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A House without a Chimney

A House without a Chimney

It was the year 1964. The time I was spending in the city, with my ex-husband before our divorce, did no good to me. I thought moving out from the city and living in a totally different environment would help me to distract myself and gradually, heal the wounds of my heart. I found an old house in this little isolated town of Georgiana and started living there all alone, with a small amount of money I had been saving.

I was going through a traumatic rough patch. The dissolution of the marriage had unleashed a flood of consequences and I had given up hopes after fighting the fear to face the life alone, anxiety and the memories that kept rising when I least expected them. I had no idea where was my fate taking me. My life was so lonely and miserable. I cried my heart out many often, and every night I went to bed praying God to take me to his arms so that I will no longer feel pain.

I had no friends in the town. I stepped out of the house very rarely. Once in a while, I went to the post office to post a letter to my mother. Everything was calm and quiet in this small town and there was nothing to disturb me, until one night.

a_house_with_a_chimney_1It was the Christmas Eve. The wind had blown off the last leaves of autumn. When I looked through the window, I could only see the empty streets covered with a thin layer of snow, shining in the dull yellow light of the street lamps. Long shadows of naked trees danced on the brick walls beside the streets as if they were struggling to run away and hide behind them. Wind was still blowing outside and made scary creaking sounds in the attic.

I had just finished my dinner. When I was just about to stand up from the table to wash the dishes, I heard a low, but a clear knock on my front door. I wondered for a moment thinking who that could be as I hadn’t had any guests in my house ever since I moved in. I walked to the door slowly with astonishment and looked through the window. With the dim light of the street lamp, I saw a man covered with old rugs standing at the porch. Even in the darkness, I could see his humped back and his crooked shoulders bending towards the ground as if he was carrying a heavy weight on them. His sight was intimidating thus, I waited for another moment, as I thought it wasn’t a good idea to open the door to an unknown man in the night, but as he looked like shivering in the cold wind, I went to the door and opened it.

The wind blew in and I felt the coldness carving into my flesh. The man raised his head with a great effort and turned his face to me. He was old and looked poor and weak. Untamed white tangled hair, the long white beard and the old cheap looking clothes made his appearance even pitiful.

“Please ma’am,” he said. “I’m sorry to disturb you. Please give me something to eat, I haven’t eaten for two days” he trembled with cold as he spoke. His voice sounded sad and needy. Even before I opened my mouth to say that I had nothing left as I had just finished my dinner, he fell down on the door step with an unclear groan.

I was agitated, yet I bent down only to find out that the poor old man had fainted because he had starved for few days. I kept my arm on his shoulder and tried to talk to him yet he did not respond, so I tried to pull him inside. It wasn’t easy, but somehow I dragged him into the visiting room and leaned him to the sofa. Then I wet his lips with some brandy and waited for a moment. As I was silently observing this stranger, I noticed dozens of wrinkles on his face. His face no longer scared me, neither seemed strange to me, instead suddenly I felt familiar, like I have met him somewhere else before. In-fact, his face looked kind as of my late-grandpa. While I was trying to recall any familiar face among the unclear memories down the memory lane, he seemed to return to consciousness.

After a long pause, he slowly opened his eyes and turned his head towards me. “Don’t worry,” said I, “I will prepare something for you to eat. Have a good rest on the sofa; I will be back soon”. He looked relieved but didn’t say a word. I rushed into the kitchen and quickly put a pot of milk on the hearth to boil. I found a slice of bread in the bread basket and a small amount of butter too. When I went back to the visiting room, he was sitting on the sofa observing the surrounding. I put the tray in front of him. He drank the milk first and then eagerly ate bread. I felt happy seeing him enjoying the food – perhaps, the good food which he’s having after a long time.

He didn’t utter a single word until he finished eating. At last, he raised his head and looked at me. “Ma’am, you are the only one who was kind enough to take me inside in this cold night. I travelled a long way to get here to see a friend and a neighbour told that he passed away recently. It was late in the night and the inn was closed. I was starving and I had nowhere to go amidst the snow fall. Nobody opened the door for me thinking that I was a beggar”. His voice cracked as if he was about to cry. Every word he spoke sank deep into my heart. His words even echoed in my ears for a while.

“It’s alright; you will be fine,” I said, “Anyway, take this blanket and cover yourself. Let’s talk in the morning. Have a good night.”

“You too ma’am,” he said with a smile.

I was feeling a bit uneasy that night, as I was having a stranger in my house. And it was a long time I had talked to someone. It should be around midnight when I finally fell asleep.

a_house_with_a_chimney_4When I woke up in the morning, the first thing I did was checking on my guest. He was still sleeping as a log on my couch. I smiled to myself and walked into the kitchen to prepare the breakfast. We took breakfast together that morning. He was a pleasant character and entertained me with his experiences and funny stories. His face didn’t seem pale anymore and his cheeks looked red now. His stories made me laugh until my stomach hurt and I was feeling truly happy after a long time. I couldn’t believe hearing myself cracking jokes with this person. He was indeed a good companion and I did not feel lonely anymore. I told him about my life;my childhood as a joyful kid,my young age and many more.

“I feel you are leading a monotonous life. After listening to your childhood stories I bet this routine work doesn’t suit you at all. It only makes you sad.”

“I know, but what else can I do?”

“Why don’t you start writing again? You told that you used to read and write a lot when you were a student. Maybe if you started with writing articles to newspapers, you might even find a living too. Maybe it will take you a long way someday. And I think it will give you enough distraction from all your pains as well.”

“Oh, do you think so?” I asked boringly. “So where do I start from? About what am I going to write?”

“Well, write about me!”

“You? Ha-ha! Alright! So, tell me, about you. Oh, I still didn’t catch your name!”. Surprisingly, I had forgotten to ask his name all this time.

“It’s Nicholas. Call me Nick.”

“So Nick, where are you from?” I asked.

“From North Pole.”

“North Pole? Ha ha! Good joke!”

A smile was his only response. May be he did not want to talk about his past. I wondered what sort of life this cheerful old man has been living. I was curious to know the story of his life, but I kept silent as I thought that digging into his past might hurt his feelings. The wind had stopped by then. Larch tree tops covered with hoarfrost and snow, created beautiful scenery with the rising sun behind them.

“I must go now ma’am,” he said standing up from the table after finishing the breakfast. “It’s really nice meeting you” he told as he walked towards the door.

“So Nick, where are you headed to?” I asked opening the door to him.

“Who knows ma’am, destiny will take me to meet some other person like you!” A radiant smile drew on his face.

“Good bye Nick!” I felt sad as I bid him good bye.

“Good bye Maggie, Merry Christmas!” He stepped out closing the door behind him.

I was astonished! How did he know my name? I never mentioned my name to him. I opened the door immediately. But there was no one outside. Only the snow was gently falling outside. A distant singing of a Robin bird echoed in the atmosphere. I closed the door, still surprised by the mysterious disappearance of my guest. Something on the couch suddenly caught my eye. It was a rolled piece of paper, tied with a small red ribbon. I opened it with trembling fingers.

“Never lose hope. Trust yourself and write your own destiny.I hope you wouldn’t mind collecting your Christmas gift from your writing table- Nick”

a_house_with_a_chimney_2I ran to my writing table to find a beautifully wrapped box on it. As I unwrapped the gift with a great excitement, I was delighted to see a shiny new type-writer in it! I was overwhelmed with happiness. I looked out of the window with tears of joy in my eyes. Snowfall had stopped and the sun was shining above the tree tops. Suddenly everything became as clear as crystal to me.

The white tangled hair, the long white beard, red cheeks! Nicholas, from North Pole!

Tears ran down my cheeks.

About The Author

Madhu Senarath

Inspired by her favorite writers, Madhu Senarath started writing stories and poems since her childhood. She spends her leisure time reading and writing and she considers it a quite wonderful way to unleash her feelings and find inner peace. Madhu is contributing with short fictions to Queen of Sea.

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