth gave yet another try.
Mary did not want to come up with the same excuse of not having enough means, so she tried to give it a twist, ‘ why do we need to waste money on hiring a teacher when you are so gifted already’?
‘I want to be a very successful singer, I want people to know me, to ask for my autograph, to follow me on every social media. I want to earn so much that we come out of this poverty forever’. Ruth shared yet another dream.
‘Fame is like a best friend that can change to a worst enemy any time. When the balloon of expectation and hopes pop, it is hard to handle the void it creates’. Mary exclaimed her philosophy.
‘You and your petty ideas mother. Poverty is a fool’s paradise. Everything involves money so I should forget about it altogether’. Ruth was flared up by this time. Mary smiled and changed the topic.
It was not an unusually heated discussion between a mother and a daughter. It was almost a daily routine. With Ruth coming home with big ideas, a quick fix to their problems and Mary having the job to calm her down and deflate her bag of expectations.
The family lived in very compromised conditions. They lived in a joint family system, as per their need and culture. They lived far away from the posh lifestyle of the rich class.
Their mother was working as a cleaner. In the evenings while looking after her children she had big piles of loose cloth to stitch. With all her children in an institute somewhat helped by charity donations, it was still a close call.
Mary was getting old and weak. The work was tiring for her. She needed eyesight glasses to be able to see better while sewing but she could not possibly upset her budget. Which left her with more stress to concentrate as her customers demanded quality and perfect stitching each time.
Yet nothing disturbed Mary more than answering difficult questions of Ruth. She had high ambitions, big hopes and overnight changing plans.
‘Mother, I understand that we pay a reduced fee, yet we attend an institute of girls who are comparatively well off. Do you know how hard it is to not feel envious of their stuff? They wear a ready-made sweater, with no hanging loops, no intricate design, just new, plain and beautiful feel’. Ruth complained.
‘Come on Ruth, don’t tell me that, I make yours with great effort. Hand knit cardigan has a designer’s feel to it. I knit yours with contemporary designs. Which means extra time to learn that design from someone. It is not easy. Since you prefer a simple design I can make you a different classy cardigan next time. That is no problem at all.’ Mary tried to assure her.
Stitching and knitting had helped Mary learn how to keep her family intact. Casting on and casting off, correct stitch tension with a small or a big needle, a policy of a stitch in time and following a pattern had given her some life skills too. It was a trend and custom for girls in her young age to learn stitching, knitting and crochet. ‘The girls who know these skills never get bored, they feel a sense of achievement. They are good at taking others with them. It is indeed a very caring and rewarding hobby’, Mary often heard her mother telling her.
Yet here she was, struggling with an ever slipping ever talking stitch called Ruth.
‘ I understand, you re-use the uniforms, cut and stitch them on our sizes. You remake the cardigans by washing and drying the wool. But it is not as beautiful as new, every year, bright and crispy’. Ruth paused before coming to the most touchy topic.
‘You know Christmas is coming, as usual, I will wear the dresses of my elder sisters that they had been wearing every year. Same dress different daughter each time. Like every year, no money for Christmas tree or gifts, no Christmas special dinner, nothing at all’. Ruth got blunt.
‘Ruth sometimes I feel you are a pencil and I am an eraser, your questions make me feel very small as if I am losing myself each time.’ Mary could not stop her bitterness come out this time to avoid her tears.
‘And the place we live in has no Christmas at all. No fun, no celebration, no holiday, no sales. The national television shows the same boring programs all day. I wish we could move to a place that celebrates Christmas at a national level.’ Ruth wished.
‘We are a handful here, a small minority, but we all try our best to make it the most. The church will have a Christmas tree, you can see it there’. Mary, as usual, changed the topic by asking Ruth to help the younger one. Yet could not get herself out of wishful thinking of her daughter.
She thought about her only hope. A ‘committee’ was very popular among people with fewer means of income. Every month they managed to somehow stretch themselves as a family to save some money to pool in the neighbourhood committee. One member of the group used to get all the money to spend for that month. Usually, it lasted the entire year. Mary had asked for her turn of the full amount on Christmas.
Which gave them just enough money to buy some extra food but did not leave much for decorations again. Her daughters she always thought had golden fingers, they somehow decorated, cleaned and cooked so well that Mary could not help but feel proud. ‘The rich have the money, the poor have the skill and the talent’, she thought.
‘We don’t have a lot of money, but don’t worry, we know how to make it the most’. Mary’s eldest daughter had assured her.
‘I am glad you said that. To share and care is the true spirit of Christmas’, Mary said.
Yet Ruth was not happy on the Christmas day too. ‘It is a very boring Christmas, I want to celebrate it like the rest of the world. You know mother one day I will have a house lit up in lights, a well-decorated Christmas tree, a lot of gifts under it along with a pet parrot as a gift too. I will have a turkey, my favourite cake and cookies on the table. One day mother, I promise’.
Ruth was an intelligent young girl. She had a desire of becoming someone one day. She wanted to do something special. Straight after graduation, she started working. Firstly, she had no time or money to continue her studies and secondly, none of the boys in her community was working very hard to get qualified. The girls had more education and knowledge, yet at the time of marriage, they had some difficult decisions to deal with.
Ruth was the first one to graduate in her community. Through the reference of a charitable organisation, she managed to secure an office job. She learned quickly And worked very hard. A poor person she thought, had needs bigger than their ego.
She took three jobs in a day. One in her break shift and one in the evenings. At night she was too tired to talk to anyone. Even then the weekends were fun. All sisters cooked something special, watched tv, visited friends and had their skin and hair care treatments done at home. They knew how to relax and unwind.
Ruth’s hard work paid off, within a couple of years, she managed to make her mother leave her job and marry three of her sisters. It was a time of great relief and joy.
‘You have been working too hard,’ Mary said, I feel bad for you. Your younger sister is married too’.
‘I want to go to England, a place where I can get a better lifestyle. Even with the minimum salary, the conversion currency rate is massive, I will be able to do more in less time. I can sponsor my siblings and perhaps get a better house too’. Ruth paused, ‘above all be able to celebrate Christmas. With lights and colours, decorations, big sales, Christmas trees everywhere and snow, that will be so much fun’.
‘Will you be able to find a partner to get married. Not any of the boys in our community are as educated as you, they are all so lazy and laid back. Mary exclaimed.
‘Of course mom, there will be so many people of our community, of our religion. Handsome, tall, talented, educated and caring, no comparison with these boys here, who do not know how to take a responsibility’. Ruth gave a hope to Mary.
Yet going to England was not easy, the visa fee was too much, she had to show a reasonable bank balance too. So it took her a lot of relentless hard work yet again. When finally she succeeded.
‘That is it, mom, our hard times are over. I got the visa. Do you know I was the only one to get it today? It was my interview, my speaking skills, my knowledge about the place and my passion for festive Christmas’. Ruth jumped and danced for joy. Throughout that week, she was in a happy mood.
It was not long when she had to take her flight. Her family was in tears but she was way too excited to feel it was real.
Her friends had told her about the flight experience. They felt uncomfortable sometimes. Yet Ruth felt like she was flying. Just like that boy in the play she used to watch in her childhood. He used to time travel; back and forward in time and fly on a carpet. The bird’s eye view and the experience felt magical. She wondered if one day she had the chance to do the same.
There she was on a plane, with temperature regulation, lights, fan, hot food, cold beverages and a cup of tea. She elegantly sipped the tea, it tasted horrible, she immediately got a reality check in the midst of her dream. ‘It is perhaps made from the tap water from rusted pipes of the aeroplane’. She made a horrible face that the air hostess could not ignore, ‘are you feeling ok madam, you don’t look very well’, she asked politely. ‘Oh absolutely, am loving the tea’. She did not know what else to say so she gave a gesture to toast. After all, she was learning how to be polite in England.
England was beautiful. So clean and pure. Rain often washed all the dust and impurities. People were all well dressed but very busy and in a hurry. She did not get any welcoming smiles on her arrival, or a handshake or someone to share her excitement.
Finding a cheap place to live also came into question. She started to apply for jobs immediately. The only problem was her degree was not recognised as equivalent. Which meant she had to generate some money for her courses. She had no referee too. She started to do some odd jobs, like cleaning the houses, collecting litter in the parks and working in a dry clean shop.
All of which left her physically tired. She had been working for many years but that involved working behind the computers and doing official correspondence. The database was also a mentally tiring aspect yet she was saved from all the skills that she had to prove her worth now. A good job in a small place was equivalent to a compromised job in a big place. After a long day, she used to get warm food made by her sisters. She had all the facilities of a hotel. From house cleaning to clothes being washed and ironed. Living on her own was an experience of its own kind.
It left her with very little money for her self development. She had to send a good amount to her family too. Above all, she felt lonely. She had no time to make friends, or to go to church, shops or even roam around the place. The only places she had seen were on the way to her work.
It was not long when it was Christmas time. Ruth was so relieved to witness a celebration at a national level … at last, a festive season. Shops and markets were extra busy, the trees, roads and buildings were all lit up. She had to admit it brought such a good feeling. An enchanting, magical feel to Christmas that she always yearned. It started to snow too. It was the first snowfall experience. On her way back from work, while walking she absorbed every sight in her eyes. She could finally see Christmas spirit in the air all around her.
Christmas Eve was the first time she was off in a long time. Perhaps her memory was failing her. She called her family. The excited voices of her siblings made her feel happy too. They loved the pictures of festive season there and were so happy for her. When finally she managed to speak to her mom, she could not stop her tears.
‘Mom I am missing you all. I am missing our handmade decorations, the plain food and old dresses. I am missing your knitted cardigans, I am missing all our traditions and culture, all the boring stuff that I abhorred. I even miss the loud annoying sound of the street vendor selling his tins on a big wooden trolley. As much as I hated everything they are my memories, my attachments’. Ruth said everything in one go.
Mary listened patiently and replied, ‘Ruth my child, you are very special to me. You have worked very hard for your family. You should be very proud. This Christmas is not the same without you. I was missing out on your endless questions and complaints when you called me.’
Mary stopped to check Ruth was still on the line. Then very politely she continued, ‘you see Ruth, there is no perfection in this life, what starts has an end, what shows something, hides something too. It is now your own choice to focus on a start or an end, on explicit happiness or hidden grief, on being normal or perfect ’. She continued.
‘It was your dream to go oceans apart from your family, you compromised your career, family and comfort of a home. It was a bold decision. You had been very determined and focused. I am so proud. How about now you also learn to appreciate what you have, to ignore the imperfect scenarios. You already care for others. Trust me when you care, you get your share too. When you stop receiving something it is sometimes your turn to give. How about you look around and find your friends who are also feeling lonely and left out, extend your table, share your food, your time and make good memories. When you cannot fight alone make a team. There is a great strength in numbers’.
Ruth nodded. She was aware of a few friends who were also feeling very lonely away from their homes. So she invited them all. They had a most exciting one-dish party, they played a few games, sang the tunes of their favourite songs and watched a movie with popcorn.
It turned out to be a great evening. In the church, the next day Ruth prayed in silence to thank Lord for a mother, who ignited the flame of thankfulness and care in her for it did bring out her share of joy.
Christmas she learned was a time to overlook all imperfections and to celebrate all the blessings. Something she was missing before. On feeling a great sense of joy within her she wanted to thank her mom.
‘Who are you mom, Santa?’ Ruth sent a text to her mom.
She answered with a laughing emoji,
‘Yes, I am, be good’.
‘ I can try’. Ruth wrote.
Mary texted, ‘I always knew what you wanted all along for Christmas, it is just that I got late each time’.
‘How about now?’ Ruth asked, ‘Do you know what I want’?
Mary wrote, ‘of course I do, It is time your mom reveals yet another mystery to you sometime soon. A new lesson in life, stay tuned’.
Ruth took a deep breath to feel the change in the air. As she got out of the church it was snowing heavily, white muffled snow all around. The silence felt like a studio, without knowing she started singing the song while walking,
I don’t want sheeny dusting,
On the winter’s evergreen glee.
I no more need my presents,
Under an adorning Christmas tree,
I no longer want a pet,
I would rather set it free,
I don’t need a confection,
A cake or a plump birdie.
All I ask this year,
Is something I could never see.
All I wish is a warm home,
A place to belong and be,
How I miss this Christmas,
My gift of family!
All I want for Christmas is…
Ruth was still singing when she slipped and barged into a tall and a very graceful man.
‘I am so sorry,’ he said. Seeing no reaction, he continued;
‘May I say you have a great voice’. Ruth stood in a state of a shock. Sliding and barging into a stranger was a shocking awkward moment.
‘I was watching you sing in the church’. He extended his hand to shake, ‘I am Francis, an art and music teacher, I give classes in the church in the evenings.’
Ruth glanced at the church behind her, then looked in his eyes, she took a step forward on the bed of snow and shook Francis’s hand.
‘How interesting, I am Ruth’. She said.