Friday, 19 December 2014

Santa’s Gifts

Until Boxing Day, I will publish a series of stories I wrote that have a Christmas theme. I wrote ‘Santa’s Gifts’ in October 2012 and it will be part of my third book of short stories that will be sent to the publisher in 2015.

The 1920s was an exciting decade. No one realized that the hard times of the Great Depression in the 1930s were on their way. Lavish new skyscrapers went up, radio was the newest popular invention and electric appliances appeared in people's homes for the first time. In 1921, the population of Toronto was 522,000. But not all those living in Toronto found that year or even that decade to be exciting.

The Thompson brothers were not living the good life in Toronto. Their parents were killed in a fire when Billy Thompson was fifteen years of age and his younger brother Sammy was ten. In 1914, when Billy was seventeen, he joined the Canadian armed forces and spent four years fighting the Germans in Europe before he returned to Canada at the end of the war in 1918. While Billy was serving his country overseas, his younger brother had been living with their aunt and uncle.

When Billy arrived back in Toronto he discovered to his horror that in 1917, his uncle had painted Sammy’s room with leaded paint and while the paint was drying as Sammy was sleeping, he inhaled the deadly paint fumes and the next morning, he was found unconscious.                                                     

Within days, the doctors realized that the paint fumes permanently damaged his brain and he was no longer the bright boy everyone knew. He was now seriously retarded and only had the mental abilities to function as a six-year-old. Billy never forgave his uncle for what he had done to his brother so when Billy got himself a job, he removed his brother from the home for mentally retarded children he had been sent to and brought him into his small flat to live with him.

Eleven years later, just as the Great Depression had begun, Billy lost his job (as did thousands of others in Toronto and elsewhere) and within a month, he and his brother were evicted from the flat for non-payment of rent. Now they (along with thousands of other people in Toronto) were homeless.

In 1930, Billy had found a place where they could sleep. It would protect them from the rain and snow but it wouldn't protect them from the freezing winters. Bill had found a badly worn mattress in a dump and he and his brother carried it to where they were sleeping. When night would come, they went to their newly found abode and would sleep on the mattress without any blanket to cover them or pillows to lay their heads on.

Their abode was a space under a large concrete loading dock of a warehouse on the western outskirts of Toronto. Where they slept was far enough under the loading dock so no one was aware that two homeless men were sleeping under the loading dock. This was the main reason why they left it before sunrise and returned to it after it got dark. They didn’t want to be evicted from the only place they could sleep. They didn’t have any difficult in finding food to eat. There was a restaurant approximately a mile from the warehouse and there was plenty of food thrown out that they could eat.

The problem that Billy always faced was what to do with his younger retarded brother if Billy was able to find a job. He didn’t want to leave Sammy alone under the loading dock for an entire day but he also didn’t want to take him with him on the job and letting him stay with their aunt and uncle was out of the question. As he saw it, he had no other choice but to have them both continue living as they were from hand to mouth and sleeping under the loading dock.

One cold night in November 1933, Billy woke up after smelling smoke. He looked out past the opening of the dock and saw that the snow was reflecting the flickering of a fire. When he stepped outside, he discovered that there was a fire in the warehouse and the fire was seen through the windows. He went back under the dock and woke up Sammy and together they left the area of the dock. Billy remembered that there was a phone booth next to a construction site that was nearby and because he had a nickel, he was able to call the fire department.

The fire department arrived five minutes later and was successful in putting out the fire before the damage inside the warehouse became extensive. When the firemen and the owner of the warehouse finally left the area, Billy and his brother slipped back under the loading dock and within minutes, they were asleep again.

On December 21st 1933, both men were asleep under the loading dock and eleven at night; Sammy woke up because he needed to go to the portable toilet that was at the construction site a block away so that he could urinate. Just as he was about to walk into the open and the blizzard of snow blowing about, he suddenly saw a large truck backing up to the loading dock. As he hid behind one of the pillars supporting the loading dock he heard one of the men who exited the truck say to another man, “Are you sure that this is the place where all the radios are being stored?” The other man replied, “The sign says Abrahams Warehouse. This is the place.” The first man then said, “Good. Then let’s break into it and steal the shipment of radios and get out of here.” Then Sammy heard nothing more from the mouths of the two men but he did hear glass being broken.

Sammy returned to the mattress and woke up his brother. He then said, “I have to go to the toilet and two men are stealing radios from the warehouse.”

Billy sat up with a start and said softly to his younger brother, “Let’s leave here quietly.”

The two men slipped out of the area under the loading dock and after walking past the unmanned truck, Billy led his brother to the phone booth near the nearby construction site. While they were walking there, Sammy recited word for word what he had heard the other two men saying to one another. When they got to the phone booth, Billy pulled out a nickel and after inserting it, he reached the operator. “Connect me with the police!”

Seconds later, he was connected. Then the man who answered the phone said the following words, “This is the police.”

Billy spoke directly into the mouthpiece. “My name is Billy Thompson and my brother Sammy is going to tell you what he heard a few minutes ago.”

The officer then asked, “Where are you calling from?”

Billy yelled into the mouthpiece, “Just listen to what my brother is saying to you!” Then Billy turned to his brother and said, “Tell the officer what conversations that took place after you woke up.

Sammy began speaking, “Are you sure that this is the place where all the radios are being stored? The sign says Abrahams Warehouse. This is the place. Good. Then let’s break into it and steal the shipment of radios and get out of here. I have to go to the toilet and two men are stealing radios from the warehouse. Let’s leave here quietly.” Then Sammy said rather urgently. “Billy. If don’t go to the toilet right now, I will do it in my pants.”

Billy pushed his brother aside and spoke directly into the mouthpiece. “My brother is retarded and because of this, he misunderstood what I meant when I told him to repeat all the conversations but he is a savant and as such, he remembers everything he hears and sees.”

The officer on the other end of the line said in return, “I understand. Ask your brother if he saw the men?”

Sammy told Billy that he didn’t see the men but he did hear glass being broken. He conveyed that message to the officer.

Billy immediately hung up the phone and said to Sammy. “Go to the toilet right now and get it over with. We have to get under the loading dock before the police arrive otherwise we will be stuck outside in this blizzard.”

As they ran back to the warehouse, they could hear the sounds of police sirens in the distance and then the sounds of the sirens stopped as the police vehicles were approaching the warehouse. Just as the brothers slipped into the area under the loading dock, three police vehicles pulled up to the loading area.

For several minutes they heard yelling and finally they saw the police taking two men towards the police vehicles. A minute later, the vehicles left the area and the two brothers were alone again so they cuddled up to each other for shared body warmth and went back to sleep.

On the 24th at noon, Jacob Abraham was led into the office of the district police Superintendent. As soon as he entered the office, the superintendent said as he motioned Jacob to the chair in front of his desk. “Mister Abraham. Please have a seat. Thank you for coming so promptly.”

When both men were seated in their chairs, the superintendent asked, “Do you know anyone who goes by the name of Billy or Sammy Thompson? The last name could also be spelled T..h.o..m..s..o..n.”

“Well as you can appreciate, Superintendent, I have a great many friends in Toronto and although I know some families whose last names are similar as to how you described them but I don’t know anyone that has Billy, William, Sammy or Samuel as their first names as part of those last names. Why do you ask?” “Apparently two men called the police three nights ago and one of them described what he heard about the break-in. Their first names were Billy and Samuel.”

Jacob paused for a moment and then said, “There are thirty men working in that particular warehouse but none of them have those first names.”

The superintendent opened a file on his desk and then said to Jacob, “What I find most interesting is that the one of the voices that was recorded on the phone last night was the same voice that was recorded earlier in the year when that person was reporting a fire in your warehouse.”

Jacob said, “Obviously whoever that person is, he was close to the building on both occasions and quite honestly, Inspector, I find that most peculiar.”

“As do I, Mister Abraham.”

Jacob continued, “Perhaps it is a homeless man who was sleeping nearby. We have plenty of them everywhere.”

The superintendent thought for a moment and then asked, “Is there anywhere on your property where your warehouse is located where such a person or persons could be sleeping at night, such as a shed?”

Jacob paused in his thinking and then said, “We don’t have a shed on the property however the only place I can think of might be where that person or persons could be sleeping would be under the concrete loading dock.”

The inspector looked in the file and was reading the transcript of the telephone calls made by the persons making the call and suddenly his eyes lit up. He exclaimed,

“One of the men said that his brother told him that he heard glass breaking. This means that he had to be very close to the building. Yes. Under the loading dock could be the area where they are sleeping at night.” The inspector then called out to an officer standing next to the Inspector’s office. “Wilson! Come in here!”

When the officer entered the office, the inspector said, “Sergeant. Take four men with you and arrest anyone you find under the concrete loading dock of the Abrahams Warehouse and bring them here.”

Fifteen minutes later, the five police officers arrived at the warehouse and they began searching the area under the loading dock. It was then that they saw Billy and Sammy lying on the mattress. One of the officers tried to rouse them but he was unsuccessful.”

“Are they dead?” asked the sergeant.

The officer replied, “I don’t think so but they are definitely unconscious.”

“Get them out of there!” The sergeant then addressed his words to the man next to him.   “Johnston, go in there and help him remove the unconscious men.” Then the sergeant spoke to another officer standing nearby and said to him, “Go into the warehouse and call an ambulance.   These two men could be freezing to death.”

The day before Christmas is a happy day for most people especially for the children who are expecting a certain person to drop by later that night while they are asleep. One person who wasn’t expecting anyone to drop by was Sammy Thompson. When he finally woke up after nearly freezing to death three days earlier, he saw an old white bearded man in a red suit. Sammy exclaimed, “Santa! You really are for real.”

The old man smiled and said, “I have brought some presents for you and your brother.” He pulled the packages out of a large cloth bag and placed them at the foot of each bed. “They are warm clothes and warm jackets for both of you.”

The old man looked at the nurse standing next to him and asked, “How is the other gentleman?”

The nurse replied, “I think he is OK, Mister Abrahams. He woke up earlier several hours ago and asked how his brother was.”

 “Fine! Fine! See that they get the best of care while they are in the hospital.”

The nurse smiled and replied, “When we learned that you are a member of the board of directors of the hospital and that you were paying for their hospitalization out of your own pocket, everyone on staff was more than happy to make sure that these two men got the best of care any patient in this hospital could ever ask for.”

“When do you think they can be released?”

“They are well enough to be released tomorrow but Sir, I believe that they are homeless. Do you really want to have us release them onto the street on Christmas Day?”

“I assure you, Nurse Randall that they won’t be released onto the street. Leave their future to me. Meanwhile, I am now going to the sick children’s hospital and play my annual role as Santa Clause with them.”

“Bless you Sir.”

 “Merry Christmas, Nurse Randall.” Then he smiled at Sammy and waved his hand at him and turned and left the room with a big smile on his face.

Snow had covered the ground overnight but Christmas morning was sunny by the time Sammy and his brother Billy had woken up. They were given a warm breakfast and after breakfast, the doctor who had cared for them entered the room and said, “Gentlemen. Good morning to you and Merry Christmas.”

Both men didn’t look all that happy considering the fact that they knew that soon they would be leaving the warmth of their room and heading back out into the cold weather that was waiting for them.”

The doctor then said, “You will be leaving the hospital today but you are going to be the guests of one of the directors of our hospital. He has arranged for his car to take you to his home.”

The two men looked at each other with surprised looks on their faces and while they were getting dressed in their new clothes, Billy asked his brother, “Did you see who brought us these clothes?”

Sammy smiled and replied, “It was Santa Claus.”

Billy replied, “Yeah, sure it was.”

“It was Santa. I saw him last night when he entered our room. He even spoke to me when he told me about the new clothes and sleeping bags he brought us.”

While the two men were being driven into the posh area of Forest Hill in central Toronto, their eyes widened at what they were seeing. They had never seen homes in the Forest Hill area of Toronto before. Finally, the limousine they were in was driving up a winding driveway towards a beautiful house. When they reached the door, a man of about fifty opened the door and as soon as Sammy saw the face of the man and heard him say, “Welcome to my home.” he cried out. “Santa! It’s you.”

Jacob looked puzzled and asked, “How did you know it was me that visited you last night?”

Billy responded to the question by saying, “Although my brother is retarded, he has the uncanny ability to remember everything he sees and everything he hears. I guess he remembers the features of your face and the tone of your voice.”

“That is indeed a magnificent gift, you have, Sammy.” Then he smiled and said,  “Gentlemen. Please come in.”

The two men joined Jacob’s family and had a sumptuous turkey dinner with all the trimmings. There were also other gifts for them, including a watch for each of them.

For a week, they stayed with Jacob’s family and right after New Years Day, Jacob asked his two guests to join him in his study.

“I know that you have been sleeping under the concrete loading dock of my warehouse but I don’t want you sleeping under that dock anymore.”

“But Sir,” began Billy, “it’s the only place we could find where we are protected from the rain and the snow.”

“Billy.” began Jacob. “You and Sammy are going to sleep inside the warehouse where it is warm. For the past week, I have had carpenters build a two-bedroom apartment in the corner of the warehouse for both of you to live in. It is completely furnished. You won’t have to worry about food because, Billy, I am going to hire you as a security guard in my warehouse and Sammy, I will hire you as a floor sweeper in my warehouse.”

Jacob kept his word and the two men spent seven years living in the apartment which also included two bedrooms, a bathroom, a kitchen and living room. Then in 1939, just after Canada declared war on Germany, Billy married a woman he had fallen in love with and with Jacob’s help, Billy and his wife were able to buy a four-bedroom home. Sammy had his own room in the home he shared with his brother and his brother’s family.

Every Christmas, Jacob and his family had Christmas dinner at Billy’s home and every New Years day, Billy, his brother and Billy’s family had their New Year’s day dinner at the Jacob’s home.
Emerson said it best when he said; “Nature magically suits a man to his fortunes by making them the fruit of his character.”



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