The gleaming, dark bottle-green Cadillac rolled to a regal, leisurely stop along the opposite curb. The polished, tinted glasses of the car would only succeed in arousing one’s curiosity but fail to abate it. But on that chilly Christmas Eve, everyone went about their hurried last-minute shopping, wrapped against the tight wind that roared across the city streets. No one showed the least bit of interest towards the expensive make or were aware of its vigilant occupant.
Doug was as much as the ‘living legend’ as he was touted to be. At the peak of success, he couldn’t really disagree. Not with every juicy detail of his ‘rags to riches’ story circulating through even the remotest alleys, all thanks to the highly-competent and ever-thirsty media. Sadly, however well-known his humble beginnings and his rise to the top of the ladder were to them, his decline down another ladder was either not important in today’s life or, as hard it is to believe, was simply not known. How the city’s golden son, the billionaire makes his money and who he spends it on, was all the people seemed to be interested in. You could call it an advantage of making it big where you had been born small. And Doug wasn’t complaining.
But maybe, if you asked some older and sharper journalist, he might just pull his brows together and mumble that the playboy billionaire Doug Petrachel might, just might, have been married once a million-light years ago.
Suddenly the the giant oak doors of the ancient brick building across the dimly-lit street burst open. A mixed group of over-excited, giggling children burst out through the doors on to the pavement, completely unmindful to biting wind enveloping them. Such was childhood. Two ladies, with pretty many years between them, laughingly and lovingly managed the chaotic, unruly children from running on to the otherwise busy street.
Trying to be more than what his beating and whoring father had been, one hungry, lonely and terrible winter, ten-year old, white-trash Douglas had sworn to outlive poverty. And he had taken that path with a dogged, single-minded sense of purpose.
And Barbara had understood every single bit of it.
Doug had met Barbara when he was in college. They had met in a cafeteria where Doug had put in many a hour to continue supporting himself through college. She was the first person to see the loner and famed loser for what he really was. A survivor. And admired him for it.
Their friendship was one of oddities. Doug with his parents whom he couldn’t live down, and Barbara having lost hers long before she could create a lasting impression of them in her heart.
One thing had led to another, and what was a simple friendship for two lonely and seeking souls had blossomed into love unaware. Attraction had been repressed mercilessly, and they had continued being the doorway to the deepest parts of each others’ souls, in the fear of losing the only other person they had ever cared about by acting on their hormones.
And then it had been time to part ways.
Standing against the strong wind, the kids laughed and squealed and thoroughly inspected the gifts each had received that evening. The joy was infectious, inciting a smile from every passer-by who happened by. It was Christmas after all. The two ladies stood near, keeping a sharp eye on the kids.
The Caddy silently waited, unobtrusive and unnoticed.
Into a month of a new job in a factory near the city, and as an assistant to a manger in a reputed law-firm within the city, both Doug and Barbara missed the other with a ferocity neither were prepared to deal with.
After the ups and downs, tears and laughter, whispers and kisses, Doug married Barbara.
And two years later, Doug found someone who he could love as much, and more. Cynthia. His beautiful and happy daughter.
The city center clock gong sounded eight times.
Some mothers, a few fathers started arriving. The children squealed and jumped into the arms of their parents. Maybe it was just the merry season, but the pretty picture painted in the cold, dreary and dark evening was a happy, warming one. One by one, the children followed their parents back home. Only a few were still left behind.
The man inside the Caddy waited, expressionless and seemingly untouched by the affecting scene unfurling in front of him.
“What a cold man!”, thought the chauffeur looking through the rear-view mirror.
The combined income of husband-wife had put Doug through business school even as he slowly worked up the staff levels in the factory where he was employed. He had learned to make himself indispensible, and his sharp brain made that easy.
Birth of Cynthia brought about a change in their lives. Happiness multiplied and inadvertently, trying to hold on to the happiness that had always been elusive in his life, made him obsessive.
In a few years, Doug bought out the company that had first employed him. And he carved out a niche for himself as his established company grew by leaps and bounds. He slowly became a force to reckon with. And unmindful to the growing discontent of the family for whom he had been doing this in the first place.
Barbara left him one rainy evening taking Cynthia with her with the divorce papers lying on the kitchen table. They had wanted nothing from him, she had said in a note, only his love and time but now that was probably in the possession of the younger actresses and models he was with.
After the years of a happy marriage, Barbara divorced Doug on the grounds of adultery. She took nothing but a monthly allowance for Cynthia and full custody. And Doug got Saturdays.
After a while, even those Saturdays started to come less than once in a month. His daughter turned away from her father, as if the little girl too felt betrayed like her mother had.
And he finally turned into the playboy the papers had painted him to be. And went on to be the most successful business magnate he was today, “without any restraints to pull him back” as a flattering newspaper had quoted very eloquently.
The chauffeur had no idea what they were waiting for. He was trained not to ask questions or show curiosity. But training be damned, if he didn’t want to know, what the ruthless conglomerate wanted here, in this forgotten part of the city. This was no business proposition.
The chauffeur secretly wondered if it had to do something with the incident that took place around ten days back.
His boss had asked him to drive to a neighbourhood, to a suburban middle-class home that afternoon. He hadn’t thought much about it, thinking it would be some of his boss’ younger escort’s place where he’d probably be in, till late evening. But he was indeed surprised as the door was opened by a man. And he was shocked when he saw his cool and level-headed Boss land a square punch on the man’s face, and the blood to start pouring through the fingers of the man as he clutched his nose and dropped on his knees.
This was a first. The young, taught-to-be-impassive chauffeur was baffled. He had looked around to see children’s clothes and toys strewn around. How could this be the place of one of the man’s hot dates? He hadn’t dated mothers before!
But that had been more than a week back. Since then every two days, he had driven his Boss through the same street, crossing the same house, without stopping once. Sometimes they’d just see the lighted rooms, sometimes they’d hear happy voices, only once he’d gotten a glimpse of a woman running about laughing with a little girl. But that man who had opened the door wasn’t anywhere to be seen. And it seemed that was all that his Boss wanted to see. He never went in.
Right now, the chauffeur turned towards the old building and tried to see which of the two women was the one they’d seen in that house, or which of the kids.
Only a few more kids were left now, when his Boss suddenly jumped out of the car.
The chauffeur hurried after him, petrified that he had been too caught up in his own musings to get the car-door before his Boss, but his Boss didn’t notice, as he crossed the road and walked fast towards the kids, with a simply wrapped packet in hand.
Doug went and stood in front of a little girl with astonishingly large grey eyes.
“My eyes“, thought Doug with a sweet pang of regret, and pride.
The older lady standing at the doorway started as she saw Doug but restrained the younger woman from coming forward. Doug nodded absently towards them.
The little girl and the huge man just stared at each other for the longest while. One could still make out the old yellowing bruises on the girl’s cheeks, and anger swelled anew within Doug. “I should have killed the bastard“.
“Who are you?”, the little girl asked shyly, haltingly staring up at the big man standing in front of her.
Doug kneeled down on the hard pavement and smiled, “I used to know your mother, a long time ago, when she was just like you.” He took out the packet and held it out to her, “Merry Christmas, pretty girl!”
The little girl stared wide-eyed from the wrapped gift in his hand and to the white shock of hair on his head and said in amazement, “But they told me that there is no Santa Claus!”
He felt his heart fill up and spill with the tears his eyes couldn’t hold, “But there is, darling! Santa Claus is always there for all the special little girls in the world. And you are the most special.”
Her smile came in dazzling and brilliant. And she hugged him tightly in that moment of pure joy.
Doug Petrachel watched from afar as his daughter and grand-daughter walked away hand-in-hand, laughing, with the present he’d given Perenelle clutched possessively in her hand.
His daughter might not want to see him, might not turn to him when she needed him but at the ripe old age of seventy-six, his grand-daughter gave him what he’d lost many years ago.
It was Christmas after all. And there was Hope.
P.S. A part of the man’s history was inspired by the history of a man played by Jack Nicholson in a movie, that had been summed up in a few lines by the actor. It is an off-season post but it was with me for a long time. There’s nothing better I like than finding that bit of faith and hope even in the most trying times. Hope you enjoyed it. Love, G. 🙂