By Kristen Phang, Junior 2 Cempaka, Class of 2016
|Photo Courtesy of Google Images
I don’t remember much about my hometown, nor my memories of living there. Justifiably, I was only six. Ironically, all I could remember was the day I left with with my father to Cambridge where he was due to teach. I didn’t mind much, it didn’t seem as if I had much to hold on to, in the sleepy town of Saint Ives. The only memory I had left, the one I would always treasure, was saying goodbye to Ronald, my best friend.
The soft flaky snow floated down like feathers onto the narrow asphalt. It cloaked the adjoined, goose-white cottages, the freezing, black-blue ocean, the frozen boats and the bare, brown branches like a soft blanket covering a sleeping infant in deep sleep. The scintillating, intricate lights that decorate the town were like stars in my eyes. In front of the large, pine tree with round ornaments and colourful ribbons, Ronald, whom I saw for the last time, pointed to it and said he would send me letters and a gift every Christmas until I returned.
The first gift came when I just came home from school. My father had not arrived home yet as he was busy with his work. It had been quite lonely at home, there was nothing to do except study. I felt more comfortable at school that home as I had company there. The gift was in a small parcel with Ronald’s letter. underneath the clumsy brown wrapping that was about to fall off was twelve soldiers. In his letter he told me about the soldiers came into town, escorting a very important guest who was planning to buy the area. Ronald thought the soldiers were amazing and when he saw the toys, he wanted to share his amazement with me. Though I didn’t like the idea he had to pilfer some of the soldiers. He ended his letter with ‘Only eleven more years Mary, till we can play again’. His letters always came and I always smile at them.
The second gift, next Christmas, came when I was coming home from school. Life in school was great! I have made so many new friends and all the girls are kind to me, I thought. The teachers also like me too. Well except for one girl, she just doesn’t seem to like me. I home we can be friends soon. This time, the gift, under the same kind of wrapping, was a collection of eleven cloth-pins that were painted in the figures of women. In his letter he told me of the celebration of their new landlord, organised by the landlord himself. Beautiful women danced in the town, with their skirts flying and arms swaying. It was a beautiful experience, he said. When he saw this, he asked his sister to help him make the present for me. He did think of stealing dolls at the toyshop but seeing my last letter changed his mind. He mentioned once again, ‘Only ten more years Mary, till we can play again.’
This was how the years went by, and each Christmas had its own unique gift to me. I may not remember Ronald as well as I used to but his letters make me feel he’s right next to me. I really needed it as that girl who didn’t like me humiliated me. Everyone was bullying me. He was my comfort and only friend. Each Christmas, Ronald kept reminding me how close we were to meeting each other. Only nine more years, only seven more, six.
When I entered secondary school, I was struggling in school. My teacher liked to tease me and the girls kept telling me that I was not pretty enough, that no boy would love me. My father tried his best to take care of me but his own health was weakening. I felt insecure and useless. When I was 13, he sent me 6 goose eggs and reminded me of the story of the ugly duckling, about how the ugliest creature can become the most beautiful. I laughed and replied to him as soon as I finished the letter, reminding Ronald that the ugly duckling was not a goose but a swan.
As the years went by, I still thought about Ronald, how he looked like and what would happen when I met him again. I would get a rush of euphoria each time I received a letter from him, without realising it till the eighth gift that I had fallen in love with the amiable boy whose face I couldn’t remember. The eighth gift was a collection of five rings painted gold on a string. Ronald wrote that he saw many boys giving rings to the girls they fancied and admitted he had grown feelings towards me. He said that he could not wait to see me again, with only four more years to go. I couldn’t wait too.
When I was 16, my father fell very ill. The stress was too much for him. I spent many days caring for him and skipping school in the process. My father begged me to go but I did not budge as I thought school was torture anyway with my horrible teacher and classmates making my life a misery. On Christmas, Ronald sent me three plump chickens. ‘For chicken soup, to make your father feel better!’ he wrote. I was so grateful to him. But our efforts to help my father were all in vain as he died the next year, two weeks before Christmas.
Stricken with grief, I could not concentrate on my studies despite my major exams being around the corner. I skipped school altogether and did part time jobs to support myself. I could always go back to Saint Ives but I promised my father I would live in the dorms and finish my education. During that Christmas, Ronald sent me a pair of live turtledoves. He wrote that he wished he could be there in person and comfort me. He said the doves were a representation of love. He reminded me once more, ‘Only one year left Mary, till we meet again.’
The next year, when I was 18, I went back to Saint Ives. It felt very strange to me, although the town seemed familiar, I felt like I was there for the first time. I couldn’t wait to see Ronald after twelve years. He said he would give his final gift to me under the same Christmas tree where we said goodbye. When I arrived, I looked around but saw no one. All of a sudden, I heard a gruff voice call out my name and I turned around.
The boy who I had been sending letters to was not like how I imagined him. He was now a tall, lanky kid with a toothy grin, his brown hair flopped over his weary, tired blue eyes. His tattered military clothes barely warmed him in the cold. The two crunches supported him as he tried to maintain standing on his one right leg. Then he smiled and picked up a small cage next to him. Inside was a small bird, a partridge. “Welcome home Mary.”
I was shocked. At first I did not know how to react. He was nothing like I imagined. I should have expected it. He was going through things worse than I was, and the landlord had been giving high taxes which sent many of the villagers into poverty. He had mentioned about being bullied and becoming the main breadwinner of the family when his father died, and how he was drafted into the military. He mentioned how sorry he was for replying late as he spent months on the battlefield. I ran to him and gave him a hug. I don’t care about how he looks, I’m just glad he’s alive and by my side. Even if all we had in those long twelve years are letters and twelve gifts of Christmas.