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A Gift for the Familiar Man

A short Story
By LouAnn Boos

The familiar man sat at sundown, gazing at his reflection in the water along the riverbed. The gentle waves lapping at the shoreline, hypnotized him with its rhythmic sound. He was at this spot not on purpose but perhaps by fate.
It was Christmas time and his thoughts of the day were a jumble of “to do” lists and scheduled deadlines to make. These were combined with memories of his homeland. It seemed to the familiar man that life in America was a rush of time. One day seemed to be racing into the next. His memory of time passing in Liberia seemed much slower and more evenly paced.
Today’s travel from work was a hectic snarl of traffic. It was Christmas Eve and last minute shoppers flooded the streets. Having had enough of the cars and trucks snaking their way to the local shopping malls, the familiar man turned down the first available side street. The street was long and winded its way to the river. He pulled his car close to the pier’s edge and parked. In a way, the quiet peacefulness and the river’s edge, reminded him of his homeland. Maybe it was the time of year. Maybe it was the stress he was experiencing at work, or maybe he was just feeling homesick, but soon the rhythm of the waves reminded him of a song he knew as a child. It was the song of the Beggar Man, who came to his village every Christmas. The familiar man began to sing the words of the song to the beat the waves were keeping. A smile came to his lips and a warm glow of memory filled his heart. When he was a child in Liberia, Christmas was celebrated with extraordinary happiness and joy. It was like no other holiday. As a matter of fact, there is a Liberian saying, “Every day is not Christmas day.”
The children of the villages would have new and beautiful clothes to wear. Families attended church services to celebrate the birth of Jesus. On Christmas morning, the churches were filled with so many people that some had to stand. The familiar man remembered hearing the wonderful story of the Savior’s birth and the melodious singing of traditional Christmas carols. With so many people singing in unison, the voices could be heard far off into the distance. The sounds from the church seemed to carry the voices of love to those who could not attend the service.
Ah yes, church on Christmas was a great inspiration to all and the feeling of goodwill lasted throughout the day.
The familiar man remembered walking home from church with anticipation. The children were given a new toy to play with on Christmas day. One year, his toy was a play gun, which he proudly displayed on his hip. While the children played, the women were at work preparing the feast of chicken, jello rice and greens. For desert, there would be paw-paw pie. All of the neighbors would come to share the food. The men of the village would play soccer with the men from a neighboring village. They would be very hungry after the game, but the food never ran out. There was always plenty for everyone. Sometimes the Beggar Man would come knocking on the door. The Beggar Man was either a child or a man from the village who dressed up with a big pillow for a stomach and a false face. He would ask for money. If he came to your door, you had to sing to him and give him money before he would leave. In the other villages, the people would wear their village dress and a false face. They would dance in the street for money. Everyone always had so much happiness to share on Christmas.
The familiar man was suddenly jolted from his memory-dream by the voice of a man. The man was standing next to him wearing ragged clothes. He had an over sized belly and smiled a toothless grin at the familiar man. He said, “ Merry Christmas Dennis.” In his hands he held a plate of candy. He offered it to the familiar man who tasted the candy with both delight and amazement. It was coconut and ginger candy! The taste was a welcome flavor to his tongue, so much so that he closed his eyes to enjoy the moment to its fullest. He wondered if the old man could ever know how happy this gift had made him. He wondered where the old man had gotten the candy. The familiar man opened his eyes to thank the old man, but he was gone! Vanished, except for the plate of candy.
For the familiar man, this had been a Christmas miracle! His heart was filled with love and gratitude. He held the plate of candy up to the sky and said a tearful “ Thank you.” And as he looked upward, he recognized the brightest star in the sky. He then spoke what his heart was feeling. “God bless us all!”

This story was written for me during the Christmas season of 2002 by my friend and former co-worker. LouAnn has published her work in many national magazines and local dailies.

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