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The Night Before Christmas
The night before Christmas, the streets were bustling with laughter and lights. Xi and I walked through the dark courtyard in silent excitement. We hurried up the empty hill behind the apartment buildings.
On top of the hill, the chilly wind was sighing.
Gazing in awe at the festive glimmers and voices below us, then the lonely star above high in night sky, Xi laughed. Her laughter echoed in the chilly-warmness, dancing across the lively streets. Suddenly, as if my magic, the snow began to fall.
I let out a deep, long breath, and started laughing too.
That winter had been long and cold. Just before it began to look bleak and never-ending, something amazing happened.
Snowflakes started to fall from the sky.
I remember, that winter long ago, the air had been chilly, and the wind constantly moaned across the tree-tops, but the snow never fell. Even though the streets were filled with bustling cars and people hurrying from one place to another, there was a sense of emptiness and alienation in the air. It was as if the sky and the clouds and the wind and everything else were waiting, waiting…
Long before December 20, the stores sat up fancy decorations of lights, candy-canes, Christmas trees, and meticulously-wrapped gifts. The bakeries emanated the syrupy smell of freshly baked cookies and muffins. The streets were filled with music and Christmas carols and tinkling sleigh bells.
But the sky was still waiting, waiting…
At school, the pressure cooker was turned on full power. There wasn’t one sentence anyone uttered without the word ‘high school entrance exams’ in it. We got up at 5:00am and were expected to study until 11:30. Every one of our subject teachers repeated to us every single day, “…these aren’t just exams, they are a competition between the most intelligent and diligent students of this entire city to get into the best high schools. These are high-priced tickets for a good future.”
And so, with the exams coming nearer and nearer, and time running further and further away out of our reach, we all became snappy and restless.
At home, the atmosphere was always chilly.
It was a kind of bone-chilling loneliness that never went away no matter how long the stove was left on.
We were all too busy that winter; too busy for conversation, or relaxation, or dinner; too busy for ourselves… too busy for each other, and anyone else, for that matter.
We all forgot about poor Xi.
Poor Xi always sat by the large, cold window on the dark reddish grey couch facing the grey apartment courtyard, staring at the bluish grey sky and the light grey clouds.
Sometimes I sat on the couch staring into space with her, wiping away her running nose with a tissue, or just talking to her about all my troubles. She always listened intently, but all she could say back to me was ‘en…’ That was all she could say.
And sometimes I lie in bed, staring up at the dark ceiling half past midnight, wondering why I wasn’t asleep from the long, tiring day. And then wondering why the day was so tiring in the first place. Wondering why I worked so hard to get my self so tired, and then wondering what it was that I really worked for. Wondering what my goal was and what I really believed in. Wondering…
And then my head would get too dizzy and I would fall asleep.
And I remember that the wind outside was cold, freezing, moaning anguishly.
But the snow never fell.
It never did, even though every morning the weather forecast said it would. And it seemed strange, really, this far into winter.
But the sky was still waiting, waiting…
One rainy day, the phone rang. It was such a loud, startling sound, because it hadn’t rung for ages and ages.
I ran over to pick it up. It was a classmate,
“Do you want to come over to my house this Friday?” She asked in a demanding tone.
“Well, Friday’s Christmas Eve right? So they say that if you make a wish on a star in your favorite place with someone else, your wish will come true.”
“Uh…” I looked over at Xi, “why don’t you ask Yukio or Mei or something?”
“Everyone’s already ‘booked’, so you’re the only one left…”
Oh…so I was last pick hey???
“Sorry, I’m already ‘booked’ as well, so maybe next year, ok?”
“Aw. That’s too bad…”
She hung up without saying anything else.
After I put down the phone, I thought for a long, long time.
That Christmas Eve, I got home late from school, my heart heavy with homework and my hands frozen from the chilly wind. After eating dinner in the dark, cold living room alone, I took out my books from my backpack and started scribbling in answers mindlessly. It was Friday, and my exhausted brain was crying for a break.
Mother walked out from her office, holding a cup of steaming coffee. She looked at my half-asleep face and said, “Today’s Christmas Eve you know…why you don’t take a break and go for a walk with Xi?”
I sat up, my face brightening almost instantly, “Sure!”
I ran to the window and looked up at the sky. The clear, deep blue sky, filled with anticipation. A star glowed.
I grabbed my jacket, dressed Xi in warm clothes, pulled on boots and took her out the door, down the apartment stairs.
We ran out into the street.
Outside, in the chilly night air, all the street lights made the world burn a pale orange. Xi and I walked across the dark courtyard and out into festive streets filled with red and green lights. The air wafted the rich smell of creamy cinnamon buns. Everywhere, Christmas carols blared; jingle bells, silent night, have yourself a merry little Christmas…it was a clump of mingled mess, really. I held Xi’s hand tightly, afraid she might get lost in all the people.
We walked toward the bakery store and marveled at all the deliciously smelling buns. Xi looked at me imploring. ‘Hm…en…” She mumbled.
I took out some money from my allowance bag. She picked her favorite cinnamon bun and held it tightly in her hand, letting the creamy scent melt into our noses.
We kept on walking and walking. I pointed to her all the buildings that had pretty lights hanging from their eaves. She looked at everything in awe, her eyes glimmering.
Children giggled, cotton candies floated around like puffy white clouds. People enjoying a pleasant Christmas Eve brushed past us as they hurried from one store to another. Laughter echoed deep into the dark sky.
A couple walked past us, chattering happily. Xi looked at them curiously. She tugged at the girl’s sleeves and made a friendly sound as if to say hello.
The girl looked at her half-open mouth and running nose disgustedly, and shook her tug off, saying as she quickly walked away, “Leave me alone, you stupid ---.”
Xi stepped back. Stunned and hurt, she stood there frozen to the ground, staring at the couple’s shadows as they disappeared into the crowd. A fiery anger bubbled inside me, “Xi, stay here, ok? Wait for me.” Xi nodded.
With her sticky cinnamon bun still in my hand, I ran to catch up with the couple. I stopped in front of them, “You’d better apologize for what you’d said to my sister.” I demanded.
They looked at me disdainfully: a short, pale girl in a faded school uniform underneath an old jacket.
“For what? I just told her to lay her filthy little hands off of me.” The girl snarled.
I didn’t know what to say. Her eyes were freezing cold. All I could do was stand there, shaking under her gaze.
What was Xi thinking now, standing in the crowd all alone? I wondered.
I smirked bitterly. In this world, it’s either killed or be killed, right? At least, that was my excuse…
I looked at the girl’s nasty face. What happened next is now merely a blur in my memory.
I heard a SPLAT. The cinnamon bun landed right in the girl’s hair dyed a strong putrid yellow colour, that looked like a rotten orange in the burning streetlamps. I saw it run slowly down her face.
As the couple still looked shocked from our encounter, I stumbled as fast as I could through the crowd and into the bakery shop, still shaking. I picked out another cinnamon bun, and made my way back to where I’d left Xi.
Xi wasn’t there anymore.
In fact, she wasn’t anywhere I could see.
My heart sank. A feeling of bubbling panic began to rise in my stomach. I lost Xi. I lost her on Christmas Eve. It slowly began to sink in.
I started running, from store to store, street to street. Lights flashed by me, music flowed in and out of my ear. People brushed past me.
All I could hear in my head was, Xi…Xi…
I felt lost, in this great big crowd. I felt lost in this vast expanse of people, of laughter. I felt lost in the bustling streets, in the empty yet bustling streets. But I kept on running, completely out of breath, exhausted. Not knowing where I was heading, not knowing what was driving me to keep on going…
My head was getting dizzy.
I looked at my clock. It was 11:45 already, and in my head, I heard the girl say,
“…but you have to do it before midnight…”
I kept on running.
I didn’t have much time.
I finally found her, standing lost amongst the throng of people. Her large brown eyes looked around frantically, searching for me. She looked lonely and afraid, like a two year-old girl who could not find her mother. I stood there catching my breath. When her gaze landed on my face, it brightened, and she smiled. I ran over and took her by the hand.
I looked at my watch.
It was 11:50.
Ten more minutes left.
I started running again, my head no longer dizzy from the crowd and all the lights and the blaring music. I knew where I was heading to now, I knew where I wanted to go, what I wanted to do. Xi was behind me, holding my hand tightly
Something inside my stomach felt hot…almost burning.
We kept on running, faster and faster.
Xi and I made our way across the dark court yard with silent excitement. We dashed breathlessly up the hill behind the apartment buildings. It was empty and dark. The grass felt crisp under our feet.
On top of the hill, the chilly-warm wind tickled our faces.
We looked down at the festive lights below us and then at the lonely star above.
“Xi…” I said, “Do you want to talk? Do you want to be normal again?”
“En.” Xi said.
“Then look up at that star, that bright star and make a wish.”
“Don’t worry, I’ll become a doctor.” I looked up at the sky, at the vast, empty sky, “I’ll become a doctor. Someday, I promise, I’ll get good enough to accomplish what all those other doctors couldn’t. I’m sure I’ll be able to do it, believe in me. You’ll get better again.” I could hear my voice echoing.
“Hear that star?!” I shouted into the sky, “That’s my wish! I wish I’ll become the best doctor in the world! No, better, I wish I’ll be skilled enough to heal Xi!”
There was a silence, waiting, waiting.
And then suddenly, as if by magic, the clouds sighed and the wind sighed and the trees sighed, and it began to snow. A gentle, feathery snow that melted on our sweaty faces.
I looked at my watch.
It was 12:00.
Christmas eve drifted away with the wafting carols, brushing past our clammy foreheads through the wind. Merry Christmas, the sky whispered, one last time. It was a new day.
**Note on text**
I first wrote this when I was in grade 6…that was when I was still taking the junior high entrance exams. Back then, I didn’t understand a word of English (I was in China …so I had written it in Chinese).
When I was cleaning up my computer last week, I found it saved in a really old file. I’d always thought that I lost a year ago when the computer was affected with virus. I translated it into English and polished it up a little. And this is the result, imperfect, but with my heart and soul.
Xi was my cousin, one year older than me. When she was still a toddler, she fell off the apartment stairs and hit her head on the concrete. She suffered in a coma for three days, everyone thought that she was going to die. But she didn’t.
Instead, she never learned how to talk, or walk properly, or do anything on her own.
Ever since I was little, I’d always wanted to be a doctor, because I’d always dreamed of making her better. So, every single Christmas, I still look up at the vast empty sky and make a wish…
MERRY CHRISTMAS! AND MAY ALL YOUR WISHES COME TRUE!
December 26 ,2006