A CARDBOARD BOX
© 11-20-11 by Vickey Stamps
The place was a large town and one of many. It was modern with a mixture of people of all cultures and ages. It held busy cars, towering buildings and
stress filled faces wearing out the concrete with their rushing feet hurrying
from work, and others to stores for a last minute Christmas gift before they closed.
It would be a day some would consider best forgotten. Snow had started
early and had piled up, and over the curbs already, falling in larger flakes
faster and faster. A slanted wind drove the snow and wind against the
woolen coats of those that could afford them, and into the very fibers of
the poorer folks wearing what they could. It was the eve of Christmas.
Wearing an odor of ‘Eau ‘de Liquor’ on his breath, the homeless man inside
a large card-board box, curled deeper into himself, into his makeshift
home in the back of the alley. He’d hoarded as much newspaper as he could
find and would wrap himself tightly in it against the storm this night.
It had been two days ago, counting part of yesterday, since he’d scavaged
in the garbage bins outside the ‘Little Spain’ café. His appetite had
barely been satisfied before he had been driven away by the broom
wielding owner. He wondered why the owner had bothered, it was
just trash anyway, why should he care? He had scuffled away.
He’d been out once already in mid-morning, thinking to just stretch and
get fresh air when he’d remembered about what today meant. It was
give-a-way day at the Salvation Army place. He had stomped his feet to
wake them up. His feet were covered with every sock he owned, one
layer stretched over another. His shoes had long since become unbearable.
He’d hoped to find some shoes in his overly large foot size. There’d be the
recycle bins outside the old building. There had been a coat drive earlier
that week. One of the staff, seeing him at the bins, and estimating his size,
hurried out to give him one. It wasn’t stylish but it was wool. At least it
would help to keep him warm.
He stuffed a wad of paper inside his coat as insulation and buttoned it to
his neck, crawled out of the box that he called home and stretched his thin
frame. He ran his fingers through his hair, before pulling a smelly fisherman
type cap down over his forehead. He forced his feet down the alley and
onto the sidewalk. He had to find food somewhere, he was hungry and he
couldn’t get sick now, there was no help here in this alley that he lived in,
and winter was here. Stopping for a moment before one of several burn
barrels that called the street curbs home and warmed the homeless.
He breathed in the smell of it. Soon the other transients that
considered this their territory, crowded him away.
Denton thought perhaps he’d try the cans in the alley behind the ‘All You
Can Eat, Ten Dollars’ place, down by Central Park. He’d been there before.
They’d never chased him away, and perhaps there’d be lunch remains left
in the trash cans. He had a few plastic bags in his pocket. Maybe he could
fill them with enough to last awhile. Thank goodness, there were plenty of leftovers, even some outdated milk in small cartons and a partial carton of chocolate milk. It had been a long time since he’d had chocolate of any
kind. He’d drink that slowly.
There had even been a half bottle of wine someone had tossed out. He
would fortify himself against the cold with the alcohol glow it would give
him. Perhaps he’d do that tonight. He stopped up the bottles slim neck,
with a plastic bag he still had, and he tucked that into a pocket.
He thought he had time to treat himself to a bit of Christmas cheer.
Just up the block was Central Park itself. He looked at the huge tree
that the city had turned into a beautiful Christmas tree. It towered
above all other trees in the park. It filled the coming night and made it
brighter and warmer with its decorations and strings of lights.
He wished he could sit beneath the tree and recall how it was he’d come
to be in this condition. How it was there was no job for him, no child to call
him Daddy, no wife to welcome him home after a long and perhaps dreary
day. He’d lost his parents to an accident while overseas in a war he had not
asked for, a war he had hated. He’d blamed his current life on that war
and the fact that there was no one to come back home to. Enough soul
searching, he thought to himself. He’d been lucky to come home, many
of his friends died over there in the war zone. He’d also been lucky to
find food this late afternoon. If the cold held, it might be two or three
days more before the storm would let up, and he could make his way
about the city streets again.
He had best not go too far, as the storm was even worse now, but it had
been good to see the tree. He blinked away a tear at the memories that
had returned to him of childhood days and of a distant love. He knew the
Christmas story, but so much had happened, it seemed to be all cloudy in
his mind. Meager as it was, the night was nearly upon him, and the
battered up Sears furniture box called his name. It was his home now…
and he turned the corner towards home.
An Old man had been sitting against the wall, hat beside, and slightly in
front of him, as if he’d been begging for coins. He too, wore the look
of the tattered and homeless. He, perhaps, was even shabbier then
Denton. It’s Christmas, he thought, as he dug around in his bags, finding
a bit of his food for the old man. He laid it beside him and in his gravelly
voice, wished him a Merry Christmas, and even brought up a wish of
“God Bless You’. He didn’t quite know why he had done this, but it was
done now, and he’d better leave before he changed his mind and took
the food back. The old man rose up and put his hat on his head. Holding
onto a cane he’d had behind him, he stepped forward. His steps were
far more lively, than one would have expected.
He quickly caught up with Denton.
“Thanks friend. Can I travel with you awhile? It would be nice to have
company tonight. The path is warmer when two walk together.” And so
it came to be, that over the time it took to travel in the snow, and the
bitterly cold blocks to his cardboard home, they spoke together of
past and present life and the fact that it was almost Christmas day.
As if it had been yesterday, and they were both young, the songs of
Christmas rose up in his mind, and he began to hum them.
The old man joined in. He asked Denton if he knew what Christmas really
meant. Denton hung his head, for he felt ashamed to admit that he did
know, but had not practiced his faith for many years. He’d seen so much
hate and death in his time overseas, he’d lost his faith. The old man
spoke of grace being a free gift, because of that long ago child born in
a humble manger. He said grace restored faith. Denton wondered if
that were possible for him. They’d reached the alley and he thought he
might as well invite him in. They could share what warmth there was in
the cardboard box. It would be big enough, it was Christmas after all.
The storm raged on. As it came to an end, those who had befriended
Denton on rare occasions thought to look for him in the snow filled alley.
It was as if he had never been living there. Neither box, nor any trace
that a human had made a home there. How could they have seen, or
known, that the old man would soon fill the snow filled night with light and
warmth. He had taken the weary soldier home for a Heavenly Christmas.
Back at the park, crowds had gathered with their family, friends and
hassled shoppers, to sing beneath the tree. Strains of music filled the
night surrounding the tree, as all the voices rang out. “Oh little town of
Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie, beneath thy deep and dreamless
sleep …the silent stars go by.
A large star had rose and shone down upon them. It would soon be
Christmas and beyond a doubt…
LIFE WAS GOOD
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