2017 winter short story: an extra helping of kindness

2017 winter short story: an extra helping of kindness

A bizarre incident shows Janice what the best gift in the world is


The best Christmas gift is the act of giving itself.
Illustration: Ken Cheng/SCMP

Janice learns Christmas is more fun when you give back. This story was written by Selene Mak Sum-yuet, 14, a student from Daughters of Mary Help of Christians Siu Ming Catholic Secondary School

This story is one of the finalists of Young Post’s 2017 Winter Short Story Competition. Each week during the holidays, we will publish one of the finalists’ stories. The winning entry will appear in Young Post on April 7.

“Mum, mum, has the van arrived yet?” I asked excitedly. It was a special day for me.

My name is Janice. I’m 12 years old and I have a little sister named Kirsty. Our mum owns a cake shop in Tsuen Wan. The name of the shop is Sharing. It always seemed like an odd name for a shop, but I guess it must have meant something to my mum.

Mum had to make a lot of cakes every day. During Christmas, she baked even more. She made at least 100 cakes on Christmas Eve. She’s the most excellent baker I’ve ever known. Her cakes are as light as air and fluffy as a cloud. And she is a master decorator. She can turn any cake into a masterpiece using a bit of icing and a lot of patience.

When I was five, my little sister and I asked our mum if we could help decorate the cakes on Christmas Eve. She agreed, and we happily set to work. We made it into a game: who could decorate “the most beautiful cake in the world”. This game became an annual event; we would compete every Christmas. But we could usually never decide who the winner was because we had all put our hearts into decorating our cakes. We loved picturing the smiling faces of mum’s customers as they saw our cakes displayed in the shop window. We imagined them being carefully sliced and served on a plate along with a nice big mug of hot chocolate.

Any cakes that mum didn’t sell on Christmas Eve were covered and kept in the fridge. Then, a little red van would pull up in front of the shop, and mum and the driver would load the remaining cakes onto the van. Off they drove, not returning until the early hours of Christmas Day. One Christmas morning, filled with curiosity, I asked “Mum, where are you going? Can you take me with you, please?” But she patted my head and said, “I am taking the cakes to some people in need. You’re too young to come with me. You can come when you’re older”.

My mum is very kind. She always tries to help people in need. I imagined her delivering the cakes to an orphanage or home for the elderly, and looked forward to the day when I could join her.

This Christmas, I was 12 years old. I was sure that this year I would be allowed to help my mum deliver the leftover cakes. All Christmas Eve, I could barely contain my excitement. I had dressed up as an adorable little Christmas elf, complete with bells on my shoes and hat. I waited at the shop window for the little red van to arrive.

While we were waiting, mum handed my sister and I a bar of chocolate each as our Christmas treat. My favourite! I wanted to save it for Boxing Day, so I put it in the pocket of my little elf coat.

Finally, I heard the beeping sound. The little red van had pulled up in front of the shop. Carefully, I helped Mum load the trays of splendid cakes, then I hopped into the van myself.

As we drove, I kept glancing out of the window, wondering where we were going. I noticed that we had entered Sham Shiu Po, one of the poorest areas in Hong Kong, in fact. What were we doing here? Was there an elderly home somewhere along one of these gloomy streets?

Finally, the van stopped in front of a pedestrian tunnel on Tung Chau Street. I was confused. This was not what I had expected. Why had we parked on this crowded street? Mum and the driver unloaded the cakes and carried them into the tunnel. As we walked, I was met by a sight that shocked me. There were people sleeping on the ground! They were all homeless. They were all men, and looked around middle-aged. They were dirty and shabby, some with straggled hair or ripped clothes. And their home in the tunnel was bleak. The ground was strewn with litter. The men had laid cardboard on the ground to form the basis of their dens. The air was damp. An enormous rat scuttled along one side of the tunnel. I was horrified.

I was not enjoying my volunteer work. But mum was smiling. She cheerfully began handing out cakes to the men, wishing them a merry Christmas as she did so.

The men, overjoyed, began pulling off chunks of cake, or even biting straight into the whole thing. They didn’t bother with cutting slices or nibbling delicately on them. I couldn’t help but feel upset. All my hard work decorating those cakes had gone to waste. I ran back to the van and slammed the door behind me. Overcome with mixed emotions, I started to cry.

Suddenly, everything became a blur. A black hole, large and swirling, appeared out of nowhere above my head, and began pulling me into it. There was barely even time to panic.

I tried to shout for help but it was too late. I was sucked in. The world was spinning around me. I felt so dizzy that I had to shut my eyes. I was afraid to open them for some time.

When I did, I found myself standing just where I had been moments earlier in the pedestrian tunnel in Sham Shui Po. It was a cold and windy night. I could feel the wind hitting my face like needles. I drew my coat more tightly around me. I walked on through the tunnel to find my mum. To my surprise, she was not there. I was on my own. Did she leave me behind? I was terrified.

“Mum, mum where are you?” I shouted.

The men inside the tunnel had wrapped themselves in newspaper and made wind barricades with cardboard. They looked far colder than I was. I could see one of the men who had gobbled my cake shivering. I quickly reached into my pocket for my bar of chocolate and held it out to him. He stared at me in disbelief.

“Are you really giving this to me,” he asked doubtfully.

“Yes” I answered.

Eagerly, he took the chocolate and ripped off the wrapping.

“Thank you,” he said. “I never thought that a little girl like you would give me something, especially food. Hey, why are you on the street on Christmas Eve? Shouldn’t you be celebrating with your family at home?”

“My mum was here,” I said forlornly. “But I’ve been left behind.”

The man paused and frowned.

“Hmm,” he said. “A lady does usually come here on Christmas Eve. But she isn’t here yet.”

I was puzzled. Quickly I looked at my watch. It was an hour before the van’s arrival. Had I gone back in time when I was sucked into the black hole? Had I travelled to the past? I couldn’t think of another explanation.

I didn’t want the man to see how perplexed I was, so I hastily changed the subject.

“Why do you sleep on the street on this cold and windy night? It is Christmas day, why don’t you go home?” I asked.

The man sighed. “I wish I didn’t have to sleep on the street, but I have no choice. How can I afford to pay rent when I can only afford one meal a day? I tried applying for public housing, but got nothing. And then the homeless shelter only let me stay there for three months. It wasn’t long enough for me to get back on my feet. What can I do? I am not asking for much. I only want a place to sleep!”

The man turned to point at the other men sleeping on the ground.

“See them huh? Their situation is no better than mine,” he said.

Listening to him speak, I felt heartbroken. I hadn’t realised before that homelessness in Hong Kong was such a serious problem. I thought back to when the man had eaten my cake. He only ate one meal a day. Of course he would wolf down the cake when he saw it. How could I have been so mean before? I regretted being angry with the man.

“By the way,” said the man, breaking through my thoughts. “Your chocolate really made my Christmas; I feel much better now. Thank you very much.” I felt warmth flowing into my heart. Seeing his happy face, I felt cheerful as well.

Then, I heard the familiar beep. The van had arrived! I was about to run and call out to my mum, but then I realised I wasn’t supposed to be here. I said goodbye to the man and hid behind a stone pillar. I saw mum and the driver unloading the cakes and bringing them through the tunnel. I also saw myself hesitating to enter it. I felt embarrassed seeing myself.

I wasn’t sure it would work, but decided my best bet was to get back to the van, where all this had started. After seeing my past self walking into the tunnel, I dashed towards the van, clambered in and shut the door. All of a sudden, the world started to spin again. I felt dizzy and closed my eyes … “Janice, Janice, wake up.” I heard my mum’s voice. I opened my eyes and looked around me. I was still inside the little red van.

“Have I come back?” I asked.

“What are you talking about?” Mum asked. “We’re here in Sham Shui Po, remember? You’ve been dreaming, my dear, come and enjoy the party with us!”

Convinced that it was just a dream, I climbed out of the van and I walked into the tunnel with mum. I helped give out the Christmas cakes to the homeless people. As the men shared the cakes among themselves, they wished everyone a merry Christmas. At the end of the tunnel, I saw the man I had spoken to in my dream looking at me. When I handed him the cake, he said: “It’s you again! You’ve given me lots of presents this Christmas – the chocolate and the cake! Thank you very much!”

Instantly, I dug my hand into my pocket. There was no chocolate bar. But I had given it to him in my dream, hadn’t I? Or was it not a dream after all?

Just then, the driver broke out into a booming verse of We Wish You a Merry Christmas. We all joined in, and the tunnel was soon filled with song. I felt a warm glow of happiness.

Seeing the joyous faces of everyone around me, I understood why my mum wanted to help the homeless. She wanted to let them know that someone cares about them. Helping others is the best Christmas gift.

I still decorate the Christmas cakes with my sister every year. But instead of making “the most beautiful cake in the world”, now we try to make cakes with a special Christmas message for the people we give them to. Christmas at Sharing has never been better.

Edited by Charlotte Ames-Ettridge

This article appeared in the Young Post print edition as
An extra helping of kindness


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