The Old Shopper by Vaibhav Sharma

Cold had never bothered him much, but his ageing bones shivered in the exceptional cold this day. 

Christmas had always been his favourite time of the year. Maybe that comes with having a large family like his. Despite the blistering cold, he felt saturated with warmth every Christmas. Christmas, for him, was the time he would go all in. Each year, he would spend days setting up the Christmas tree and draping lights around his home. He would make an exhaustive list of gifts for all the children of his family and spend weeks shopping for them. 

Which is why he found himself standing at the entry of a holiday store on a brisk December morning. Unfortunately, he had been confined to bed for the past few weeks on account of his Rheumatism. As a result, he had to somewhat accommodate his Christmas shopping in a much shorter time than he was used to. With a sound somewhere between a sigh and a grunt, he ambled towards the aisles almost invisible behind the Christmas decorations. He took out his list and began the search. 

He knew he wasn’t allowed to have favourites, but Tim had always been the one he had absolutely adored. A straight eight-year-old kid, he was one child you read about in children’s books who are supposed to be the role model. Good at school, caring and emotionally sensitive even at this tender age—he was just what you hope your grandkids would be like. This Christmas, he had decided that Tim deserved a special gift—the new video game that had come out last week. The trouble was, that was about the extent of his grasp on the subject. Standing in the electronics section, he looked up and down the aisle to find a more informed and hopefully helpful face. At the end of the aisle fidgeting with a new phone on display was a teenager dressed in the store’s uniform. He had a tattoo running up his left hand disappearing into his uniform sleeve. Below his uniform shirt, his jeans were ragged and in dire need of a wash or perhaps fumigation. His hair was long and gave the impression of regularly being cut at home with the kitchen scissor. He looked around 

for someone he was more comfortable with, but with none forthcoming, he decided to take his chance. 

“Hello, son.” 

He raised his voice slightly to make himself heard. The teenager turned his head towards him before the rest of him followed suit. He could now see the metal earring on his right ear. The teenager started walking towards him almost at a leisurely place. His myopic eyes scanned the teenager for name-tag. 

“Hello Christopher. I was looking for a Christmas gift for my grandson. I was hoping you could help me with it.”

“Chris is fine, man. What do you need?” 

He had never gotten used to this direct talk of the younger generation. In a way, he understood it. Everyone was short on time these days. No point in wasting precious moments on pleasantries. Nevertheless, he found it unsettling. 

“I was thinking of buying him the new video game, Claystation something. Trouble is, I have very little idea how to go about it.” 

“You mean PlayStation.” Chris said with a slight smirk. Looking from Chris’s perspective, he could imagine why Chris found it amusing. 

Chris reached for a box on the top aisle on his left and pulled out a box. 

“Here’s your PlayStation. What games does your grandkid play?” 

“You got me there, son. I think it’s mostly racing games…” 

“Then you better go with Xbox. It has loads of exclusive racing games. They have this new version Forza coming out soon. And the 4K res is unbelievable. Anyway, that’s the one I would have gotten for myself. Hence, this.” He spread his hand around to gesture the job he was referring to. “Anyway, it’s gonna blow his mind. You are going to be his favourite person this Christmas.” 

“Well, I usually am, at least around Christmas.” Old man replied, brimming with affection a touch of pride. It looked like that unwittingly, he had chosen the right man for his questions. 

“You seem to know quite a bit about this box.” The old man was impressed. 

“I’ve put in my hours on Xbox. Fair warning – if your grandkid loses his grades next year, that’s not on me!” Chris said with an easy smile. 

“Don’t worry about that, son. If he wants another gift next Christmas, he’ll have to be a good kid the whole year.” 

“You sure are one strict grandfather, man.” 

The old man switched the conversation back to the video game. 

“So… where can I find this box?” 

“Right here.” This time Chris stretched out to his other side and brought down another similar shaped box.

As he extended his right hand to take the box from Chris, he felt the box he was holding in his other hand slip away. After a moment, when it seemed like he had balanced both the boxes, he found the PlayStation in his left hand sliding away. In slow motion, the box landed on the floor with a heavy thud as they looked on helplessly. Almost in time with the fall, a voice rang out on the store’s PA system. “Chris, was that you? Come to my office NOW!” 

He guessed the manager had eyes on them with those cameras in the store. Picking up Xbox from the floor, Chris took the PlayStation box from his hands and strolled towards what presumably was the manager’s office without a backwards glance, angry or otherwise. 

This was not good. 

He was already on a tight budget. Christmas was not as simple as it used to be. This was sure to put a dent in his Christmas gift budget. On top of that, he had got this young man in trouble. Not that Chris looked a stranger to trouble, but it did dampen his Christmas spirit. 

He had just started scanning the store for a place where he could rest his aging legs when Chris appeared around the corner. He was clutching both boxes under each of his arms. Chris looked around and having spotted him, walked straight towards him. 

“Here you go, man. There’s your Xbox.” 

He didn’t understand. 

“I hope I didn’t get you into trouble. Was the other box damaged?” He enquired tentatively. “Yeah, that one’s busted. But no sweat. I told Steve I dropped it.” 

He didn’t know what to say. 

“But won’t they take it out of your paycheck?” 

“I suppose they will. But Steve is no saint. He’s gonna call the company and tell them it came broke. And then he’ll fine me a couple of day’s salary to ‘teach me a lesson’.” Chris did those air-quotes the young people shared an appreciation for. 

“But that is unfair to you, son. I can’t let that happen. That too with Christmas around!” 

“Hey, relax! It’s going to cost you way more than it will cost me. And what if the kid stops believing in Santa Claus! That’s gonna blow. Can’t do that to a kid on Christmas, man.” 

The old man gave a guarded smile, but his eyes were twinkling above his bushy, white-as-snow beard.

“You are right. I can’t do that to a kid on Christmas. Thank you, son. This is very generous of you.” 

“Like I said, no sweat. And my mum would kill me if I let a man who looks like Santa pay for a broken PlayStation. Man, put a red Santa suit on you and you could be hopping over chimneys this Christmas.” He said it with a chuckle, finding the idea amusing. 

Chris turned to get back to whatever he was doing before the old man had interrupted him. “Happy Christmas to you and the kid.” He called over his shoulder. 

-------------------------------- 

It was almost eleven in the night before Chris finished his shift. Holiday season being hard was such a cliché he never even thought about it. After giving the electronic aisle one last look-over, he picked his bag and made his way towards the store exit. Lenny, the security guy, was already at his usual position just inside the door, taking a respite from the elements. 

“Hey Lenny. See ya tomorrow.” He called from the door. 

“Hey Chris. Wait… I almost forgot. There’s something here for you at the security desk.” 

Lenny was carrying a paper bag in his hands. As soon as Chris took the bag in his hands and felt the weight, he knew what was inside the bag. He had himself handled it earlier today. He pulled out the elegant Xbox from the bag with a sticky note on top of it. In what looked like a hurried hand, scrawled on the note were the words: 

We can’t have people not believing in Santa. 

Happy Christmas, son.

Published in Issue #22

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