Christmas means many things to many people. For some it's a profound holy day. For others it's a day of gift giving, or just another day. Still others have learned to revere the holiday and what it stands for through other ways and means.
Such is the story showcased here today. White Christmas, by Simon Garte, tells the story of a soldier at war, raised an atheist and what changed it all for him.
It was not a white Christmas that year. At least not for him. He was in a land that had never seen snow. Rain, yes - lots of rain. But no snow. In fact it was raining that Christmas morning. He was sitting by himself in the rain. Alone. The camp was almost empty. He had volunteered to stay since he wasn’t a Christian.
And also Snake eyes had asked him to stay. That weird thing had happened two days earlier, when he had been sitting alone in the rain, just like now. Snake eyes had come up to him and started talking. Snake eyes hated him, so that was already weird.
“Hey man” Snake eyes said.
“I need a stabber for Christmas.”
He looked up at Snake eyes dark, inscrutable face.
“Me?” He asked.
“Yeah you. Abdul can’t make it and all the other brothers and crackers are going to that thing down river. But I figgered, you bein a atheist or a Jew, or whatever the f-ck you are, maybe you want to do it.”
He thought about it. He had never done this before, never been asked to.
“OK” he said.
Now he was waiting in the rain for Snake eyes. “It’s Christmas” he thought to himself. His father, a committed atheist, refused to have a tree or any decorations in the house. The family had always exchanged presents on New Year’s day. Christmas meant nothing to him.
An hour later, he and Snake eyes were walking north on the trail. They were soldiers, and there was a war, but they were not fighting. They hadn’t been fighting for months. There was no point to it.
When they got to a place that Snake eyes recognized, he pointed into the jungle, and the white boy left the trail. He found himself a position with a good sight of the trail and Snake eyes. He rested the M1 on a branch, and settled down to wait. The rain stopped and then started again. Snake eyes was sitting in the mud of the trail.
The two kids in black pajamas came down the trail smiling and laughing. They were the “enemy”, but had been doing business with the platoon for a long time. One of them carried a large sack, the other an old rifle of some kind. The kid with the rifle went into the jungle on the opposite side of the trail from where the white soldier was crouched, and that left Snake eyes and the kid with the sack standing on the trail. Snake eyes started talking to the kid. They were smiling and laughing. At first. But then the kid started saying something that Snake eyes didn’t seem to like. Snake eyes began raising his voice, and the words came through the thick jungle to him sitting with his M1.
“That’s bulls-it, man. That is bulls-it. What the fu-k are you saying?”
The kid answered, but too quietly to be heard. Finally he shook his head, and put down the sack. Snake eyes reached behind him and took out a small stack of bills from his rucksack. The kid took the money and then grabbed the bag and began running.
“Fu-k”, shouted Snake eyes, “shoot the mother.”
He raised the M1 and fired a round which went wild, and then he saw that Snake eyes was down.
“Snake eyes”. He yelled. No response. Except for the rain it was quiet. He scanned the jungle on the opposite side of the trail, and saw nothing, but lay down a lot of fire. Then he ran to the trail. Snake eyes was alive, but there was a hole in his chest and blood was mixing with mud all over.
“Fu-k it man. Its Christmas, I don wanna die on Christmas.”
And then he did.
The white soldier tried carrying the body back, but only got a few yards. He dragged the body into the jungle a couple of feet, and then headed down the trail. His mind was blank. At the camp, he went into his tent and lay down. The chopper had not returned from the party yet, and he still had a couple of hours of solitude left.
The angel appeared as a dark haired, blue eyed young girl of about fifteen. She was dressed in pure white, and she stood in the center of the tent. He knew it was a dream. The angel spoke in a foreign language, but he understood it, as if he were reading the subtitles at a foreign movie. She said this to him,
“Your sufferings will be intense, but the Lord loves you. Never forget this.”
Many decades later, he had forgotten those intense sufferings, but he never forgot the dream of the angel standing in white in his tent on that Christmas day.
His white Christmas.
Simon Garte has published non-fiction and also writes fiction. He's a marvelous storyteller. Simon is a New Yorker currently living on the East Coast.