It was dark on Christmas-eve by the time I collected the Christmas magazines from the printing press. I had to send them by bus to my hometown, 500 miles away. I was to have made the trip, carrying them myself, but had been compelled to stay back. This would be the first time I won't be home for Christmas. Thoughts of my parents being on their own wracked me. Everyone seemed in a hurry. Somehow, in the big city, I felt forlorn and lonely. As I reached the depot, passengers were boarding the bus, talking animatedly, anticipation writ large on their faces. Scenes of Christmas back home flashed through my mind, the air full with excitement, homes swelling with loved ones. I wished I was home.
A man was loading parcels atop the bus. He wore a worn-out pair of trousers, his torso bare. He was perspiring as he climbed up and down, piling luggage. A small wooden cross dangled around his neck. When he prepared to pick my bundle, I hesitantly asked him if he could secure it well. He offered no response. I wondered if his task was harder than it seemed. Was he a migrant, does he have a family back home? Maybe he, too, yearned to be home for Christmas. Eventually, my curiosity got the better of me. My gentle probing was met with a glare. Later he spoke for the first time, still avoiding eye contact. He too was from my hometown, it turned out. He lived alone here. He was weary. I too am from his place, I told him. He eyed me fleetingly and turned his gaze away. We watched the bus leave. I headed to a tea shop. I watched him finish. He soon sat beside me on the bench. I ordered tea and biscuits. He hesitated, but accepted them. We sat in silence. Words didn't seem necessary. It was time to leave. I offered him a lift. He preferred to walk, he said. As he started to leave, he paused and wished me for Christmas. I then watched his figure fade in the street lights. As I lay awake in the stillness of the night, it comforted me a little that I was not alone in being lonely, after all. A distant church bell announced the arrival of Christmas. Peace that eluded me so far began to gently envelop me.