2. Mall Santa
She didn’t plan on being there more than a few minutes, but as she walked around, she noticed a group of parents and children gathered near the entrance to one of the larger stores. She felt a pang of envy as she watched the happy children with their parents. She thought how they were surely taking it all for granted. How unfair it all was to her. As she approached, she saw what they were all excited about. There was a man in a red suit sitting in a throne-like chair, holding a small boy on his lap. Santa. She recognized the man from stories she’d heard at school and the few Christmas movies she’d seen. She didn’t really believe he was real, since she’d never gotten any of those gifts he’s supposed to deliver, but there was something about the mystique of it all that intrigued her. It was a happy story, and there were far too few of those in her life.
“Would you like to meet Santa, Acacia?” a voice asked. She turned to see Mrs. Harris, her schoolmate’s mother and a sometime-helper in the classroom. She nodded. The tall woman smiled, took her hand and led her to the line. After several minutes, it was her turn. Santa lifted her into his lap and laughed heartily. She always found the ‘ho ho ho’ a bit corny, but it was so jovial that she didn’t mind. The man’s eyes really did seem to twinkle, like the poem said.
“And what would you like for Christmas, little girl?” he asked in a deep, booming voice.
Acacia looked at him with soulful brown eyes. “Anything would be nice,” she answered, trying her best not to sound melancholy, “But if I could wish for anything...” she trailed off, almost afraid to say the words aloud lest her hope dissipate in the air and be gone forever.
“Yes, child?” Santa prompted.
“I wish for another life. To live in another world where I could be happy. Where I could have people who love me and care that I’m even alive.” There was such sincerity in her words that everyone who heard them looked on her in wonder. But she saw them not. The only eyes she saw were the twinkling eyes of the bearded man looking back at her. A sadness filled those eyes now as the man tried to understand how such words could come from anyone, let alone one so young.
“Would that I could, little one,” he whispered to her, “but that is beyond my power.” She lowered her eyes, disappointment filling her even though she knew it was irrational. He adopted his Happy Santa voice again and said so all could hear, “How about a nice teddy bear?” She saw his look that implored her to play along, so she nodded. He handed her a candy cane and set her on her feet. “Merry Christmas!”
She left the mall and trudged her way home, hoping to creep in unseen. She gave her encounter no second thought, but she would soon find out that the sincerest wish of a child does not go unnoticed.