The Christmas Gift
The snow was falling so lightly that it could only be seen on an outstretched gloved hand. It must have been falling all throughout the night though, because the ice rink had a thin layer of fresh snow covering the it. No one had been there yet that morning. There were no foot prints or any other signs of life. The first person to come to the rink that morning was a young girl of about 16 years old. She was all bundled up, so much so that her dark brown eyes and rosy red nose where the only things exposed to the elements. The fluff ball at the end of her red knit hat bounced up and down as she walked towards the rink. The scarf that matched, kept falling down off of her shoulders. She tossed it behind her every few steps. The look of frustration, because of the mischievous scarf, showed on her face. That frustration instantly went away as soon as she realized she was the only one at the rink. She had the whole place to herself! With an enormous grin on her face, she sat down on the bench alongside the rink and took off her snow boots. She carefully placed her feet in each skate without putting her stocking feet on the ground, avoiding the wet snow that covered the gravel walk way.
Once her skates were on and laced up tight, she glided onto the rink. She went straight out to the middle, carving perfect circles on the clean, clear ice. The only thing she could hear out on the ice was the sound of her skates. It was a perfect morning. She didn't have to worry about the hussle and bussle of the crowds. It was just three days until Christmas and she knew that within 30 minutes, the rink would be crowded with families celebrating the holidays. She soaked up every minute she had to herself.
After skating for a few minutes, she stopped to catch her breath. With no noise coming from her skates, she could just barely make out the sound of music off in the distance. It sounded like an acoustic guitar. Who would be playing a guitar out in the cold way out here? She followed the sound. It was coming from the south end of the ice rink. A man was sitting on a park bench. He had a long beard, the color of the sand she used to play in at her grandparents’ beach house. His hair, the same color as his beard, was pulled back in a short pony tail. As she skated closer, she could see that his guitar case was open and inside was a sign, written on card board. It read “Tis the season to be merry and bright. God bless you.” There were a few quarters scattered on the bottom of the case. The girl wasn't sure, but she believed the man was homeless.
She didn't want the man to think she was spying on him, so she skated back to the middle of the rink. The music of Oh Come All Ye Faithful played from the guitar while she skated. She had hoped for peace and quiet while she was on the rink, but the soft, beautiful music that was coming from the man’s guitar was much more than she’d hoped for. The music was hers, and just hers, for only ten minutes. By the second bar of Silent Night, she could hear the children coming. Soon the screaming, laughing and crying from all the families would drown out the beautiful music and her special time on the ice would be over. She would be back the next morning, she told herself. She hoped the man with the guitar would be back as well.
The man with the guitar was back the next day, and the day after that. The girl had come to look forward to her private skating time even more than she already did. She was pretty sure the man enjoyed his time at the rink too. Why else would he come so early? There was no one else there. Who else was he playing for, unless he just played his music for himself. She thought that could be a possibility, just like she skated for herself and no one else. Still, there was a bond there that she couldn't quite explain. She’d only seen the man for three mornings, never speaking to him, but she felt that he enjoyed watching her skate just as mush as she enjoyed listening to his music.
Today was Christmas. She had come to the rink at her usual time, long before the rest of her family was awake. The man with the guitar was there, just as he had been before. She decided that she was going to talk to the man after her skate and thank him for his music. She didn't have money to give him. She’d spent all of her babysitting money on her family’s Christmas presents, but she felt that she needed to give him something, so he knew he was appreciated.
When the girl finished her morning skate, she took off her skates and quickly slipped on her boots. She walked over to the man on the bench, as quick as she could without slipping on the slick snow. The crunching of snow under her feet almost drowned out the sound of the guitar. As she got closer to him, she noticed that he wasn't wearing much in regards to clothing. He had on a button up shirt with a few holes in the sleeves and khaki slacks. He wore tennis shoes, with a hole in one of the toes. She didn't know how he could sit out there that long and not freeze to death. He stopped playing mid strum as soon as she came up to him.
“Oh, please don’t stop. I didn't want to interrupt you, but I wanted to thank you for your music. I've enjoyed it so much these last few days.” She waited for him to respond. After almost a minute of no one saying anything, she figured she’d leave him alone. He obviously didn't want to have a conversation. She turned to leave just as he finally spoke up.
“You are a very graceful skater. You’re very talented. I can tell how much you love it.” The man quietly strummed his guitar. He played a song unknown to the girl.
“Thank you. Yes, I do love it very much. I especially love it when I have the whole rink to myself, which is why I come out here so early. Why do you come out here so early?” She asked. Her mother always told her she was too nosy and to mind her own business when it came to strangers, but the girl didn't feel like he was a stranger.
“You remind me of my daughter. She used to skate here when she was a kid too. When I saw you the other day, the resemblance was unbelievable. She passed away a few years ago. I guess, watching you skate, made me feel a little closer to her. She loved Christmas music, even when it wasn't Christmas. She thought that when it was played on a guitar, that was the way it should be heard all the time.” The man stopped playing and looked up at the girl for the first time since she’d approached him. His eyes were kind and glistened in the light from the lamp post. She could tell that he had tears in his eyes, but the tears never fell. It made his blue eyes sparkle like diamonds.
“I wanted to make sure you knew how much you are appreciated. I don’t have any money to give you for the days you've played for me, but I can give you something it looks like you could use.” The girl took off her red knit hat and matching scarf and carefully placed them on the bench next to the man. “It’s cold out here. You should bundle up. Merry Christmas, sir.” The girl smiled. The man gave her a gentle smile back.
“Merry Christmas to you too. Thank you for the gift. It’s very kind of you. God bless you.” The girl smiled and turned to walk back to the path. She glanced back when she didn't hear the music begin again, but her eyes had to be playing tricks on her. The man was gone. Had she imagined the whole thing? Of course not. He was real. The music she’d heard was real, but he couldn't have left the park that fast without her noticing. The girl would never know what happened to the man or where he went, but she would always remember the gift of music she was given that Christmas.