As the train pulled out of the station, Tariq Abrouhaim and his wife walked out into the steadily falling rain of an English night and headed to the bright lights that indicated the town centre.
His wife pulled her hijab a little further forward to prevent the blowing rain from drenching her as they carried all their worldly possessions in an old grey suitcase that had long lost its wheels and a little backpack. Following their journey from the country they used to call home this was all they had to show for months of uncertainty, extreme danger and unscrupulous gangs of men trying to take every last thing they owned. The money so carefully saved and protected had finally run out and this railway station had become the last on the line for them.
But even though it was a strange culture here in the UK and so cold with the rain that seemed to squeeze through every piece of clothing at least there was no constant roar of jet planes dropping their lethal cargo of explosives on unsuspecting innocents below. At least you could not hear the abrupt chatter of automatic weapons rising and falling all day and night long. Here, there were no dead people lying in the gutter with their bodies smashed beyond recognition as people scuttled past averting their eyes from a sight that still no one could get used to despite the years of war.
So where could they get help at this time of night especially on Christmas Eve? By now they had arrived at the centre of the town and the only reasonable place offering shelter at this late hour seemed to be the large porch of what they took to be a church building. They took some shawls out of their suitcase and lay down snuggling together to keep warm and waited for morning to come, along with the rumbles of their own stomachs which would be calling out for sustenance.
However, before they could fall into a troubled sleep, people started arriving at the church door which was apparently open. The people entering the church were looking forward to their midnight service with the warm cosy feelings that come with comfortable routine, favourite carols and familiar words that are read every year but perhaps never really understood. Tariq and his wife squeezed themselves back out of the way of the gathering worshippers but could not help but notice the angry looks from those hurrying to get out of the rain. It seemed that those looks spoke of resentment at two people daring to break into the comfortable routine of attending their church service. Some of those entering glared at Tariq’s wife and especially the hijab that she had drawn tightly to her and one even muttered about the threats of Muslim people in our safe English neighbourhood. The same people who rushed in for their moment of worship then seemed to rush back out an hour later this time without a glance at the couple trying to find sleep. A man who was the last to leave, locked the door and told them to make sure they were gone by the time the morning service would start as they might frighten the children who would be coming with their parents. Tariq knew what it was to feel ostracised, rejected by society, a refugee fleeing for his life.
Soon it was Christmas morning and in another part of town a 14 year old girl was wandering along the streets all alone. She was seeing the houses on each the side of the street through her tears as distorted shapes, similar to the way in which she was seeing her own life. A life out of shape, damaged, hurting and seemingly useless because of the violence and abuse to her from her mum’s latest boyfriend. Mum always seemed to side with her boyfriends until the latest one to leave had gone and then she would look to her daughter for comfort while she waited for yet another man to fill the void in her own life.
The Christmas season always seemed to bring out the worst violence in this girl’s short life and no doubt it had something to do with the rapid build up in the recycling bin of empty bottles and cans of booze.
Wet through, with hair plastered down her face and shivering from both fear and cold she sat down on a bench on the street unsure as to what to do next. Would she finally get a call from mum once the alcohol had worn off abruptly telling her she better come home after all? Maybe she would just keep walking but where could she go? Perhaps it was better to end it all and put a final stop to this seeming unending misery. What had gone wrong? Had she done something awful in a past life that God was now punishing her in this life?
Through all the rushed and tangled thoughts going through her mind she finally noticed that she was sitting near a little hall where people seemed to be entering on this Christmas morning. She watched the families as they walked in. Grown ups warmly welcoming one another and excited children seemed to be clutching newly opened toys and gifts and as they all crowded in to what must be a Christmas morning service. There seemed to be so much fun, laughter and warmth among the people as they eagerly made their way into the bright lights of the little building. She even noticed one or two children from her class who must be going to the little church with their parents but not one seemed to notice her such was their eagerness to enjoy their Christmas morning routine.
Once all the people had entered and some music started from within the hall she suddenly felt even more alone as though the whole world had just walked past her gaily talking and chatting among themselves but somehow totally oblivious to her presence. It was just as though she was invisible. She noticed a bright poster on a notice board that said “Put Christ back into Christmas” but it made no sense to her. She couldn’t imagine what that must mean. She got up from the bench, visible but unseen to those who are not looking and walked on into a future that was as bleak as her past.
Two streets away, Arthur stood at the window of his house looking at the people outside through the slowly misting pane of glass. His house was cold and damp because he often forgot to put the heating on. How many months was it since his beloved Ethel died? He was even forgetting that but what he could not ignore was the pain that still tore at his heart despite the months of her passing. That pain began the moment they told him that Ethel had unexpectedly passed away in the hospital and he was not even beside her. He would never forgive himself that after 60 years together; he had not been at her side when she needed him the most. The sudden change in his circumstances meant that he did what most old people do when such things happen. He just found it best to keep himself to himself.
Apparently it was Christmas Day but he couldn’t find the energy to do anything different today and for lunch he would finish off the chicken pie and peas that he had cooked yesterday. Through the wall of his semi, he could hear the laughter and shouts of the family next door enjoying all their festivities as they opened up their gifts. He did not even have a gift for himself although last year he had decided to buy and wrap a gift and write a card to himself but it all seemed so much more pointless this year. He didn’t know but a deep depression had settled on his mind and the tragic effect of such an illness is that he wanted to see people even less as well as feeling totally useless as a person.
A particularly loud shout that came through the party wall brought his thoughts back to the family next door. They were alright as families go. Perhaps a bit religious, sort of do gooders and always putting leaflets through his letterbox informing him of some gospel event. They would chat with him if they met when bringing in the wheelie bins or something like that but they always seemed a bit too busy to really want to stop and engage and they seemed to lose interest in him when he declined to go to their church services.
He turned away from the window, once again feeling the sharp pain of the loss of Ethel and he suppressed half a sob as his loneliness welled up within him. He wondered why he bothered to keep living really. He was of no value or interest to anyone it seemed. The world although so full of people could be such a lonely place. What were the words on the front of the leaflet that came through the door? Glad tidings of joy. As far as Arthur was concerned, spending Christmas Day on your own, alone with the memories of your dear one who had been snatched away from him was no tidings of joy. Where was God now and what could church offer when it seemed to be just a provider of religious services or a cosy club? Oh, what would it be like to be accepted, included and appreciated for who he was with all the doubt and sorrow he was carrying without being made to conform. He just wanted someone to be a friend, anyone, who accepted him as he was but he felt so old and unable to go out and find someone to befriend.
34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. 36 I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’
37 “Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? 39 When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’
40 “And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters,[f] you were doing it to me!’