Clank, clank, clank…, the big billboard sounded dangerously battered by the cold wind. I was trying to reach my house at Second Ave with 79th Street. The metallic sound made me consider if it would be better to change the sidewalk or get out of there as quickly as possible.
Santa, red and white, loaded with colourful packages, smiled from the billboard that was now a threat to the few pedestrians who dared to challenge the frozen avenue in New York, even though it was time to make the last purchases for Christmas.
I was a newcomer to Manhattan, but I had already realized that skyscrapers turn the avenues of the famous island into tubes of propulsion of icy air when the wind blows in winter.
A young black man, obviously homeless, came to me asking for alms while the contents of a nearby bin flew aimlessly around us. He was tall and thin, but his body seemed insignificant, shrunk as he was, when he extended one bare hand, while with the other, he tried to keep his jacket collar protecting his throat. He said nothing. The gesture, the posture was a whole speech:
-could you help me, he cried without words?
I began to look for money in my purse and took off my glove.
Without thinking twice, I took off the other glove and gave them to him to warm his frozen hands.
He smiled. Finally, I found some money and gave it to him too. Surely it was not enough. But I kept his bright and sincere smile when he put on his new gloves. Maybe that was his best gift for Christmas.
A loud metallic noise startled us both. An ad panel had come off and crashed into a small wall and a parked car. Santa Claus had flown as if he wanted to fulfill the tradition. But the picture in the billboard, now torn apart, was not the real Santa, and his trip was short and disastrous. His image was dejected and dented, turned into scrap metal. That young homeless grabbed my shoulders firmly, lifted me, and laid me gently on the ground, safely in the direction against the wind. He told me: “This is not a safe place. Go on the other sidewalk.
When I started walking, a little stunned by what had just happened, I heard him shout behind me: “God bless you!”
“God bless you,” I replied, “and may He give you shelter for this Christmas,” I added because it was what I most wanted for him. “He will give it to me, he will give it to me,” he said, trying to sound convincing.
I continued my way. As I walked away, I looked once back. His smile had disappeared. He was still under the torn billboard, waiting for some other person to stand before his outstretched hand in the middle of the icy wind that distant Christmas Eve.