Day 8 - Story Advent Calendar.


 Advent Calendar 8th December.

 Katie Ginger

It was true. There was nothing quite like London at Christmas time. Emma's eyes focussed on the giant Christmas tree in Covent Garden as she shifted the bulging shopping bags from one hand to another. A cold wind blew, throwing drops of icy rain onto her face, but thankfully she had on her heavy, expensive coat, with matching hat and gloves. She looked good, super stylish, but most of all she was warm.
            The enormous tree sparkled in the evening darkness. Twinkling fairy lights like tiny jewels beckoned children and a giant red bow was wrapped around the trunk. Red and green baubles did their best to stay on in the strong wind. A busker was playing Christmas songs and the music brought a smile to Emma's lips. Not because he was any good – he really wasn't – but Emma supposed you hadn't lived until you'd heard Santa Baby sung by a middle aged man on a ukulele.
            Emma's feet ached. She was nearly done shopping. It was her annual Christmas shopping trip up to the city to buy presents and stock up on dresses for the party season ahead. She loved Christmas parties and had more in her busy social calendar than she could count. Even better was that she always went shopping with her best friend, Hayley, who should be meeting her any moment now.
            Seeing a quiet corner out of the rain, Emma waited, looking around at the busy world in front of her. People with their heads down rushed here and there, couples laughed and joked, others, suited and booted, raced through life, still working. She took a moment to enjoy that today she wasn't the one rushing. Amongst the crowd clad in coats, scarves and gloves, a homeless man shuffled past her and hunkered down in the doorway behind. Feeling ill at ease she edged away. The rain had got heavier and enormous drops bounced off the ground. Up above, the strings of snowflake shaped lights swung to and fro.
            'Spare change?' pleaded the man to any passer's by. Glancing behind her, Emma saw that he was older than she'd first thought. Probably in his late fifties, early sixties, he was about the same age as her dad. His clothes were grubby and dirty, threadbare in places and he had only one shoe on with no socks. A sadness consumed Emma at that moment as she once again transferred her heavy shopping bags from one hand to the other, so she turned away.
            'There you are!' said Hayley, smiling from ear to ear. 'I got the last size 14 in that dress we liked. I'm so glad I didn't miss it. It'll be perfect for Sarah's party next Saturday. What did you get?'
            Emma smiled in return. 'I got that puzzle thing for dad and I got mum an amazing cashmere sweater. It's so soft, she'll love it.'
            'Any spare change, mate?' Emma heard again in the gruff, tired voice.
            'Here, hold this will you?' She held out a shopping bag for Hayley to take. 'I want to find some change.'
            'Don't do that.' Frowning, Hayley leaned in and replied. 'He'll only spend it on booze or something.'
            'But it's freezing.' She'd never known Hayley to be so uncharitable.
            'I know, but I've past about seven tramps already today, you can't give them all money. Come on, let's go and get a coffee. Or a hot chocolate,' she added excitedly. 'It's the perfect time of year for a hot chocolate and whippy cream. Look there's a cafe over there.' She took Emma's arm and led her away, leaving her glancing over her shoulder while a strange pang hit her heart.
            Inside, Christmas songs played out at full blast and the staff were all wearing reindeer antlers or Santa hats. They were smiling and joking and you could feel the good cheer on the air. The aroma of mince pies and warm winter spices brought a smile to Emma's face and as Hayley went to order, she found the only vacant table by the window. They could watch the world go by and listen to the rain tap, tap, tapping on the glass, knowing they were safe and dry inside. But as she undid the buttons on her coat, and slipped her scarf from around her neck, her eyes were drawn to the poor homeless man still hiding in the doorway, trying to make himself as small as possible to keep warm. Emma wondered how he had ended up this way. What had happened to him to put him there in that doorway, cold and alone? As her conscience piqued she took out her purse and saw amongst the notes, five pound coins. On her way out she was going to give them to him.
            'Here you go,' Hayley said, laying the tray on the table and sitting down. She removed her coat and started chatting about the shops she wanted to visit before they caught the train home. Seeing Emma's purse, she said, 'I've paid for the coffees, so you can put that away.'
            Emma flattened her dark brown hair. 'It's not for you, cheeky. I'm going to give that homeless man a fiver.'
            Pulling off a piece of crumbly, flaky pastry from her mince pie, Hayley said, 'Ems, you really shouldn't. He'll probably go straight to an offy and buy a huge bottle of vodka.'
            'Can you blame him? If I was stuck out in that with no home to go to I'd probably have a drink as well.'
            Hayley sighed. 'Well it's your money, waste it if you want.' And it was this throw away comment that gave Emma a brilliant idea. Peering out of the window, she saw just what she was hoping for.
            Excitedly, Emma stood up. 'Wait here. I'll be back in a minute.'
            'Where are you going?'
            'You'll see.' Throwing on her coat, missing out buttons in her haste to do it up, Emma grabbed her purse and left the safety of the cafe. Head down against the wind she headed over to the shop she had spied and after grabbing a few things, made one more stop before carefully approaching the homeless man. 'Excuse me?' He looked up worried and confused. Kneeling down, Emma placed two flimsy carrier bags on the ground beside him. 'I thought you could do with these.'
            'Wh — what? For me?' His hand shook as he pointed to his chest and tears were forming in his old, creased eyes.
            'Yes. Here.' Emma opened one of the bags and pulled out some socks and a blanket. From the other she took a sandwich, and a takeaway cup full of steaming hot tea. 'And here's twenty pounds. If you go in that shop there, they'll sell you some trainers. I told them what I was doing so you'll be able to go in. They won't chase you out.'
            'I — I don't understand.' He shook his head and stared at her wide eyed. Emma was struck by how blue his eyes were underneath his wild, matted grey hair. 'Why would you do this for me?'
            A lump formed in her throat. 'Because it's Christmas.' She smiled at him and laid a hand gently over his. 'Merry Christmas.'
            'Thank you.' His voice cracked as he spoke. 'Merry Christmas to you too. Bless you.'
            Emma stood up and ran back to the cafe. Sat with Hayley she watched him re-pack the carrier bags and slowly make his way to the shop to buy himself some shoes. When he went inside Hayley turned to her. 'That was nice of you.'
            'It was the right thing to do. And anyway, isn't Christmas the time for goodwill and charity?'
            'You're right,' Hayley replied, nodding. 'I was being mean.'
            'No you weren't. It's just that we forget don't we? How lucky we are.' Lifting her hot chocolate in cheers Hayley raised hers too. 'To the spirit of Christmas.'
            'To the spirit of Christmas,' Hayley replied and as the staff sang along to Elton John making everyone in the room smile, they tapped their cups in toast, because Christmas is for giving.


Isn't this such a wonderful message at Christmas time? We adored Katie's story. Find Katie and her books at the following places:

Happy Reading!

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