At five, I never saw a Jesus like this before—at least, I thought it was Jesus, there at Ms. Cynthia Nix’s house in a picture on the wall behind some balloons. He had all the right stuff like Jesus. He had a golden circle around his head, long hair, and a beard, and he smiled a little with his tiny mouth. He had Jesus’s long, thin nose, and he put two fingers up in the air, kind of bent, like Jesus. He had colorful swirls, little pink angels, and a Bible verse over his shoulders. He held what Mama called the shepherd’s crook.
I knew what that was because we had a picture at home with the crook. In that picture, Jesus had a little smile, and you could see his heart through his shirt, with fire coming out of it. But he was happy because he held a little lamb. And there were lots of pretty, white lambs running around and smiling up at him. Mama had said that he was the Good Shepherd, and so he held the crook to keep the lambs together. And I knew I was a lamb, too.
Mama also said he was the Lamb of God, and I didn’t understand how he could be the Shepherd and the Lamb at the same time. There was a lamb in this picture too, standing next to the Jesus-looking man. It stood up straight like it was marching, and it carried a cross with a flag on it. It was the Lamb, for sure, a little white one that looked like me when I marched.
All the kids running around under the picture, smiling with party hats on, they kind of looked like the pretty, white lambs in our picture at home. He sure seemed like He was Jesus—only one thing. His skin was brown. That didn’t seem right. I wondered if maybe it was like when you go to the mall to see Santa, but you know it’s not, really, because Santa works at the North Pole, not outside the Belk’s. Sometimes, it’s hard to know a thing, even if you see it. And sometimes, you keep yourself from seeing a thing because you don’t want to know it. The grown folks explain that he’s really one of Santa’s helpers, that he can give your list to the boss. So, I figured that this man on the wall must have been one of His helpers.
Mama said I was being a good helper today, because I helped pick out a present for Ada and was patient when we had car trouble. Ms. Cynthia called me a good helper a lot in school, and Mama said that Ms. Cynthia And the bells jingled loud. Kids started screaming, and the grown ups started hollering in the back.
It couldn’t be, I doubted. This early?
Ms. Cynthia put her hand out towards the crowd and a finger to her lips. Ada stood in her chair, and everyone shushed everyone.
“Ho, ho, ho!” again, and a tromp-tromping of boots behind the door. The grown ups moved up from the
back. I wanted them to pipe down, and they wouldn’t.
“I hope y’all been good!” a man’s big voice said from behind.
One kid stretched both her hands out toward the door, and her eyes got big. One kid put a hand on his heart. He had his head bowed and his eyes squeezed tight, and the other hand was grasping in the air. A bunch of kids started yelling and shaking their arms. I was quiet, but my heart screamed. Ms. Cynthia spread her feet wide, closed her eyes, and put her hands out like a preacher.
It couldn’t be, I thought. Could it be?
She placed one hand on the door, and I gripped my chair tight.
My God! I thought. My God!
When she popped the door open, the house blew up. We cheered as the man burst into the room. Big red coat, long white beard. Funny hat, big belly. He had all the right stuff, just about. Only one thing.
He stretched his arms out and said in a big, happy voice, “Ho, ho ho! Merry Christmas!”
The crowd of kids died down, confused. All except for Ada, standing in her chair with a big smile on her face like she had done this before.
All the little kids started laughing. Then they laughed a lot.
“That’s not Santa!” one chuckled.
“Of course I am! And I hope y’all been good, because I got presents for everyone!”
Kids kept laughing, and the grown ups were laughing, too. Ms. Cynthia crossed her arms with her hand up to her nose, covering a smile.
I wasn’t smiling, though. I knew it wasn’t Santa. It wasn’t even a helper. It was Mr. Tommy Nix, Ada’s daddy. I recognized him. He was the Chief of Police. His belly was real, but nothing else. The other kids must have recognized him, too. They pointed.
“You’re not Santa,” one laughed.
“Sure I am!” he laughed, too. “See?”
Suddenly, he picked me up right out of my seat. While I was in the air, I saw Mama sitting in the back not smiling. The frosting on her cupcakes was starting to sweat. Mr. Tommy flew me over to the couch and sat me right down on his lap.
“Little boy!” he said, “What would you like for Christmas this year?” His breath smelled like pickles, and his belly was hot. Everybody giggled, and I started giggling, too.
“You’re not Santa,” a boy said, smiling, and he came over and put his hands on Mr. Tommy’s knee. Mr. Tommy scooped him up, too, so we were sitting pretty on both his knees, and everyone in the room chuckling like Santa Claus. It was too much.
“Ho, ho, ho!” Mr. Tommy said, and he bounced us high on both his knees.
“Woah!” The other boy yelled in delight. “Not Santa!” he said, “Not Santa!”
Everyone kept on laughing, clapping, and slapping their knees, but I didn’t like it. So I reached up and grabbed his beard and stretched it out from his face, and let it go. It snapped back onto his nose.
“Ooch! Lord!” he yelled.
The laughter exploded, and kids started running up to us. They giggled and shrieked and started climbing up on Mr. Tommy.
“Not Santa!” they yelled, “not Santa!”
Then we were all roughhousing. Everyone laughed with Mr. Tommy. We all wrestled with him, and kids kept trying to tug his beard. I looked back for a second, and Mama was still not laughing, so I laughed and played harder. And the harder I played, the less it seemed she wanted to laugh.
We were cheering together, “Not Santa! Not Santa! Not Santa!”
I looked again, but this time I saw Ada. She was sitting in her chair, and she wasn’t laughing at all.
“He is so Santa!” she yelled over the noise, her fists in the air. “He is so!”
Did she really think that? It was her own daddy. How could she not know? I kept watching her, and I could tell she was going to cry, because she was making that silent face that you make right before you’re going to cry.
But I didn’t know why. Then she was crying, and she ran out of the room. Ms. Cynthia ran after her.
Suddenly, I was in the air again. Mama had yanked me up, and we were flying toward the door. Children went flying every which way and were buckled in the backs of cars just as fast.
It was raining soft on the car windows. Mama tried starting the car, but it wouldn’t go. It kept on not going, and then the hood started smoking like a gun. She just sat there, and then she went back in. I listened to the soft rain on the roof growing softer.
After a while, I watched Mama and Mr. Tommy walk toward the car. He lifted up the hood and did something and then closed it. Mama got back in the car. I kept quiet. She started it up. She got out, shut the door, and talked to Mr. Tommy for a while. They didn’t look bad, but they didn’t look good. It was quiet inside, and it looked quiet out there, too. As she talked, Mama had her hands out in front with her palms turned up. Mr. Tommy had his Santa hat in his hands. They kept on talking in silence with their eyes down toward the ground, and then they shook hands and he went back inside, and Mama got in the car.
She sat there for a little bit, then she looked at me in the mirror and said softly, “Trevor, do you know why Ada got upset?”
I tried to think if it had been my birthday party. It would have been hard having your birthday so close to Christmas.
“Yes’m,” I said, looking down at my LEGO set. “Only one day of presents.”
Mama looked at me, and then she put her head on the steering wheel and began to cry. That made me want to cry too, but I kept quiet. I looked outside, and snow was coming down all around us. The snow started sticking on the windows, and pretty soon all we could see was white. After a while, the white faded into shadows.