This story was written by Tiffany Yeung, a 15-year-old student from Maryknoll Convent School
Each week during the holidays, we will publish a story from one of the finalists of our 2018 Winter Short Story Competition. Our favourite entries will be compiled into a book, and each finalist will receive a copy of it. The winning entry will appear in Young Post in April.
“It’s finally here!” squealed the five-year-old boy. “Santa has come and left some presents for me!”
It was Christmas morning in the Lee household, and the family was beginning to stir. The sun’s rays were peeking meekly through the curtains, delicious smells were already wafting from the kitchen, and in the centre of the living room stood a magnificent tree, heavy with ornaments, guarding a pile of shiny new presents.
Seeing the gifts under the Christmas tree, Louis ran into the living room and knelt down next to them. His fingers danced around the ribbon, and began tearing away the wrapping paper from one of the boxes, revealing the robot he had seen on a TV commercial – the one he had desperately wanted.
“Merry Christmas, Louis!” Louis’s elder sister, Charlotte, wished her brother.
Now 15, Charlotte knew there was no such person as Santa Claus. She was 10 when she discovered the truth. That Christmas Eve, she had crept out of her room late at night to use the bathroom, and had spotted her parents putting presents under the Christmas tree.
The next morning, she found those same presents were addressed to her, from Santa. A little part of her childhood died then, and she knew that now it was gone, she could never get it back.
Charlotte had spent the days leading up to Christmas preparing for her exams, which loomed ahead like a spectre. Whose idea was it to give students exams right after the Christmas holidays, anyway? They had obviously never heard of “goodwill to all men”.
Charlotte’s academic performance had been a major source of stress in recent years. She studied incessantly, constantly striving for better grades. The upcoming public exams were the scariest of all. It felt as if her whole life depended on them. She needed to get into a prestigious university, get a respectable degree, find the job she had always dreamed of, and earn a decent income. Then, she could have the life she had always dreamed of.
However, she wanted to put that all aside just for a day; she wanted to relax and spend time with her little brother. She wanted to be the best big sister she could be. Yes, she would be there when Louis found out what the world was really like, and she would guide and comfort him. But most importantly, she wanted him to be able to hold onto his childhood for a little bit longer. She didn’t want him to lose his cheeky smile and wide-eyed gaze. She would protect him. If Louis thought Santa Claus was real, then he was real.
Charlotte smiled warmly at her brother. “Wow Louis! You must have been a really good boy this year to get yourself a spot on Santa’s nice list.”
Louis beamed, holding up his toy robot proudly at Charlotte.
At that moment, Charlotte and Louis’ parents walked into the living room, happy to see both their children enjoying the festive season, and delighted that their son loved his present from “Santa”. They had spent the past couple of weeks stressing over what to get him. They knew from their own experience that it was only a matter of time before Louis stopped believing, like Charlotte had. They themselves had lost their childhood innocence decades ago and did not bother to search for it any more. They knew there was no place for it in the adult world anyway; it takes fortitude, not innocence, to face the hardships of life.
Every day they woke up at 5.30 in the morning. Mum prepared breakfast for the family and helped the kids get ready for school. And Dad would drive them there. Then they both headed off to their respective jobs, ready for the daily grind. They did paperwork, held meetings, and handed in reports. Afterwards, they would return home to find Grandmother cooking a delicious meal. Lastly, they played with Louis, and chatted with Charlotte before bathing and climbing wearily into bed. It was a relentless cycle, but knowing that they were doing it for their children’s future, they never once complained about it.
Mum and Dad strived to give their son and daughter the best upbringing they could afford: a good education, a comfortable home, and love, care and support.They wanted their children to grow up healthily, both physically and psychologically, without suffering the way they had done as children. They tried to listen to their children, so they could understand the ideas and values of the new generation. That was how they showed their parental love.
Relieved to have guessed their son’s wishes correctly, they wished him merry Christmas, adding, “Santa must have heard you wanted that robot so much!”
Louis answered, “Yeah Mum and Dad, I must have been a very good boy! I like Santa Claus a lot!”
“Good morning and Merry Christmas children!” Grandmother emerged from her bedroom, shuffling slowly to her armchair.
“Merry Christmas Grandma!” everybody greeted her in unison.
“Wow, everybody is so hyped, perfect! Louis, let me see what Santa has brought you.”
Grandmother had lost her beloved husband a couple of years ago. Grandfather had died from brain cancer. He had been diagnosed with the disease at the age of 70. Tumours were found in different parts of his brain. Knowing that nothing could be done to save him, Grandmother devoted all her time and effort to caring for him in his final days, until a year later, he passed away peacefully in her arms. She had cried for days. She had loved him so much.
She did not know what fate had in store for her. How long did she have left to live? How would she die? What did fate have up its sleeve? Nobody but fate itself knew. All that she knew was that she loved her family with all her heart. She knew her true friends were the ones who had stayed by her side through thick and thin, who had overlooked her failures and celebrated her successes.
She had learned that the hard times never lasted forever; she had learned to be patient and resilient. She had learned to find meaning in everything she did, especially those things she had no choice but to do. She had learned to follow her heart, and live with no regrets.
She knew that time waited for no one, and she had lived each day knowing that one day her time would run out.
She hoped her children and grandchildren would one day understand these things, too.
Little did Louis know all the things his family hoped and wished for him. Did he know what the future had in store for him? Of course not. All he knew was he was happy with his robot, and happy to be spending Christmas with his sister, mum, dad and grandmother. And it was exactly as it should be.
He enjoyed the simple things in life. He loved going to school, meeting his playmates, and discovering new things every day. He loved making new friends wherever he went. He loved going to the playground, squealing with delight as he went down the slide or spun on the roundabout. He loved taking the longer route home from kindergarten, so he could pick up fallen leaves from the trees that lined the streets of his neighbourhood.
He loved inventing games with his toys, and watching his favourite TV shows with his grandma while he waited for his sister and parents to come home for dinner. He loved listening to bedtime stories before being kissed goodnight.
And he loved Christmas, because he could wake up later than usual, and find boxes of presents waiting for him under a glistening tree. He knew he would get to spend the day with his family, the people he loved most in the world, and everyone would be in the best of spirits. He always longed for this day. And now it had arrived.
In Louis’ mind, Christmas was a season of joy. This was what he knew, and for now, all he needed to know.
“Christmas is finally here!” Louis murmured to himself.
Perhaps it is Louis, after all, who knows something we don’t.