By Alvin Peters
One of the things I had always treasured was a Christmas card that my father gave me from Obadarie’s Department Store. Oba’s, as it was affectionally called, became magical at this time of the year. It was a delightful respite from the chores in preparation of the season. There were the lovely decorations, the delightful music piping through the speakers, the choirs and parang groups joyously lifting the spirits of weary shoppers, the staff in their Santa hats and of course the delightful Nativity scene. It would not be Christmas without it. It was the centrepiece of the department store.
The beautifully sculpted mid-sized replicas, in the mind’s eye of my childhood, seem to move as if in a play. The regal Wise Men with their gifts carried reverently in their hands, the humble shepherds, and a few sheep in tow. There was the strong, kind Joseph and the beautiful Mary. Above them all was a glorious sign held by angels that said “Halleluiah”. It was a wonderous thing to see. It was perfect…well, almost perfect.
“Where was baby Jesus, daddy?” I asked. “That’s an interesting question,” my father said as he held me in his arms. “Where was Jesus?” he said pausing in between the words as he playfully spoke with an air of authority.
He began humming ‘Silent Night’. Impatiently I asked, “Daddy, why Jesus wasn’t at Mr Oba’s Nativity?” My father told me that all was set right on Christmas Eve. Just before closing time, the manager and his family would appear holding the Christ child. He was gently placed in the manger. Then they would sing carols with the employees and wish everyone a happy and holy Christmas.
“Here,” he said, “is the proof that all is good in the world.” He gave me the card that I still carry with me around this time. On the front, there is a picture of the Holy Family and the words ‘Merry Christmas From Obadarie’s’
On the back it said:
The light of the Star gave the Wise Men
Hope, the praises of the Angels gave the Shepherds
Joy, the devotion of Joseph gave him
Strength, and the obedience of Mary gave her
Faith, for Christ has come to grant us all this and the gift of
My father would lean back with a smile and continue humming. Then we all got ready for church.
As I entered the store, I recounted this tale again. I was looking forward to viewing the Nativity. My spirits would be renewed. The reverie this time, however, was cut short.
“Wha happen’ Sherrie?” I heard a woman say. The urgency of her voice shook me out of my trance. “De man jus’ gone mad! He mash up Oba Nativity and start to scatter tings all over de place!”, Sherrie replied ending her account with a loud steups.
I approached the small crowd to observe the damage.
The Nativity was destroyed. Pieces of that lovely scene were everywhere. The wise men were broken. One of the shepherds was missing an arm. A sheep was decapitated. The halleluiah sign was crumpled on the ground.
In the midst of it all, there was a man. He was kneeling amongst the wreckage. His head was bowed. His chest heaving now and again with sobs. He was searching for something whilst spreading the debris. He stopped after a while to wipe away his tears.
Still on his knees, he crawled over and held Joseph and Mary in his arms and closed his eyes. The figures looked on at the scene with faces very much different from us dismayed mortals.
The employees looked shaken. Two of them were crying and the others spoke to each other in hushed, urgent tones, their hands punctuating their distress. One of them simply stared out into the gathering crowd.
The now rising cacophony of voices retelling the story. A few with empathy, others pity and even more with disdain.
“Who’s he?” someone asked.
“Dunno,” someone answered. “Vagrant maybe?”
“Some people always vex wid de world,” one man surmised.
“I hope dey lock him up,” a lady said. “He come jus’ so and spoil people Christmas?”
A few onlookers nodded in agreement. I nodded too.
“Alright everyone, move away please,” I heard the loud, firm but polite orders from one of the three officers who arrived. “Please move away, everyone.”
The crowd retreated albeit slowly. They were still repulsed yet fascinated by the carnage before them.
Between sobs I heard him say, “I have come, Lord.” Then he said more softly. “Why aren’t You here?” He still clung on to Joseph and Mary.
The crowd took several steps back with now hushed voices.
“To do this on Christmas Eve,” said a woman sadly.
“Madness eh have no reason or season,” a man said pleased with his retort.
One officer pulled Joseph and Mary away from his embrace and roughly placed them down. Their countenance never changed.
For a brief moment he tried to hold on to them but then dropped his arms. The other two lifted him up. He was a mixture of sadness, sweat and tears. He looked briefly at me. There was a moment of connection.
Through the broken Nativity I felt keenly my pain and felt his. I did not know what it was but by watching the devastation, my feelings of anger and disappointment turned to confusion and sorrow. I did not want this. And as he looked at me, I quickly looked away. “Where was Jesus, daddy?” I thought.
As the police carried him away, he muttered something… or was he singing? It sounded familiar.
I pulled out that old Obadarie’s card. The wonderful memory of the story that put childish worry to rest. Proof that all is right in the world. Maybe it can help this man.
I approached the third officer and said, “Please give this to him. He needs it more than I do.” The officer looked at the card and then at me. “One of Oba’s cards I see,” he said.
He looked at it again thoughtfully. “They’re one of a kind. Yuh sure?” I nodded. The man held it and looked at me again. This time, I did not look away. For Christ has come to grant us all the gift of peace.
The world moved on. There were things to be done and not much time to do it. I said the prayer at the back of that card as I watched them take the man away. While waiting for my turn to exit, I suddenly remembered the name of the song. I smiled.
As he was taken outside, he said, “Joseph…Mary… look after me too.” Then as the door closed, he sang raggedly, “Sleep… in heavenly peace.”