In was early December and Sanduni was counting the days for Christmas as she was going to be in her school's nativity play. She and her brother Supun
decorated a little shrub in their front garden with
balloons and crepe paper. She decided to weave pink and white araliya flowers into long garlands and put them on the tree on Christmas eve so that the flowers will stay fresh on Christmas day. Supun thought it was a good idea too.
One morning very early, Sanduni went into the
jungle to fetch firewood. Picking up dried sticks she went further and came near an empty broken down shack. She had seen the shack before but today she was surprised to see an old looking man come out of the shack limping. Sanduni went closer and said,
“What are you doing in this broken shack?”
“I've come here to rest as my leg is bad.”
“It is that, I don't want to meet any people.”“But why?”
“ I will tell you all later, little girl. Could you do me a good deed? Please don't tell anyone that you saw me.”
“How do you eat?”
“I manage. Thanks for asking anyway.”
“I am Sanduni, what's your name?”
“Call me Santa.”
Sanduni was nine years old and Supun was two years younger. They lived with their parents in a small village, a little inland from the Negombo coast. There was a jungle close to their thatched house and a little lake too. Their father was a fisherman and their mother wove reeds into mats and sold them at the Sunday fair. Mother also cultivated a little plot of vegetables. Supun spent his time playing.
Some days, Sanduni cooked lunch for all, as mother had to go to collect reeds. So, after she met the man in the broken shack, when she cooked the lunch next day, she cooked a little extra. She packed a lunch in a clean and warmed up banana leaf and wrapped it in a newspaper. She had made a lunch packet. She took this and ran into the
jungle to gather firewood. She came to the shack. There was no one in.
“Oh! Maybe he's gone out,” she said to herself and left the packet on top of an old case so that it could be seen. She went out,
gathered firewood and went home and then to school.
She couldn't visit the shack for another two days. Then when she went again, she saw the man standing against a tree.
“Hello,” he said, “many thanks for the lunch. How did you manage to bring it? Did your mother miss the food?”
“No, she goes to collect reeds for the mats she weaves to sell. So, I cook the lunch some days. Father sleeps most of the day as he sails in the boat to catch fish in the night. So, it was easy to bring it.”
“Be careful anyway
I don't want any one to know about me.”
“Its ok,” said Sanduni and ran off. She managed to leave a lunch packet for the man on and off but she hardly met the man.
One evening Supun was lighting a lamp on the verandah. Sanduni knew that Supun should not
meddle with fire and told him not to do it and went to the well to get water. Mother was inside the house. Supun ran with the lamp and the lamp fell on some papers nearby and caught fire.
Quickly the flames caught onto the thatched roof and the house was on fire. The hut looked like a beacon on a dark sea. Sanduni ran towards the house and Supun ran away from the house shouting for help. Mother ran from inside, stuck her leg against a chair and fell. Sanduni in her anxiety slipped in the sand and fell.Then a figure came
limping towards the house and went inside the
burning house, dragged mother out and placed her near Sanduni and went away. By this time the neighbours came running and threw water from the well on the flames and put the fire out. Supun had met his father coming back and he cried and told him what had happened. They both ran back. Father was happy to see mother and daughter safe.
Mother told them, “A stranger came in from nowhere and dragged me out. Because of the smoke I could not see properly. Do you know him?”
“Maybe it's Santa,” said Sanduni and smiled. “Don't joke,” said mother.
The rest of the villagers took them to their houses. They thought Sanduni was a heroine to rescue her mother. They didn't believe there was a stranger at all. The roof was all burnt and some of the furniture was burnt and other furniture blackened, but the floor of the house and the furniture in the two rooms were saved.
following day the neighbours helped father to build a new roof and repair the rest of the house.
One neighbour gave them a chair, so did another and another scraped the blackened furniture and repaired them. Others gave them food till their kitchen was ready. A lady, another neighbour, told Sanduni that she would sew her
nativity costume for her. Sanduni was happy.
The decorated tree in the
garden was swaying gently, looking festive and Sanduni wondered what Santa was doing.