Letters: An Inevitable Conversation

Japayuki: A Novel

Sunday, December 13, 2015

A Christmas Story

This story was originally written as an acknowledgement to my brother, Florentino Quintero, Jr; Tino. He is the eldest child of six; I am the youngest. In between are four girls, Evangelina, Yolanda, Rosa Linda, and Mary Jane.

This is a true story, one that I have adapted and interjected into many story-lines in my determination to always keep it alive.

In drafting Japayuki, a novel based on actual events, I found that Tino's story fit perfectly into that story-line. While I do not know what happened to the original, every adaptation essentially remained unchanged, with only minor alterations to fit the particular story.

This Christmas, Dhes and I are in a small village, a barrio, in the Albay region of the province of Bicol, Philippines. This year we spend Christmas with Dhes's family and friends. In keeping busy, I decided to revisit Japayuki and revise and edit as needed. Just days from Christmas morning, I decided to revise and edit this part now, and offer it to you.

I hope you enjoy the meaning and importance of this very short Christmas tale. In that I am also considering reworking this novel into a play format, I will toy with that concept in this presentation, a la Arthur Miller style. See what you think.

An excerpt of Japayuki
In play format by R.M.Barron

In a small military barracks room. Camp Schwab. Okinawa, Japan.

Bryan and Risa have enjoyed an afternoon of Christmas shopping and relaxation. But it is getting late and Risa must return to her position as bar girl at the Upper Lima, a popular karaoke bar located in Kinville. But, in touring and wandering in and out of shops decorated for the holidays, she has become somewhat depressed. Bryan, noting the obvious sadness, attempts to bring her back to a happy state.

Bryan: Walking up behind Risa, as she gazes out a dirty window. He places both is hands on her shoulders and gently massages. Now come on, it’s getting late, and I want to get you something to eat before I take you back. He leans to smile at her. Remember, you guys are putting up your Christmas tree today. He turns her so she is now facing him. Remember? He repeats, kissing her softly on the nose. I don’t want you to miss that. Besides I’m supposed to take the pictures.

Risa: Her head lowers. Christmas tree? Christmas here? She is moving slow, not sharing his enthusiasm for the holidays.

Bryan: Come on; please don’t do this. He lifts her chin to look into sad eyes. Don’t tell me you’re going to be a Scrooge? He embraces her, rocking her gently.

Risa: No, I like Christmas. She almost whispers. It’s just, she pauses, fidgeting with a button on her blouse. ThatI don’t think I’m in any position to celebrate it, that’s all.

Bryan: Oh, I see. He is nodding, understanding. You think, because you are away from home, working here, you aren't entitled to a Christmas. He bends to make eye contact with her. Is that it? He allows his hands to run the length of her arms as he steps back, but doesn't let go of her hands. Then I guess it’s time for me to tell you a little story now. A Christmas story. He leads her to the edge of the bed, and gently sits her down.

Risa: Not letting go of his hands. And the Christmas tree?

Bryan: This won't take long. I promise. He smiles at her. Now, you have to understand, this story takes place a long time ago. He begins to pace slowly in front of her. Hands emphasizing his words. On a Christmas Eve; just like today. With another smile, he launches into full storyteller mode, and begins. I am maybe five or six years old. My parents are divorced and six of us, me, my four sisters, and our Mom are living in a run down, rat infested, cold motel room. I guess you could call it our version of a little nipa hut.

Risa: Looking up at his comment. Really?

Bryan: Really. He nods, raising his eyebrows at her. Believe me, life really sucks. He makes his way to that same dirty window, now himself gazing out of it. I lay down that night, he continues, as if taking himself back to the event, angry. He turns to look at her, knowing well what she is feeling. I didn’t care if Christmas came and went, just like you don’t care now. He walks to her, kneeling in front of her, again taking her hands. Why? Because I believed that for the first time in my life, Christmas was not there for me. He smiles at her, squeezes her hands and rises to continue his pacing. You see, Ris, just as in your life, my life had once been okay. I had always had something at Christmas. Something. But this year I had—we—had nothing. Not even a Christmas tree. He chuckles quietly, shaking his head. So, I lay there, looking up at the stars out of a dirty window, he pauses to point at the dirty window they had both gazed out of, wondering why. Questioning why. My mother works in the motel restaurant, as a waitress, mostly for tips. When the restaurant closes for the night, she simply moves to the lounge—the bar next door. The Lemon Drop, I believe it was. Now he is at a desk straightening out some papers. She works the bar, Ris; she serves the beer; she entertains the customers. Sound familiar? He grins broadly at her this time, acknowledging her pursed lips and raised eyebrows. Now, I can hear my sisters whispering to each other. Trying to lull themselves to sleep with simple conversation, but I just look out and up through that dirty window and I whisper to God: “What did I do wrong? What!?” Now, he actually chuckles out loud.

Risa: With a puzzled look on her face. Why? What happened?

Bryan: Turning to meet her questioning stare. He answered me.

Risa: Only raising her eyebrows at this comment.

Bryan: Walking over and siting next to her on the bed. The next thing we hear, is a banging at our door. We all jump, just staring at the door. It's late, the lights are out. We are expecting no one. Our mother has a key, yet? Hear there is this banging at our door. My oldest sister gets out of bed, closely followed by the others. She peeks out and see who it could be. That’s when I hear my brother’s voice from the other side. He is the oldest and has been on his own, but now he is here, outside our door. When my sister opens it, he pushes his way in carrying a tree. A simple little Christmas tree.

Risa: Shrugging her shoulders slightly. Maybe your Mom asked him too

Bryan: Shaking his head slowly at her suspicion. No. Again, he was on his own. We hadn't seen him in awhile, but he was with us now. He props the tree up in a corner and like magic, we all come to life; we are grabbing things, making little ornaments for it out of paper and foil and whatever else we can find in that dismal little place; and Ris, when we are done? It stood there, and? It is glowing. Shining—without lights—it is shining. Christmas hadn’t forgotten me, Ris, it had arrived. Even in that pathetic little hold in the wall; even with hardly a thing to our names. Christmas had arrived.

Risa: Sighing deeply, nodding understandably at the message intended.

Bryan: Standing to conclude his tale. Some would look upon that tiny little tree and say it was nothing more than a dried out discarded twig. A true Charlie Brown tree. And you know what? They would be right. But that night, that tree, was the best tree that ever was; it was, and always will be, the most beautiful and wonderful Christmas tree that I will ever have; ever. And screw Santa, from that night on, my brother would always and forever be my Christmas hero. He kneels back before her. That night, I learn the real meaning of Christmas; that night Ris, I learn the meaning of love. Christmas didn’t come in brightly wrapped little boxes, or on fancy dinner tables. Christmas came from the heart. He takes her right hand in his and places it gently over her heart. It’s love; love Ris, nothing but love. You can’t hold it, you can’t package it, you can only share it with someone else. He rises again, her hands still in his. My brother didn’t have to go there that night. He didn’t have to take us that tree. He could have said “What for? There are no ornaments! There are no lights! There’s certainly nothing to put under the damn thing! What good is a silly tree without all those things?” But he didn’t say that. He loved us enough, he thought enough of us to go there, on a cold miserable night, and take us that tiny, beautiful, simple little thing and in doing that, he gave me, all of us, the greatest gift he could ever give. He gave his love. He gave us family. He gave us Christmas.

Risa: Standing, wrapping her arms around him.

Bryan: Stroking her hair and kissing the top of her head. This year you’re my Christmas, Ris. Neither one of us is where we want to be. So, I celebrate it only because you’re in my life, and I hope, I really hope, that you can try to understand that you mean that much to me.

Risa: Now wrapping herself around his neck, staring at his total acceptance of her. Merry Christmas, Bryan. She whispers. I believe there is a little tree somewhere waiting for us.

This Christmas the world is in turmoil. No nation it would appear is untouched by some kind of violence and disruption. But yet, Christmas will arrive. Focus on your families. Focus on what's important in life. Care for one another. Love one another. We are away, but we will take this opportunity to share the true meaning of Christmas with damn near an entire barrio; we will offer the gifts of acceptance, of food, and for the kiddies, a small toy of some kind. Our family back home made our Christmas through their sharing with us to allow this be truly meaningful event. Our Christmas is complete. We will be thinking of all of you with each smile we see here. Thank you, and as Tiny Tim would say, God bless us one and all.

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