By Gael McCarte
A reporter asked him if he had finished his Christmas shopping. The response, complete with his photograph appeared in the local rag 2 days later. A Christmas tree stood in the background. It was one of those pines that had the fortune or misfortune to be strung with lights every year at the street tree lighting party. It was a festive scene. A scarf wrapped around his neck fought out the cold. He said he was planning to actually buy the gifts he had tracked down. He had put in his time on his recognizant mission and would close in on the purchases tomorrow. No, he would not spend more than last year, he knew how to budget. His method was to only pay cash.
Inspired by their meeting the reporter discounted the rumor of male indifference regarding gift buying. His words hung on his impression of the man he met on the street. He debunked the myth that men wait until the last minute, locate the picked over clearance tables and grab the first thing they find. After all he met a man today. The man said he was an engineer, who had spent time finding and choosing his gifts. And he had a plan to obtain cash in order to stay within his budget. Nothing ‘last minute’ about it.
Letters poured in to the editor of the small town newspaper. Residents who recognized him wrote letters. They eagerly proved their association with the man on the street. If he was to have 15 minutes of fame, they wanted ‘in’ too. They said he was a thoughtful man. They expected him to approach Christmas as he did everything. Overnight it was ‘in vogue’ to be associated with the new hero.
As he bought groceries and pumped petrol neighbors called out to him, shook his hand, slapped his back. Women said they wanted to bottle what the man on the street had and give it to their husbands. He just smiled.
His work colleagues ribbed him about it. They asked if he would take their list. They asked him who he was buying for. Called him a ‘sly dog’, wanted to know the name of his new lucky lady. He just smiled and went about his engineering.
Christmas day broke cold and grey. Children throughout the small town woke early. They ripped open gifts, checked if Santa had eaten his cookies and drunk his milk. Other children laughed and climbed into bed with their sleepy parents, kicking the blankets to the floor in sheer delight. But curled up without blankets, on the floor, in fetal position was the man on the street. He silently fought off his frequent demons, his foreign face on. Those demons had chased his wife and more recently his daughter away. They engulfed more of his life each day. Both ex-wife and daughter were too terrified to encounter or accept anything from him. Besides gift buying was not his forte.