Christmas came and went, and the New Year dawned, and the days began to pass without incident. Everyone got busy with their routine lives, and little Hank Greenhorn became busy with his school. But the other children didn’t speak with him anymore, and he didn’t speak with them either. He kept to himself even as they played on the street outside his house, never caring to join them. They wouldn’t have taken him in even if he had asked, but he never asked.
All he did was sit and think.
He thought about the extreme poverty of his family. His father, who worked in the lowliest of jobs according to him, didn’t even bring enough money home so that they could eat. His salary was never seen, only heard, because it only amounted to a few coins that jingled in his pockets. At thirteen now, he knew he couldn’t ask his father for any favors, for he didn’t want to put his hardworking father in an embarrassing position.
His mother worked too. She knitted sweaters for other people, and then sat at a stall outside the supermarket trying to sell them. She was no expert, for she knitted sweaters only for earning money and not because she had a particular talent or fondness for it. This showed in her work and she did not sell well. But, an occasional sweater would be sold once a fortnight, and those were the days the Greenhorn family had meat.
Hank knew he was not helping his family by being a boy of bad repute. In fact, because of his unruly ways, his family was shunned by the others. The neighbors did not even look in their direction, not that there was much to look at as they were always dressed in tatters. No one invited them to their houses. All the neighborhood children celebrated their birthdays and they received shiny gifts. Marsha received a dollhouse that year and Percy received a unicycle. The older children went out for parties of their own too, but no one even bothered as much as to invite the obnoxious Hank for a birthday treat.
However, Hank could not help it. He hated people for doing this to him. He hated his parents for not being rich. He hated the unknown, unseen God for putting him in this sad position. He hated himself for being alive.
He was now old enough to understand that his situation was never going to improve. That was why he remained sullen all the time, and lashed out at anyone who even attempted to have a conversation with him. His parents gave up on him too; they had problems of their own. They were too busy trying to make ends meet to try and cajole him out of his undesirable behavior.
What made him really angry was Christmas. This was the time when everyone in the neighborhood came out and adorned their houses with big fat objects that his family could not even afford to look at. They had turkeys and sweets and other goodies he didn’t even know the names of. They did things like hanging Christmas stockings and opening gifts on Boxing Day, things he could never relate to.
So he did the only thing he could do — spoil their Christmas in whatever way he could. After all, if he did not get to enjoy the festival, why should others? What wrong had he done?
And the next Christmas was approaching in a month. It was already November. Last Christmas, he had brought the whole neighborhood to his doorstep, and they even threatened him with the police, but he didn’t care. Spending a Christmas in his house or in jail; it didn’t really make any difference to him.
All he wanted to do was to wipe off those fat contented smiles from the faces of those rich people who shamelessly flaunted their wealth all over the neighborhood.
He started making plans for how to spoil the Christmas of Wishing Cross.
However, things weren’t going to go his way this year. One October afternoon, when he was returning from school, alone as usual, he stopped in his tracks near Willow Grange. Now, this was a house that many children of his age referred to as a haunted house, for no one had lived there since ages. Hence, it came as a bit of a shock to Hank when he saw that the windows of the house were open.
Quickly, but silently, he moved along, his schoolbag firmly perched on his shoulders and one wary eye refusing to leave the Grange. Just as he neared the house, the door opened wide, and an old lady stood with both hands perched on her hips, looking sternly at the boy. The sudden sight of the woman frightened the boy so much that he broke into a run and got away from there as fast as his legs could carry him.
The next day he had to pass through the house again, and again she was standing in the doorway. But this time, he was prepared for her and did not run away. Instead, he looked at her in puzzlement, and she looked back at him.
This unspoken communication continued between them for almost a week, neither of them speaking with the other. The fear had now totally subsided from Hank’s heart. He knew this person wasn’t a ghost. He had seen her warm smile too many times to think of her as a malevolent entity.
Then, one day, the woman stood at the door with a tray of cookies in her hand. The aroma of the freshly baked goodies wafted through the air and entered Hank’s nostrils. Even from that distance, he could tell they were delicious. With his father’s meager earnings, he had never been able to taste things like cookies before, and his mouth began to water. The woman beckoned to him, bringing the tray closer to his line of sight.
Not being able to resist their aroma any further, Hank slowly accepted the invitation and entered the house of the fat lady.
“What are these?” He pointed at the brown-crusted goodies even as he entered.
“Honey cookies,” she said. “Have one. I am sure you will love them.”
“I should not accept anything from strangers.” There was caution in his voice, but that could not mask his craving.
“Have one, dear. Do you think I am your friendly neighborhood witch who poisons children with cookies?” She took a cookie herself and bit into it. She smacked the crumbs as they settled on her face.
Hank took one of the cookies and bit into it.
“It is delicious,” he said, and then took another.
Nothing happened to Hank after eating the cookies, except that he wanted more of them. In this manner, a ritual started. The woman prepared various things and stood at the door with them. She would bake lovely cookies regularly and he found himself biting into their heavenly taste and speaking with her.
Then one day, the woman asked Hank the inevitable question. “Hank,” she said, “why do you do these things?”
“Tormenting people is not a good thing. Christmas is coming up once again, but everyone in the neighborhood is scared to put up their decorations. You know why.”
“I give them what they deserve.”
“Who are you to decide that? Why do you do it?”
“Because I am angry with everyone!” Hank hollered. “Everyone has it better than I have. Why am I born into this world? Nobody wants a poor miserable boy.”
“It’s not like that,” said the old woman coming closer to Hank and placing a hand on his head. “Everyone is born with a different destiny. Everyone has their problems. You cannot take it out on others.”
Hank got up, angrily, and flung the cookie back into the dish. “I don’t need to hear this,” he said. “I am going. Bye.”