The wait at the shopping mall’s coffee kiosk was unusually long. Mary’s mother looked up from her phone. “Don’t unwrap your cookie until we get home. I don’t want crumbs all over my new car. You remember what happened when you spilled that sticky soda last weekend? I really don’t think I could stand another headache.”
Mary said nothing. As she stood beside her mother, she quietly watched thousands of Christmas shoppers hurry into and out of stores, into and out of elevators, up and down escalators.
An army of people hustled wrapped presents to and fro. Everybody was in a terrible rush.
Mary turned around in a circle to explore the dizzying mall with her eyes. Strings of Christmas lights blinked about the windows of every inviting store. Dozens of merry Santa Clauses with jolly plump faces stared out from signs, shopping bags and the dazzling window displays. Beyond one cascade of escalators, shoppers in a very long, twisting line waited in the food court to have their pictures taken with Santa Claus. ‘Tis the Season a nearby banner proclaimed in big letters.
“Didn’t you hear me? Let’s get going!” her mother said.
The two stepped into a river of shoppers. It was a torrent of urgency that felt irresistible. Mary marveled at the unending lights and the press of humanity.
Mary continued to search about.
Two pant legs were outstretched on the ground. The two legs stuck out from behind a trashcan near the front door of a busy store.
Mary and her mother neared the trashcan. A man was collapsed behind it, his back leaning against a wall. The man was asleep.
The man was fat and wore very dirty clothing. His stomach bulged out from under his torn shirt. His bare feet were black with dirt. An enormous white beard was splayed across his chest. Atop his nodding head was a Santa hat.
Shoppers hurried past him without noticing.
Mary stopped to look at Santa Claus.
She bent to place her wrapped cookie by his feet, then hurried to catch up with her mother.