It was 24th of December and the scent in the air screamed Christmas. Light flakes of snow littered the ground like vanilla icing on the cake. Seven-year-old Sebastian was on cloud nine as it was Christmas eve. He woke up early in the morning and greeted everyone with a cheery morning. He was nothing less than a ball of sunshine. Light and energy trails behind his every step.
“Good Morning,” wished the cute little boy with light blue eyes and midnight black hair on the top.
“Morning, baby,” his mother replied as she tapped on his button nose.
“Hey,” he smashed his face against his brother's, who was invested in a book.
“Good morning, kiddo,” said seventeen-year-old Nathaniel. Although they are biological brothers, they look polar opposites. Nathan got his skin a light tan unlike his brother's pale ones and had big brown eyes with the same jet black hairs.
“I got you this,” Nathan said as he handed him a book of a collection of children's short stories. A beaming smile reached his eyes as he took the book and ran his little fingers through its pages.
“So, what did you get me?” Sebastian asked his dad as all of them sat for breakfast.
“Me? I didn't get you anything. Why would I? Well, Santa might have something for you but you have to wait till midnight for that,” he chuckled.
“Nate got me this book so I thought you guys…,” he trailed off while Nathaniel chuckled. It was a jolly breakfast at the Gray household. The house was decorated in the usual Christmas theme while the tree sat in the middle of the living room. Nathan's presence could barely be sensed but Sebastian made his existence known throughout. He was busy putting up the sock.
Christmas Eve was bliss with a great feast and lots of family time. Sebastian depleted himself and retired to bed when it was time unlike his plan of staying awake and catching Santa. A deep slumber lured him in. Outside, it was dark and the Christmas lights shined bright creating a feast for the eyes.
The door of his room creaked open as he felt someone sneak into his room. Amidst the dim light, he could see a shadow moving. Sebastian was anything but scared. His curiosity kicked in and his heart skipped a beat with it. He creaked open an eye to see a huge man with great width. It didn't take him more than a second to assume who it is as he grinned ear to ear.
“Santa,” Sebastian's loud voice cracked open the silence of the night.
“Sshhh,” the man who Sebastian assumed to be Santa shushed him.
Sebastian was still grinning from ear to ear as he finally met Santa's face. The old man was in his traditional red attire with a long white beard flowing down to his chest, topped by a healthy moustache and a round little spectacle. Although Sebastian didn't see the spectacle coming, he wasn't complaining. He met Santa after all.
“Santa,” this time he whisper-yelled.
His eyes flickered down to land on the new shiny yellow bicycle. He was overjoyed as his eyes moved to meet Santa's again.
“You fulfilled my wish,” he whisper-yelled again, his eyes widened.
A peal of short laughter coming from Santa filled the room for a while. He walked towards Sebastian and sat beside him. “Yes, kid. I did fulfil your wish.”
“Thank you, so much,” replied an over-excited Sebastian.
“Well, as for the good kid you are, I urge to fulfil another wish of yours,”
As soon as the words left his lips, Sebastian's eyes widened and his beaming smile said he was ecstatic.
“Only one wish, kid. Be careful what you ask for,” Santa reminded.
Sebastian vigorously nodded his head and then scratched his chin, thinking of the perfect gift.
“I want free chocolates for a lifetime,” the seven-year-old declared.
Santa's hard chuckle poured out of his huge protruding belly. “Are you sure?” his thick voice made Sebastian think again. A silence trailed behind the jolly laughter.
“I want to grow up,” his voice sounded thoughtful, wrapped in the silence of the closed room.
“Growing up….ahh! That's something…,” Santa trailed off.
“Alright then, starting from the midnight of 25th, you'll grow up till it's midnight of 30th…,”
With that, Sebastian felt his eyelids heavy again, weighing with sleep. Santa's voice slowly faded in the background as he heard his words and then finally vanished as he came back to the silence of his room.
He woke up, mind ragging the dream he just saw. He smiled at the memory of the dream, recalling the conversation with Santa and he was excited. All the excitement turned into curiosity as he narrowed his eyes on the new shiny yellow bicycle in his room. Was it real? He questioned himself but at last, found himself drowning in his sweet sleep.
The next morning came calling with new sunshine. Sebastian wasn't his cheery self. He was a bit off and when he went to the breakfast table, everyone noticed that he was a bit off. He kept playing the dream at the back of his mind over and over again. He opened his mouth to share the fact that Santa visited him last night but shut it again without uttering a single word.
“So, what did Santa get you?” His mother asked.
“Did Santa get you what you wished for?” his father asked him in a calm composed voice.
He looked up at everybody with his big blue eyes and then looked at his elder brother who shrugged in reply. “Yes,” he replied and started eating his food. The day went by pretty fast. He rode his new bicycle, played with his friends and had a day full of fun. After dinner when he saw they had apple pies for dessert, joy flickered in his eyes. He saw Nathaniel pick up his share of dessert and walk to the backyard. He followed his elder brother with his small footsteps and sat down on the patio, just beside him. Both of them ate their pies in silence until Sebastian spoke.
“Nate, what is it like to grow up?” he asked his older brother.
A chuckle left Nathaniel's lips, “Growing up is no fun yet you get to discover who you really are. There is no absolute definition or formulae of growing up...it's just who you are and who you want to be.”
They shared a look and Sebastian hummed in response.
“Were you anxious about growing up?”
“Yeah, kiddo. Definitely. I guess we all lack patience in that department. I couldn't wait to grow up but I want to be a child even if it's for a while…,” he trailed off, “Goodnight, kiddo.”
Both of them went their separate ways and Sebastian thought of the wish he made to Santa. The night was a quiet one and he passed out as he recalled Santa's words. Next day when Sebastian woke up, he felt different. He was a full-grown man of Seventeen. He felt the awkwardness because he remembered everything and somewhere, he knew his wish was coming true. He realised he would be seventeen for five days from then. His eyes flickered down to the date to notice it was Mid- September, which meant he had school. He rushed out of his room, did his morning routine and got ready for school.
“Good morning,” he greeted his mom and dad as he walked into the living room.
There was an eerie silence. Both of his parents raised their eyebrows, surprised.
“Good morning?” his mother wished back but it sounded more like a question.
Sebastian looked around and asked, “Breakfast?”
“Since when do you ask for it?” his mother asked, narrowing her eyes.
He felt confused and out of the place. He looked around and fumbled, “Umm...yeah... I'll,” his eyes landed on the toasts, “I'll just grab a toast.”
He rushed out of the house and saw a motorcycle parked outside. Assuming, it was his, he rode on it and drove to school. When he arrived, he met a bunch of familiar and unfamiliar faces. Faces, he never saw and faces he knew for a lifetime.
(to be continued)
Written by: Sanyukta Paul
Illustration by: Aninda K. Nanda