It was December.
The month of Santa, festivity, lights, feasts, happiness, presents, surprises and togetherness. The entire city of Vienna, wrapped in the snow, looked beautiful. Alex was thrilled to meet his grandparents who would be visiting his house for the holidays. It was his favorite time of the year when he would wait for the family get-togethers, dinners, outings and a lot of fun. John, Alex’s father, and a single parent lost his job during the recession recently and was running pillar to post to make the ends meet.
Unaware of the fact, Alex was dreaming about his vacation and weaved many plans in his mind. John had promised him a trip to the valleys of Switzerland last year and Alex had boasted about it to all his friends. He had his bags packed already, his favorite jacket, caps, and shoes all cleaned and ready to explore the stunning blue shores of The Lake Lucern, take a ride in the aerial cable car of Mt. Pilatus.
He could see his dream of hiking the snow-capped white mountains of Jungfrau and Monch, witnessing the glaciers in the Alps and Lauberhorn Ski Races coming true in a few days. He day dreamt of skiing, hiking, tobogganing, and whatnot.
Every evening, when John came back from work, Alex would jump out of his blanket, sit in the lap of his father and share his plans. Looking at the beaming face of his little boy, John felt miserable at the situation. He was trying hard to earn bread for his family and the thought of breaking Alex’s dream jolted him every now and then. He felt like a failure as a father who would not be able to keep his promise to his little bundle of joy.
John took up a job of a mechanic at a garage to run his family. In the night, he would work as a security guard for his neighboring apartment. He was ill-treated by the miser garage owner every day but continued to work for him as he was paying him a few pennies along with humiliation. One evening while John was coming back, Alex noticed his soiled clothes, dirty hands, and dejected face. He looked extremely tired and drained out.
He jumped out of his bed, ran towards him and hugged him tightly. He held his hand and took him inside. He saw the bruises on his hands, the dirt on his face. He smelled bad. The little boy sensed something was not right.
“What happened Dad? You look so tired! said Alex.
Caressing his hair, John smiled and just nodded his head, signaling nothing.
“What’s wrong with your clothes and how did you hurt your hands’ Dad?
“Nothing, my dear boy! I just tripped over a bottle of wine while walking and fell on the road. These are minor scratches and will heal soon. Nothing to worry about”.
“You tell, how was your day?” John added diverting Alex’s mind.
Alex (still not convinced) replied in a low voice, ” It was fine, Dad”.
Alex’s holidays were about to start and he had a Christmas party at his school. He prepared a few handmade cards for all his teachers, friends and even grandparents. He was awake till late midnight when he heard a voice. He stepped out of this bed, wore his slippers and peeped out of his room to check where the voice was coming from. He saw John going outside the house wearing an unusual dress which looked like a uniform.
Baffled, he could not understand what was happening and where John was going at this hour and why was he wearing that attire. He went to John’s room but could not see him there. He was sure by now, something was not right. John was concealing something from him. He decided to unveil the secret. He had a plan in his mind. He knew what he wanted to do.
Alex didn’t sleep the whole night and waited for John to come back. He heard the voice at the door at 5 am. Quietly he went to his room, switched off the lights, snuggled into his blanket and pretended to sleep. John entered the flat, peeped into Alex’s room and saw him sleeping. He changed his clothes, wore a night suit and started cooking breakfast. At 7 am, he went to Alex’s room, kissed him on his forehead and asked him to come downstairs.
Now both of them were playing the game of hide and seek.
It was a beautiful sunny morning. After relishing the strawberry pancakes cooked by John, Alex showed the cards to his Dad that he made, waved him goodbye and left for the school. John rested for an hour and left for his garage. He hated to go there every day but had no choice. He still had to earn a few Euros to fulfill his boy’s dream. He wanted to be his Santa. He never wanted his smile turn into a sad frown. Most of all, he wanted to be a good dad and keep his promise.
As the day progressed, the mysterious weather of Europe played its game. The sun disappeared and soon the trees were covered with the snowflakes. Alex was anxiously waiting for John to come back home. He planned to chase him in the night and find out what he was hiding from him and what was he up to. He again pretended to sleep and saw John leaving in the same outfit. He quickly picked up his jacket, wore his boots and cap, locked the door and run after him, clever enough, not to be noticed and caught by anyone, especially John.
Soon, the curtain was raised and Alex was shattered to see his Dad working as a security guard. The little boy stood still there, drenched with the snowflakes. He wanted to decode this puzzle. In no time, he ran up to John who was shocked and afraid both at the same time to see Alex there. Clueless about how he was standing in front of him and what explanation will he give to him. He could see the myriad of questions in his eyes. He could sense his insecurity. He could feel the pain he was in, looking at his father in such a situation.
He could not contain himself and finally broke down. He hugged his boy tightly and told him about his lost job, and the other two jobs he took up to feed them. He told him he was just 100 Euros away from his dream, his trip to Switzerland. He told him he was not a bad father. He told he will keep his promise. He told him he loved him.
With quivering hands, Alex wipes his Dad’s face and said, “You are the best Dad, my secret Santa and I love you. I forgot to tell you that I saw the news 2 days back that its orange alert in the valley due to the snow storms, so I don’t want to go to the vacation. Today, our teacher Ms. Joanna showed us a video of unprivileged children who do not have money, gifts, clothes to celebrate this festival. I want to share my goodies with them this year. Please take me there, Dad. Would you please?