Christmas day started just like any other year. Family preparing for our day out. Except this Christmas, Ma had other plans. She got up early to cook. Variety of meats in large pots, boiling away as I made my coffee. I tried to stay out of her way, making my coffee with a ninja like reflexes.
But it was too late.
“Brinda, start chopping the carrots” she gestured with a large knife.
I sighed loudly, “Ma, I just made coffee. And are we not going camping like we always do?”
Ma looked up at me with sadness in her eyes. Ever since the start of December, she’s been harping on about living on borrowed time and that we must cherish every moment. As Christmas day drew closer, the more frenzied she became. Often looking at me like she is now.
I shook my head, forcing the tears I felt coming, back down. Something was coming and I don’t know what. Ma isn’t sharing. My father was his usual self. Distant and brooding. I caught him talking to himself. My name on his lips.
“No, drink it and come help me” she continued chopping cabbage. Her neck and shoulders hunched over.
I studied her for a second. Her curly grey hair hangs lifeless on her shoulders. Face bleak and void of the smile that greeted friend and foe. Stylishly dressed even though she is a stay-at-home mom, now she wears a dirty tracksuit. For a fourth time this week.
Every year around Christmas, we go camping. Never at home. Now the house looks like Santa Claus threw up all over our house. Stockings hang on the fireplace, a fireplace we didn’t have three days ago. A large tree to the left, only one gift underneath it. Lights decorate the walls and the staircase leading up to the second floor of our tiny house.
I am the youngest of seven children. Born on Christmas day. A double joy and gift. But it never felt like that. To me it seems my family avoided Christmas at all costs. Often only wishing me the next day. This year it appears Ma is hell bent on acknowledging the holiday and my birth.
If I’m being honest, the whole thing fills me with dread. I tried to finish my coffee on the couch, directly in front of the tree but I could feel it watching me, judging me. So, I got up, pass the kitchen and headed to the backyard.
My eldest sister lounged next to the dirty swimming pool. Her golden skin a constant reminder of how different I am from them. My sisters are beautiful. Everyone says so. And when I’m mentioned people murmur and shake their heads.
“Shouldn’t you help Ma, instead of just lounging around?” I asked her, unable to keep the resentment from my voice.
She doesn’t deserve it; I know. But this whole day is messing with me. I long for the camping grounds of Juan Peak. To hear the waves crashing over the rocks. That’s our tradition. Cooking by the fire, no fancy meats and overrated fine china plates.
Bree turned to me, “I volunteered for washing the dishes. So, I’ve got time. But you don’t,”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Enough Bree” my father’s voice echoed out.
I turn to him, his eyes cold. I open my mouth to ask him what’s wrong, but he’s turned his back on me. More than once. Out of everyone in the house, my father was the only one who understood me. Now he can barely look at me.
Filled with dread, I turned back to the kitchen to help Ma with the veggies.
By the time lunch was on the table no one wanted to eat. Roast lamb and carrots sat untouched. Assortment of veggies roasted and mashed waited patiently for us to dig in. My sisters, who ate like sailors, sat unmoving. All while avoiding me. Ma had said a prayer, something we’ve never done. It felt foreign and wrong. All of it did. But we kept quiet, indulging Ma. Father just sat staring at me, he wanted to say something, what I do not know. He never got around to saying anything that day.
When I finally worked up the nerve to say something, a loud knock on the front door sounded throughout the house. Ma let go of a breath and got up. From where we sat, we could not make out the person at the door.
My hands clutched the tablecloth as I tall and handsome man came in after Ma. I turned to Pa, but he just glared at his plate. Ma tried to smile at me but her tears she held onto so tightly finally burst through.
“Ma” I reached for her; my hand slapped away by Pa.
He finally looked at the man, “get it over with it and leave my family” he muttered.
Bree frowned at him; the others whispered next to me.
“What’s going on?” I asked.
The tall man untied the button on his long black coat. A coat far too warm for summer. I could have sworn I was snow on his shoulders. Slender hands removed his hat from his head. We all gasped at the pointy ears and bright purple eyes.
“My name is Fredrick. There is no need to fear. We are family,” he said in a voice as soft and smooth as honey.
Bree laughed, “I think not”
Purple eyes stare at her and then back at me, “many years ago we agreed to this arrangement. And it's time to pay up” he lifted his hand for me to take.
Ma did not respond.
Purple eyes continued, “you are a child of Mast. Born to serve him. As have your predecessors. It’s a noble sacrifice child,”
“Please, take me instead,” Ma pleaded with him.
She knew. They all did. No one bothered to share it with me.
“It is not how it works. You know that. It needs to be the one born on this day, on her sixteenth birthday,” purple eyes continued.
“I won’t go” my false bravado only made him smile.
It was a dazzling smile.
“If you do not surrender, your people will suffer the consequences. Your lovely sister will work wonderfully in the brothels of Wiska,” he smirks.
The twins gasped and clutch each other tightly.
“Why? Why all this, why didn’t you tell me?” I threw the questions at Ma.
But it was Pa who answered me, “it’s a life for a life. Our ancestor bedded one of their own. When he found out the girl was pregnant, he killed her. She was sixteen. Born and killed on Christmas day. So, they return to collect one of ours as payment,”
“But that’s not my fault!” I shouted at him.
I was unfair, cruel even to punish me for something that happen way before my own parents were alive. It also made sense. For years my sisters whispered about my untimely birth. How Ma and Pa tried to have a child who would not be born on that day. Just a pity no one thought to prepare me for this.
“Life is rarely fair. It’s how we handle it that makes the difference,” purple eyes tried and failed to calm me.
“And what is it I’ll be doing in… wherever?”
He smirked again, “for you to find out once you there,”
That night as I said my goodbye to my family, I wished we went camping. To spend my last day with them and the traditions we created together. To saviour the feeling of Christmas.
Now as I watch my children play outside, children I do not recall conceiving, I pray none of them is born on Christmas day.