The Day Santa Died

An urban coming-of-age story, much like “Fresh”.

By Chongchen Saelee

I remember the day the jingle bells died.

And over many Christmases, the weather wasn’t a cold night much like tonight. It was snowy and the air was biting. It wasn’t the worst weather for the night life to thrive in. On El Sangria Boulevard, the prostitutes positioned themselves along the street like Christmas lights for the upcoming surge in traffic, and they welcomed the clientele who were heading home from work after a hard day of labor. There was a mix of fishnets and red and white cotton. There, too, was Santa Claus panhandling for money with his clanking coffee can.

Santa Claus was a scummy looking Joe. He was burping and farting and singing loudly, but never lost his cool. He always seemed so jolly.

My cousins and I would witness this jolly old man every Christmas season on our way home from middle school. We kept our distance. Some of these prostitutes were really nice and would give us free candy from their purses. We didn’t think too much of it, as boys, and come to think of it now, probably shouldn’t have taken anything from them. But these prostitutes were really maternal. And we were good kids in a bad town.

Santa Claus was more like the crazy uncle. He was a mad drunk. But we could tell he wouldn’t ever hurt us. He acknowledged we were there, and he’d make up a song for us and rattle his coffee can of loose change. One Christmas, my cousins and I scraped up about $1.15 and gave it to the old man. He was so overjoyed, he starting skipping and clapping like a TV show doll. His toothless grin was enough thanks for us.

By the time we were in high school, a lot had happened on Sangria. There had been many drive-bys and physical violence. The older prostitutes had moved on, or died off, and a new wave of younger, more innocent looking prostitutes lined the streets. But Santa Claus was still there, jolly as ever.

Eventually, my cousins and I were graduated from high school and some of them went off to work while I had my eye on pursuing college. I was looking to start university by Christmas. Of course, by this time, I wasn’t walking home from school anymore, so it was easy to forget where you come from, lost in the mindset of where you may be going.

I had already packed up my suitcase and other items, and my uncle was going to drop me off at the bus station. But before I left this crime-ridden town for a glimmer of hope in a new life, I decided I had to get a blessing from Old St. Nick. I took the usual route, by foot, leaving my boot prints in the thick snow. I wanted to remember this place. Every corner, every shortcut. And when I got to Sangria, Santa Claus was gone.

I asked around some of the street walkers if they had seen him, but these younger workers didn’t look familiar. Nor did they care. And then one of their pimps rushed out from the apartment complex behind the dumpsters, waving his gun, saying I was ruining their business and drawing too much attention if I wasn’t looking to hire anyone. So I took off running.

Later that evening, on the way to the bus station, my uncle asked me what was bothering me. I sighed and told him, this would be the last Christmas I’d believe in Santa Claus. My uncle chuckled, a little dumbfounded, asking me, “You still believe in Santa Claus at your age?” I looked at him, and said, “What else is there to believe in around here?” My uncle responded, “Believe in yourself.” And we pulled up into the bus station terminal.

He dropped me off and helped me with my luggage inside the warm bus station. He wished me good luck and left. On the TV mounted on the wall, there was standard news about muggings and stabbings, all so common I had refused to watch any news in a while. But something caught my attention.

“Police believe they have found a strong clue that may lead to the person responsible for the murder of a homeless elderly man on El Sangria Boulevard three months ago.” And there it was, a random photo of some tourist posing with the old man in his Santa suit, looking like they were having a blast.

I didn’t know how to process it. I was shocked at the news, but moreso at my own ignorance of the event. And I sat there in the nearly empty bus station, thinking about why this had happened to him.

Finally, the bus arrived. We quickly shuffled into the metal box of a bus like a pack of sardines. I sat in the back. As we pulled off, I peered out the window into the night sky, wondering if I would ever see a Santa hit the sky with his reindeer and just bellow his deep laughter as he spread joy across the world again. But all I saw was the empty sky, the lone moon, and the falling snowflakes and I slowly averted my eyes from the starry dream.

I sat back in my seat and closed my eyes, took a deep sigh, and never looked back again.

The End

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