The arrival of winter in New York presents a blessed aura. It amalgamates all the New Yorkers in a ligature; the season of shindigs and sprightliness springs people off their feet, indulging them into a colossal celebration of Christmas.
MacDougal Street in Greenwich Village was one such hub where the pulse of Christmas could be sensed. Green shrubs embellished in shades of silver and gold, fairy lights scalloped in irregularly and Christmas bells jingling around made the busy street an epitome of mirth, during the festive season. The enchanting aroma of Dundee, Madeira, doughnuts, pies and truffle puddings casted the seasonal spell on the Emmett’s Café, where people had gathered to celebrate the birth of Christ.
On one of the tables facing the street, sat George, sipping his Espresso and keenly observing the various shades of shenanigans that made the evening ever more splendid. The glaze in his eyes seemed to be emanating from a five year old, expecting Santa Claus to fulfil all his desires.
Suddenly, he heard a loud and sardonic cry of a girl who nearly escaped being hit by a taxi.
‘AHHH!’ She exclaimed in an abusive tone, ‘Are you blind! It could have broken my legs.’
The girl appeared to be in her mid-twenties. She moved in a disquieted way towards the Emmett’s and entered the Café slamming the door behind her. Her gestures made it clear that she was drunk, drunk to an extent that barely allowed her to walk. She sat on the chair facing George, sharing the table with him as the entire Cafe was occupied. The two of them distanced by a meter of wooden table were silent, until they were interrupted by a waiter who came to take the order for dinner.
‘Get me some chicken soup ‘, said George.
‘And for you madam?’ asked the waiter to the girl.
‘A Margarita’, said she in a harsh tone without moving her gaze which was still fixed on the table.
A minute after the waiter left, George said in a mild yet warm tone, ‘Merry Christmas!’
She turned towards George looking at him suspiciously. Tears started rolling down her cheeks. In an attempt to console her, George tapped his hand gently over hers. Withdrawing immediately, she started hurling abuses at him.
‘Don’t you touch me, baldie. I know what you want…..you’re all just the same. But don’t think I’m weak… David was punished…leave me alone…!’
She started screaming and collapsed to the floor. All her belongings fell down with her. To her sling was a small keychain attached which read,’ Emma Smith’.
The next morning, mild winter sunshine crept into Emma’s little room. She woke up to a bad hangover. No sooner did she start wandering how she made it back home yesterday, than her roommate, Suzanne entered with a glass of lime water.
‘Suzie?’ said Emma in a bewildered state.
‘Don’t you speak a word, Emma. I hope I do not need to tell you about your condition last night. Anything could have happened, you silly girl. It was so generous of this young man to drop you home last night. And you thanked him by ruining all his clothes by doing the Technicolor yawn on him. Oh Jesus!’
‘Who was he? asked Emma rubbing her eyes.
‘I have no clue. But he looked young. Though, he had no hair on his head.
‘Oh! That baldie! How did that pervert get my address?’
‘He found your phone in your sling and rang me up as I was on the last dialed list. He asked me where he should be dropping you, so I gave him our address. And stop calling him a pervert. You should be grateful that he helped you. Who would have helped a drunkard yelling out abuses on the street on Christmas day? All men are not bad, sweetie. You need to get over that incident’, explained Suzanne.
After Suzanne left for the market, Emma took a quick bath, made some coffee and had her oatmeal breakfast. She was still trying to decipher what may have happened at the Emmett’s last night but couldn’t remember much. She stepped out of her house to get some fresh air. As she strolled by the park, she saw George, the man who had dropped her home last night. She walked up to the park bench and sat beside him, to both thank and apologize.
‘Hi, I’m Emma.’ She said hesitantly, ‘Thank you so much for helping me out last night. And I’m really sorry, I was drunk and….’
‘Oh, hi! I’m George and it’s absolutely fine’, replied George, moving his attention from the poetry book he was reading.
‘And I’m very sorry for ruining your clothes and calling you a baldie.’
‘Ah, that was alright, except that the baldie had to take a shower on a cold winter night!’
This made both of them laugh in unison.
‘Well, Emma! May I ask you something? Only if you are comfortable with It.’ Said George.
‘You seemed to be very dejected last night. I could feel that there is something very dreadful that has happened to you. Maybe a scary past, something which is rusting your heart as well as your mind.’
‘Nothing! Absolutely nothing!’ Emma said hastily, hiding her eyes away from him.
‘It is fine’, reassured George. ‘You can share it if you want. A certain David seems to be bothering you.’
‘Okay, so listen’, started Emma. ‘It happened a year ago. Mom had gone to Seattle to meet Aunt Viola. It was the week after Halloween. I had just started working as a receptionist at the New York University. Uncle David was my father’s best friend. He used to visit us quite often on the weekend. One night, I was playing my guitar on the terrace after dinner. Suddenly I was grabbed by my mouth from behind. It was David. He seized me tightly and forced a handkerchief into my mouth to prevent any cries. I could feel his hands wringing over me. I tried to protest but he tied both my hands. I felt like stabbing him right then and throw him off the terrace on the street for a truck to crush his bones. He molested me. Dad was fast asleep. The next morning I was still moaning in pain; my nakedness felt like a curse. He had stripped me off my dignity and I felt like killing myself. When mom returned in the afternoon, I told her whatever had happened. She asked me to keep my mouth shut as it would worsen situations. This frustrated me even more. I felt so helpless.’ Emma was almost out of breath, preventing her tears to come down.
‘But I was not defeated, George.’ She continued. ‘That devil, David, had the audacity to come to our place again the very next weekend. My parents pretended as if everything was normal. I was instructed to stay into my room until he left. After dinner, they all sat in the living room, chatting and laughing. Dad was totally indifferent to the man who assaulted his daughter. I stepped out of my room, went up to that man and stood in front of him quietly. A sense of discomfort surrounded him. Beads of perspiration and uneasiness clearly showed his guilt. Acting as if nothing had happened he took my hand in his and gave me a bar of chocolate. Withdrawing my hands from his, I smashed his pimpled cheeks, displacing his head by almost ninety degrees. Before my parents could say anything, I asked the inspector to come inside, whom I had called earlier after completing my part of retribution. I had told Miss Stephanie, my music teacher, about this. She encouraged me to hand that man over to the police. Without a word to my parents, I went into my room and slammed the door on their hypocrite faces. Next morning, I left the house and moved to a hostel with Suzanne. It has been a year since I have tried to contact them.’
‘This is really sad. I am so sorry, Are you fine?’ George tried to console her.
Emma took a deep breath and lit a cigarette. ‘The incident traumatized me very much. I can’t get over it even if I want to’, she said in a helpless way.
‘So this got you to drink and smoke?’ Asked George.
‘Yes, you can say that.’ Agreed Emma shrugging her shoulders.
A certain sense of warmth and familiarity seemed to establish itself.
‘So do you still take music lessons?’
‘No! I don’t think I will ever be able to do that. There was a time when I desperately wanted to become a singer. I used to wait for work to get over, so that I could rush to my music classes. BUT,’ she exclaimed remorsefully, ‘Life is messed up now!’
‘What makes you think so?’ Asked George gravely. ‘One man dared to abuse your body; but you are allowing it to rule over your mind! Life is so beautiful. You need to keep a positive approach towards life, love it with all its flaws and imperfections because it is yours. You can design it the way you want. You will not require cigarettes then.’
Emma was quiet and still, puffing her cigarette. After a moment’s silence she started casually, changing the topic.
‘Christmas missed snowfall this year.’
‘I wish it snowed,’ said George agreeing to what she said. ‘I really wanted it, to play with it, to make snowmen, to hit each other with snowballs…’
Emma smiled and said in a way to assure him, ‘Don’t worry, it will snow. Just give some time.’
Closing his eyes and taking a deep breath, George exclaimed expressively, ‘Of easy wind and downy flake…’
‘Hey, that’s Robert Frost.’
‘You like poetry?’ George was excited. Before Emma could reply, he went on, ‘Who does not! So do you read English literature?’
‘Well rarely. But I have read some works by Frost and Shakespeare.’ confirmed Emma.
‘I have done my masters in English Literature. It is simply beautiful’, he continued.’ I feel like entrapping myself into the world of books, get enchanted by its pristine fragrance and make an escaping dive into this paradise. I feel that all the questions of the universe find themselves answered in literature. The expressions, the poems and the words, all seem to lift bumps off my skin, as I give them my soul for reciprocation of utmost content and nostalgia. There’s so much to read, so much to do.’ His eyes widened.
‘I want to prance around with Wordsworth’s daffodils, laugh with O. Henry at his humor and satire, attend Gatsby’s lavish affairs with Fitzgerald, join Hamlet in his revenge, go horseback to the snowy wood with Frost, explore Paris and London with Charles Dickens, meet phenomenal women like Gertrude and Miss Havisham, understand life with Longfellow, love unconditionally like Elizabeth Barrett …..ah…there’s so much to read. So much to do.’
‘Wow, you seem to be really a great lover of literature. Do you write?’
‘I have written a few poems and prose pieces, and I would love to write more. Writing is like meditation. It gives me peace. I write out of an inner need, it is a necessity. It is like ordering your corner of the universe, trying to create a totally different world, to quench a desire burning deep down. All these people whom I mentioned are the ones whom I worship. Nothing in this universe can define their worth for me. No orchestration of appreciation can.’
Emma smiled listening to everything intently.
‘So Emma, it’s time for me to go. But I would like you to come to the New Year Eve’s party at my place. Here is the address’, said George giving her a card.
‘There will be some great singers too, so you better show up’, he smiled.
‘Thank You, Mr. George Wilson’, smiled Emma looking at the card.
They shook hands and left.
The disclosure of her past made Emma feel better and relieved. George and his approach towards life had stirred her mind and soul. She felt the need to move ahead in her life. She had gained confidence to make wonders work for herself.
The last day of the year had arrived. At about, eight thirty in the evening, Emma left for George’s party wearing her blue sequined dress that stopped at her knees. A pair of silk stockings and silver stilettos complimented it.
‘5th Avenue, Houston Street. This is it, please stop’, she paid the taxi and got off. Her stilettos made it difficult for her to walk on the pebbled pathway as she headed towards the double storied bungalow, surrounded by beautiful lawns and lush green bushes. Reaching the main entrance to the house, she pressed the bell button. A man dressed in black and white opened the door.
‘How can I help you, madam?’ asked the old man gently.
‘Is this where the Wilsons live?’ inquired Emma.
‘Yes madam, whom would you like to see?’
‘George had invited me to the party tonight.’
‘There is no party happening here.’
‘Alright, but can I meet George, please?’ asked Emma thoroughly confused.
‘You don’t seem to know about anything that happened,’ continued the old man with a stern look. ‘He passed away last night. The best of medicines and treatment failed to cure his cancer. The doctors had given their word three months ago, this was expected to happen anytime. But Mr. George didn’t let the fatal disease affect him. He was a very free spirited man. Twenty six is too young to die!’ The old man wiped his tears and closed the door .
Emma could not believe her ears. The news of the death of a man so full of vim and zeal, attenuated her. She had known him for less than a week, but his passing away seemed to be the most bitter of all things that had troubled her.
Emma turned around and started walking not caring anymore about the stilettos which twisted her feet more than once. As she carelessly made her way through the Houston Street, a gentle shower of fine fragile flakes kissed her skin. It was the season’s first snowfall.
It reminded her of George who desired to play with it and wished it would happen faster. He knew he was dying. A deep sense of guilt haunted her for having called him a baldie, a man who was not defeated, even by the idea of death. His dreams and desires seemed so intimate to Emma now that she wanted to meet all those noble writers and mourn the death of their biggest admirer. She did not know about how close her bonding with George was, but knowing a man like him tranquilized her. It appeared to her that he had been alive just to take her worries away, to share her burden of a haunting past, to inspire her to move over the sad incident.
New York was exuding jubilance. The tantalizing ecstasy to step into a New Year celebrating and enjoying was amplified with the fall of flakes. Amidst all these fancy, Emma walked quietly towards her home with a pain whose dimensions were infinite.
Suzanne had been out for celebrating with her friend. Emma entered into her cozy little room, changed into warm clothes and had the little broth left over from lunch. After dinner, she took out her guitar. A dusty layer had enveloped itself on the instrument, which had been declared useless by Emma after the incident. She wiped the dust off it and placed it beside herself under the quilt. She plucked a string or two, not leading to anything melodious, but an indication of good things approaching with the arrival of a New Year.
She lit a cigarette. Just when she was about to take a puff, her hands froze and the tip of the smoulder landed in the ashtray placed next to her. A smile, a mild one, appeared on her face as she saw through the window the snow falling on her garden.
The snow must have formed a foliage of flakes on George’s grave too!