No one else saw him. Or, if they did, they took no notice. It was December 23 and there he was in a corner of the Sylvia Park forecourt: a very old, wraith-like figure. He was wearing a white kaftan with a faded, embroidered coat hanging over it. What struck me first were his piercing eyes, taking in the scene around him. I stopped to see what he was observing.
Some people were rushing empty handed into the mall. A short time later the same people rushed out again clutching any number of parcels – that anxious look only partly relieved. In the middle of the forecourt was Santa beaming cheer and goodwill. Young children were lining up to tell him their wishes. Older ones were busily instructing their parents what model PlayStation they wanted or what brand of clothing. Partners were wandering in chatting together and even more contentedly walking out, arms full of tokens of each other’s love. All ages and stages were responding to the blazing messages that it was “Christmas time”, with the barely hidden subtext that Christmas meant spending large.
As I turned back to my old man there were three further things I noticed. He had a long scraggly white beard, a rose scent emanated from him and there was a tear rolling down his cheek.
“Are you okay” I asked.
He looked me in the eye. “Come with me” he said. “You just need to shut your eyes and count to 10.”
When I opened my eyes, we were standing outside a double garage. Four small children were chatting excitedly to their mother who was standing in the open doorway. Looking past her I could see that this was their home.
“Look, Mum,” the children’s words tumbled over one another. “This old man gave us these things for Christmas, a pile of fruit, some meat; veges, 10 little presents – we counted them.”
A worried look crossed her face. “Don’t worry Mum. The old man told us to tell you he was sent by God and that you would understand.”
After a slight pause, she nodded. “Well then. You better go to our neighbours in the garage down the road and invite them to join us tomorrow for an early Christmas lunch.” The kids ran off in excitement.
I turned to my friend: “It was you?”
His eyes twinkled. “Bringing hope to the needy was what my whole life was about – 1700 years ago. So many people were desperately poor. When I heard that people were still keeping my memory alive, I wanted to come back and see what was happening.”
“And your name?” I asked.
“Nicolas. Or simply Claus. Later on some people called me St Nicholas and others knew me as Santa Claus”.