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“What’s a little girl like you doing out here in this street?”
The man who held my chin had a salt-and-pepper beard, and was gruff-looking, with a tiny pair of glasses hanging on the tip of his brooding nose. He looked like a rejected poet.
His calloused fingers scratched my chin and I winced, pulling my chin from his grasp.
I knew who this man was. He lent money to the people on the street here.
He also terrorized them when they didn’t return his money on time.
This was the man I was looking for.
“You know what I’m here for,” I demanded fiercely, clutching my torn teddy bear with clenched fists.
A plump man appeared behind him, munching on a chicken wing, that I could imagine was thrown out by a restaurant that had over-ordered for Christmas. “Ooh, isn’t she a feisty one,” he snickered. His clothes were muddy and dirty, like he hadn’t bathed for a month.
And maybe he hadn’t.
There were all sorts of characters on this street that my brother lived on. The snow had come down heavily and cardboard boxes were harder to live in. Everyone on our street needed better living conditions; cardboard boxes as roofs and rags as blankets would all just serve to leave us as popsicles the next morning.
Under the hat that my brother had gave me to keep me warm, I looked up at the men with bright hazel eyes, keeping the fear from showing on my face, and the hot tears streaming.
“I need a loan,” I said as casually as possible, clutching my fists. The torn teddy bear, the last gift from my parents, was hanging sadly in my grip. I hated asking for help, especially from sleazy characters like these.
They burst out in hysterical, thigh-slapping laughter, and I bit my lip, not daring to move.
The man with the brooding nose knelt down beside me and looked me straight in the eye, a strange glint flickering in his eyes, as he leered at me. “Well, Hank and I here aren’t heartless cads. Just tell me what you need the loan for.”
“I need to buy food for the people who live on my street,” I said slowly, pronouncing each word with care, and showing a face which I hoped was impassive, as I fiddled nervously with the buttons on my jacket. I remember Brother sternly warning me not to come look for these men. They made me fidget; they made me nervous, like all I wanted to do was hide my head in a hole, and be as far as possible from them.
“Well, well, well, what do we have here?” The man sneered, twirling a strand of my thick, brown hair. His face was dangerously close to mine; it made me break out in cold sweat.
“A regular Florence Nightingale,” the other man snickered, with a special accent that uneducated people in our parts had, including me.
“Actually, it’s not Flo-” I stopped myself. It didn’t pay to be smart with people like these.
“And what can you give us as some security, so we know that you’ll definitely return it to us?” The brooding nose man asked finally, his eyes lingering on the torn teddy bear that was limping in my grass.
Then, with the swiftness of a cat, he snatched my teddy bear from me, dangling by a leg, high above my reach.
I screamed, feeling an anxiety rise in my throat. “Give it back! It’s mine!”
The teddy bear seemed to smile sadly at me, the way my parents last had before they had threw my brother and I out of the car that was destined to drop off the cliff, because its breaks had been messed with.
“Give it back!” My eyes widened as the man swung the teddy bear precariously, back and forth. Next to us, a busy road was crowded with cars zooming past at the speed of light, people rushing to spend time with their families, buying last minute Christmas gifts, and so on.
I instinctively knew what was going to happen before the man did it.
My teddy bear took one last soar above the road, above the busy, ignorant people rushing back and forth, and as it stretched its paws one last time, it crash-landed silently on the road, and was immediately swept over by a dark, shiny car.
I screamed when I found my voice, watching in horror as more and more cars sped over my teddy bear, and with every tire that found its way over my teddy bear’s stomach, it pumped up quickly, as if gasping for air.
I collapsed to my knees, as I felt my heart wrench with every car that quietly zoomed over my bear. I could almost feel what my teddy bear was feeling; bones breaking, heart crushing, lungs gasping.
I felt like I was dying, right there, on that roadside, as the men walked away, laughing sadistically.
I think I must have stood there gaping for some time, because an elderly man with a beard the colour of pure snow, a bright smile and twinkling eyes approached me, put an arm on my shoulder and said, “you want to feed your street, I heard?”
“Y-yes, Mister,” I mumbled, wiping my eyes. “Were…were you listening to our conversation?”
He nodded silently, and then, out of nowhere, he produced a small brown basket. Inside the basket, I saw, were six tiny loaves of bread.
He nudged the basket at me, urging me to take it. “It’s not a lot,” he admitted. “But it’ll be better than nothing.”
I nodded sadly, staring at the teddy bear on the road. “Can you…can you fix him?”
The old man chuckled, and said, “I’ll do my best.”
That night, my brother and I shared the loaves with everyone on our street. The most bizarre part, however, was that no matter how many loaves we gave out, there would always we six new ones in the basket. Everyone ate to their hearts’ content that night, and it filled me with a joy so indescribable that I felt like I could explode.
Once my brother and I were alone, I stared at the moonlit sky and asked him softly, breaking the last loaf in the basket, “Brother, do you think Santa Claus exists?”
He took the last loaf and ate it contently, gesturing at the bottom of the basket. There, covered in a new cloth, was a teddy bear exactly like the one our parents had gave us, in mint condition, with sparkling eyes and a bright smile, just like the old man I had met on the street. My eyes widened and a smile broke out as I pulled it out and hugged it, breathing the fresh scent of flour.
“If there is,” he said between bites, smiling at the teddy bear. “He must really be looking out for you.”
At the very moment, I swore I heard a faint cry of ‘ho, ho, ho’, from the moon, and saw the silhouette of a reindeer-pulled sleigh drive past it.