Christmas morning dawned a bit chilly, although sunny. Don Enrique bundled up, as usual, more than usual, to go downstairs to get the newspaper and bread for breakfast: undershirt, micro-cropped shirt, wool sweater, thick cloth coat, gloves and scarf. More than enough, no matter how wintry it is on the Mediterranean coast. As he was about to leave the house, the voice of Carmelina, his late wife, resounded inside him:
-The cap, Enrique, because all the heat from your body goes through your head!
Despite the fact that he was not cold and always came home sweating, Don Enrique shrugged his shoulders, returned to the coat rack on which hung his gray plaid English cap, pulled it on and closed the door behind him.
Don Enrique was widowed last summer. The coronavirus ended the life of Carmelina, who was heart-sick, after 43 years of happy coexistence. Continuing to obey her advice was a way to continue to feel her close, to honor her memory.
As she was very cold, Enrique kept turning the heating up one degree higher than his body demanded and did not dare set foot on the floor without his sheepskin slippers. This obligation had caused him more than one annoyance when, plagued by his prostate problems, in the dark of night, the slippers disappeared from the usual radius of action. Until he found them with his fingertips and put them on, he would not get up, no matter how urgent the matter was.
The absence of his wife had greatly affected his character. He used to be an affable and attentive person, but, since his misfortune, he had become surly and, at times, even rude.
On the way to the kiosk where he bought his newspaper every morning, Don Enrique was thinking about last night's dinner. It is true that all his children and grandchildren were there, it is true that the dinner was good, but he did not feel like celebrating anything that year and he found his sons-in-law's jokes less funny than any other. To make matters worse, little Aitana threw up on his jacket when her mother put her in his arms to take the picture with grandpa and upload it to Facebook. That smell of sour milk wouldn't leave his pituitary! She was left with the consolation that, after Christmas Eve, the Christmas festivities are gradually descending in intensity until people seem to come to their senses at the beginning of January.
-Hello Juan, good morning.
-Good morning, Don Enrique, Merry Christmas!
-Yes, yes, Merry Christmas again, you told me that yesterday. Come on, cut the crap and give me the paper.
-But what newspaper, Don Enrique, didn't I remind you yesterday that on Christmas Day there are no paper newspapers. You will have to read it on the Internet.
-Internet for you and your bitch... I'm going to shut up.
-Okay, okay, Don Enrique, don't get angry. Take a magazine with you today, if you want. I have some very good ones here: look at this one on history, this one on science, this one on celebrities, this one...
Among the wide range of magazines on display, Don Enrique noticed one with an image of an Egyptian hieroglyphic on the cover. He had always liked archeology and it seemed the least bad option to replace his traditional morning reading.
-Thank you, my friend, and Merry Christmas! -the newsboy wished him as he handed him back his change.
-And Christmas! It's already... it's already over. Now, if anything, wish me a happy new year.
-Well, Don Enrique, today is Christmas, so we can still say it.
-Okay, okay, you're a pain in the ass! There you go," he said goodbye with a face of few friends, the same face with which he entered the nearby bakery.
-Merry Christmas, neighbor, what a bad face you have today. Was the turkey bad for you last night? -said Puri, the sales clerk, jocularly.
-What a mania to wish Merry Christmas after Christmas Eve! -replied the pensioner. Yes, it has already been Christmas, we have already eaten ham and nougat, we have already sung Christmas carols, and those of us who are still alive have been together. What more do you want?
-Well, they say Merry Christmas, but I'm not sure why. My boss tells me to treat customers well at this time of the year, which is when he makes the most money of the year.
-Come on, give me my bread soon, otherwise there will be a queue, and then your boss will scold you for entertaining customers.
Back at home, while he was having his morning coffee and toast with oil and garlic, Don Enrique opened the magazine because of the hieroglyphics report. It turned out that it had nothing to do with archaeology, but was one of those magazines about parapsychology and mysteries, and explained how the ancient Egyptians deciphered minds. It seems that, according to alleged studies by an Israeli university, they were able to read thoughts through the musicality of the sentences of their interlocutors. Supposedly, our brain is prepared to emit and receive through oral language, much more information than, in principle, we are aware of. Encrypted, below the words, depending on the intonation of the speaker, each of us is capable of emitting a series of waves outside the audible spectrum, which contain much more information than we would like to share. In other words, human beings, in origin, cannot lie, and language, as we know it today, would be a way of manipulating communication, masking it with loud sounds to prevent others from knowing what we really think. Scientists thought that this was, in fact, the great rupture of humanity that the oral tradition transmitted for millennia and that would later crystallize in the stories of Adam and Eve in Genesis. The first sin would be none other than the lie, the lack of communication between man and his fellow man, the barrier that separated humanity and broke the primordial harmony in which we were created.
That string of pseudo-scientific tales, together with the fact that he had been up all night, led the old man to fall into a stupor from which he only woke up after the phone rang.
-Mmm. Hello," he answered sleepily.
-Dad, Merry Christmas, how are you? (if he tells me he won't stay with the kids, he'll go to put the washing machine on and iron for who knows who).
The sensation of the answer was the strangest. Along with his daughter's voice asking him how he was, Don Enrique did not hear, but "felt" another superimposed sentence in which she threatened not to do his laundry if he did not take care of his grandchildren.
-Good morning, daughter. Yes, I'll stay with the children, but don't be like that!
-What do you mean, "Don't put me like that, Dad? And how do you know I'm calling to ask you to stay as a babysitter (thank goodness she said yes, because my mother-in-law's option makes me sick).
But what do you say about your mother-in-law if she's a sweetheart? Go on, bring them here, I can't wait to see them.
Of course she's a sweetheart, Dad. What's that all about? Who said otherwise (I didn't say anything about my mother-in-law, did I? Last night I drank more wine than I should have and my tongue gets loose...) Are you staying with the kids then? Are you sure you're all right? You look strange...
-Come on, come on, yes, I'm fine. I'm waiting for you.
They both hung up the phone with the feeling of having experienced one of the strangest calls of their lives.
Half an hour later, her daughter Carmeli appeared with her two offspring, Pablito, 10, and Aitana, 2. The eldest immediately jumped on her neck:
-(I love coming to your house because you let us eat everything my mother forbids us to eat and I steal the coins that fall out of your pants and stay under the cushion of your armchair).
-Hello Pablo, I think it's great," said the grandfather, affectionate and surprised by the attack of sincerity.
-I'm sorry, Dad," apologizes Carmeli, "it's an appointment with my husband's work and the nanny called us this morning to tell us that his parents have tested positive and she couldn't come. (It's better, because this way I save a little money and, to tell the truth, I'll be more relaxed with him than with that little girl. By the way, what a garlic smell, how can I say it without offending him?)
-Good morning, daughter, I'm not offended. I'm alone at home and I don't bother anyone with my garlic rubbed on my bread.
-Ah... I was just going to tell you, how good your house smells of Mediterranean diet (jeez, did I say that out loud? I'm not tasting last night's wine again). We will be back soon. Aitana has her potito in her bag (it sucks industrial food, I know, I wouldn't eat it; but where do I find the time to make her a homemade stew).
-She said goodbye, and finished bringing the cart in which little Aitana was sleeping into the house.
Seeing the esoteric magazine on the table, he began to connect the dots between the origin of these voices and the supposed human ability to decipher what others think; and he decided to continue testing it.
-Well, Pablito, what do you want to do today? Do you want to go for a walk?
-Of course, Grandpa, whatever you say," the grandson pleased him audibly, although the phrase was coded: (what a drag to go out with Grandpa and his sister to watch the ducks, what I want to do is lie on the couch and watch cartoons).
At the grandson's more than sincere response, Don Enrique's eyes widened enormously and he smiled as he confirmed that he still possessed that primitive gift that the report spoke of, to "listen" to the truth that others hide. So, neither short nor lazy, he decided to go out into the street to continue investigating how far he was capable of guessing thoughts.
-Well, come on, Pablo, don't take off your coat, we're leaving, and don't worry, it will only be for a while and I'll make it up to you by buying you some sweets.
There's no need, Grandpa, I already ate a lot last night (if I pretend not to be interested, they buy me the most expensive knick-knacks. It always works).
The old man repressed his laughter as best he could when he heard his grandson's coded answer as he took the cart with the little girl and closed the door of his house behind him.
When he reached the doorway, he passed Paco, the neighbor in the room, who greeted him cordially:
-Merry Christmas, Enrique (I'm going to be nice to him and his grandchildren to see if he forgets that I still owe him the lottery that we bought half and didn't win). What two handsome children you have with you. How well accompanied you are!
-Oh Paco, Paco. I thought you were absent-minded, but it seems to me that what you are is a bit clingy and a ball," he answered while he pinched the cheeks of his astonished face in response to that answer. Let's see when you pay me the 10 euros you owe me.
Pablito looked at his grandfather with a strange look on his face, as he went out into the street with a smile that was unusual for him lately, while he looked around for people to chat with. On his way to the park, the chestnut seller greeted him from afar:
-(Let's see if the old man with the grandchildren will buy me something, I haven't had a single customer all morning).
To which Don Enrique responded by standing in front of her, looking her up and down and saying: "Old me? You're old and the chestnuts you sell are old!", after which he continued on his way as if nothing had happened.
As he passed in front of the parish church, he saw Andrew, the young priest whom he had not seen since his wife's funeral. So he approached him to continue testing his new powers.
-Merry Christmas, Don Enrique," greeted the parish priest.
Puzzled that he had heard nothing more than those four words, the old man replied:
-Merry Christmas... and what else?
-Merry Christmas and that's all, is that not enough?
-Well, you see, people say Merry Christmas, but in reality they say it just for the sake of saying it. Some just want to be nice, others want to take advantage of the commercial pull of Christmas, of the good feelings... What do you gain by congratulating me, because, besides, Christmas Eve is already over?
-Hahaha. It's true that Christmas is used a lot to sell smoke, and that's why many find it an empty holiday, but its meaning is very deep. When I say Merry ChristmasI mean Merry Christmas.
As he said those words for the second time, Don Enrique felt a great emotion, like a pleasant shiver that ran down his spine and a tingling that tickled his temples. A lot of ideas from the priest's mind then flooded his heart:
(Say Merry Christmas, Don Enrique, is to wish all the best. I know. I know it is hard to learn to live without the one who has been everything in our lives, I know the mind rebels against God whom we blame for taking away the people we love. But Christmas is the answer to that grumpiness, for not only is God not cruel for allowing death, but He has decided to come Himself in person to conquer it and free us from it. By becoming a child at Christmas, He is putting Himself in our place, taking on our pain, our suffering... And opening heaven to us so that we can all meet again, one day, with Him who is all love and with all our loved ones. And that is why we do not say it only for Christmas Eve, but from today until well into January, because Christmas is so great that we have to celebrate it for weeks and congratulate ourselves for it. I know it is difficult to say all this here, in the middle of the street and in just two words, Don Enrique, but how I would like you to understand all that it means to say Merry Christmas,)
Don Enrique received, overwhelmed by its depth, the priest's message. It is true," he reflected, "that the death of his wife had embittered his existence and that he thought that God, if He existed, would be a monster for having taken her away. And it is true that, if Christmas is only the feast of consumption and being together, it loses its charm when there is no money or health or when there are no people we love. But if we look at it in its true sense, if we are sincere when we celebrate it, it is a reason to be truly joyful, not just one day, but many.
The conversation had awakened little Aitana, who was waking up in her overalls. When she realized that she was next to her grandfather and saw the Christmas decorations outside the temple, she gave him the best of smiles and, with her half tongue, let out an affectionate "Felí Navidá" in which the grandfather deciphered that she was saying without saying: (I like to look at you and listen to you, I like to be with you and that you tell me stories and take me to see the ducks. I miss grandma, but being with you I forget that she is not here, I love you more grandpa!)
-Very good, little one, you seem to have understood," replied the young parish priest, giving the little girl a little hug. Merry Christmas! You see, what two beautiful words, Grandpa?
-Two words, yes," replied the old man, "but what two dense words. Thank you for explaining them a little better.
-Thanks to you, if I have hardly said anything....
On his way home from the walk, Don Enrique fed his grandchildren and sent them to take a nap on the sofa. While he was watching the news on TV, and still reflecting on the priest's words, he dozed off and the phone rang:
-Mmm, hello," replied the old man sleepily.
-Dad, good morning, how are you?
-Well, here I am a bit surprised. But what do you mean, good morning, good afternoon?
-No dad, it's 11 o'clock in the morning, did you not sleep well because of the dinner? Well, anyway, I'll call you to see if you can stay with the children, I'm having lunch with my husband's work...
Don Enrique looked at the sofa and it was empty, there was no trace of his grandchildren's visit, and on the table were the remains of the breakfast he had been eating while reading the magazine. His daughter was calling him now to ask him to stay with the children because, in reality, they had never been there. He understood that his last hours, his ability to decipher minds, his conversation with the neighbor, with the one with the chestnuts, with the priest... all that had been just an amusing dream, albeit a very revealing one.
-Yes, daughter, yes, bring them here, I'm looking forward to seeing them. And here they will be better than with any nanny, right? And better than with your mother-in-law! hahaha
-Of course, dad, as with you, with nobody. Thanks, I'll be there in a while.
-You're welcome, daughter, you're welcome. And Merry Christmas!
-That's right, Dad...", replied the daughter strangely, "Merry Christmas!
When he hung up the phone, Don Enrique got up and, without putting on his slippers, went to the heating panel and turned it down one degree. He then took the portrait of his wife whose frame presided over the sideboard, kissed it and whispered affectionately: Merry Christmas Carmelina!
Instantly, his wife's reply resounded inside him: "Merry Christmas to you too, Enrique (but just know that you're going to be cold!)".
Journalist. Graduate in Communication Sciences and Bachelor in Religious Sciences. He works in the Diocesan Delegation of Media in Malaga. His numerous "threads" on Twitter about faith and daily life have a great popularity.