Sergio parked his car near a bank branch. It was already late afternoon, but he had been running errands all morning and then the snow got too bad for him to drive. He waited a few hours for the snowplows to have time to clear the streets and got out of the car smiling sheepishly.
He didn’t hate the snow. It just reminded him of a happy time in his life that would never return. There was still some white snow on the sidewalk and he tried to step carefully on it so as not to fall. As he looked down at the ground he noticed a piece of paper.
He quickly picked it up and saw a crumpled letter addressed to “Dear Santa” in simple, childish handwriting. Sergio’s hand trembled as he tried not to crumple the paper anymore. He didn’t hate Christmas, or Santa, or the celebrations, or the joy. But seeing so much happiness would only remind him of all he had lost.
Years ago, his wife died in childbirth. His baby luckily survived; he loved the snow, Christmas lights, Christmas carols and everything about the holidays. But he died at the age of six after a freak accident at his school, and Sergio has lost all his joy ever since.
He tolerated the holidays because he didn’t want to act like a “Grinch.” He sent gifts to his nieces and nephews and attended family dinners, but he was a ghost.
This letter was nothing more than a reminder of what he could have, but somehow, it piqued his curiosity. With trembling hands, she opened the envelope. Maybe he could find out what this little girl wanted for Christmas and find a way to make her wishes come true.
“Dear Santa,” he read aloud. “It would be great if you could give me a pair of winter boots. My mommy can’t buy them for me because it’s too much money, but I get sick without good shoes.”
The letter went on to explain that the girl’s mother didn’t have much, but that they were happy when she wasn’t sick, and that she hoped the boots would help her stay out of the hospital. Sergio was surprised to feel a tear fall down his cheek as he read the end, “Thank you so much, Santa. Love, Milenita.”
He hated that a little girl and her mother would go without the basics when he had so much money and no family to share it with.
Since the letter was written by a little girl, it had no return address, so Sergio was speechless. But then he realized that if the letter was there, in front of the bank agency, he could ask for the girl.
One of the cashiers, Carolina, recognized the letter.
“Ah, yes, it belongs to Mrs. Martha and her daughter, Milenita.” Milenita had the envelope in her hand and said, ‘Let’s send the letter to Santa Claus.’ I’m surprised they lost it,’” she commented.
“Do you have her contact information?” asked Sergio. “I want to give the little girl what she asked for in the letter. She needs some winter boots because she gets sick. It’s terrible.”
Carolina gave him a phone number and he immediately called. “Hello, yes, this is Martha,” the woman answered, and Sergio explained the reason for his call.
“Oh! You found my daughter’s letter. I was distraught because I had lost it. But it’s okay. I was going to write another one at her grandmother’s house.”
“Actually, I was wondering if we could meet and talk. I’m at the bank, where I found the letter,” Sergio asked, introduced himself and explained what he wanted. Naturally, the single mother was reluctant, but agreed to meet after her shift at dinner.
They met at a café near the bank, and Sergio was surprised to see such a young woman,
“Did you read what she asked Santa Claus?” said Sergio.
“Yes,” Martha nodded. “I’ve been looking online, and the price of winter boots is crazy. Right now, I can’t afford them. But she doesn’t get sick from the cold. Not necessarily. The doctors said she had a weak immune system, which has nothing to do with it. I just had to tell her that story because she’s been freaking out about winters.”
“Has she been hospitalized during the winter?”.
“Yes, but she was also hospitalized last April, so it’s not because of the cold. I try to do the best I can, but I’m drowning with rent and medical bills. It’s not easy. It’s been hard because I only have my mother to help me. I actually went to the bank, but they wouldn’t approve me for the loan I wanted.” said Martha, shaking her head and looking away. “Oh, look at me. I go on and on about my problems. I’m sorry.”
“No, I want to hear them. Go on, please. What about that loan?”, Sergio insisted, concentrating.
“I can’t pay the rent anymore and we’re moving back in with my mother. But that poor house needs so many repairs. I was hoping for a loan to make some repairs at least, but well.” Martha hesitated, pursed her lips and shrugged. “What can you do?”
“I can do something. But for now, please give me your address. I want to send Milenita her boots and some other things,” Sergio revealed, and Martha shook her head, trying to resist, but Sergio convinced her.
Milenita loved the boots and the gifts Sergio sent her, but, unfortunately, her illness flared up and she had to be hospitalized again. To everyone’s surprise, Sergio showed up. Every day. He accompanied Martha, her elderly mother and the little girl while the doctors informed them of her delicate health condition.
This time she had pneumonia and they tried to cure her with medication, but for a while she was in critical condition. Unfortunately, Milenita got worse and at some point she was put on a ventilator. During this time, Sergio told Martha what had happened to him and his family and encouraged her to be strong for her little girl.
“I can’t believe you went through all that pain and yet you’re here,” Martha told him one night at the hospital.
“I know. I didn’t think I could. All these years I’ve felt numb at Christmas because my son loved this holiday. But something about you and your daughter and her letter to Santa…it was like something in me changed,” Sergio replied. “I can’t explain it.”
Martha looked at him sincerely for the first time, and they stared into each other’s eyes for a while. A moment frozen in time that they didn’t understand would change their lives forever. The only sound that could be heard was Milenita’s respirator and the other machines in the hospital room.
Finally, a doctor came in and interrupted their moment. But it was a welcome interruption. He revealed that Milenita’s new tests were much better and that she would be taken off the ventilator that same day.
That night, Martha cried in Sergio’s arms as her daughter started breathing on her own again. A few weeks later, she was released from the hospital, and Sergio was by her side. He paid for her entire hospitalization and her other medical bills and had Martha’s mother’s house remodeled so that everyone would be safe.
The single mother didn’t know how to thank him, but Milenita hugged and kissed him often. She also wanted to play all the time, and Sergio was up for it. Eventually, Martha understood that Sergio wasn’t going anywhere and, more importantly, that she didn’t want him to leave. Eventually, they officially started dating, and the girls were never again alone without support.
After all their years of pain, they were his prize.