The bells were chiming in the season's greetings and downtown shoppers were busy flitting about from store to store, hurrying before the onset of the forecasted storm. The temperatures had been steadily falling since noon and in the early evening it had reached 25° with light flurries glistening in the street lights and muted decorations.
There he sat all alone on the sidewalk with hopes that no one would pass him by. He wore black boots that had forgotten polish and were mended with duck tape, faded coveralls held together by a variety of patches, and a coat that was a shabby and stained timeworn red waist-length with threadbare cuffs. He wore the evidence of his current status in life. On his head, a turned down fedora, at least one size too large, was pulled down as far as it could go to give his ears some protection from the cold. His face was a map of a long hard journey framed by a scraggly and matted off-gray beard and a pair of antiquated rectangular shaped eyeglasses with one cracked lens. His take for the day had been a meager one and he was starting to become concerned as to where he would spend the night. The shelters had a history of overcrowding at this time of year and he feared that he had waited too long before checking them out. A group of shoppers, with their arms full of brightly colored and ribboned packages, approached him as though he wasn't there. Some people had the ability of looking through him. He often felt invisible to the world. As they passed, they broke out in laughter and that brought a tear to his eye.
"Why are you crying?", said a tiny voice from the darkness.
He looked curiously about and saw a young lad step out of the shadows. He was about eight or nine years old with huge brown eyes and a big white floppy pompomed toque. He wore black boots one of which still had the price tag dangling from it and a blue snowsuit with hand knitted mittens that were attached to the sleeves with safety pins . He looked like a Norman Rockwell Christmas sketch.
"Why are you crying?", the boy asked again. "Are you lost too?"
"No boy. It's nothing like that. What are you doing out here on the street, in the cold and the dark, by yourself?"
"I lost my mom in the crowd and I'm waiting to be found", he said, showing quite a bit of maturity for one so young.
"Well boy, I guess then we are both lost. Sit down here and talk to me while you're waiting to be rescued. Perhaps we'll both be found."
Hesitantly the boy sat down and began to tell the man about how he didn't really care for all this shopping. The stores were too hot and you got pushed around a lot and people would be arguing about who was in line first and comparing all the great "buys" they had made. Then you went out into the cold and got pushed around some more. That's how he was separated from his mom. He was pushed by some people and he slipped on the sidewalk. When he got up, his mom had disappeared into the crowd.
"How did you get here Mr.?", the boy asked. "Were you shopping?"
"In a way boy, I got here almost the same way you did. People look right through me boy. Did you know that? I'm invisible to most people."
"That's silly mister. I can see you."
"I know you can boy. I know." The old man paused for a brief moment. "A long time ago I was pushed around a lot by people who were in a hurry. Making deals. Getting "buys". They stopped seeing me and slowly forgot about me. Now things are rough, but I survive boy. Every year, I survive."
The boy didn't understand what the man was talking about, but he felt a great sadness while he sat there with the old man and wished that there was something that he could do to help. The boy told the man about how his father had been out of work for a long time and that they were real poor for a while. He went on to say that someone had been good to his dad and given his father a job. His father had worked hard and got a promotion and that the family was going to have the best Christmas ever.
While they had been sitting there, the snow had really started to come down and people were slowly leaving the street scene for warmer and cozier settings. A woman, frantic with fear, came running up to the pair sitting on the sidewalk and screamed, "Carlos, where have you been!? I've been going crazy looking for you! I told you to stay close to me! What happened to you!?"
Carlos explained to his mother how he had been knocked down in the crowd and lost sight of her so he decided to stay put and that the old man had kept him company until he was found. Carlos' mom thanked the man and was trying to get Carlos and herself quickly away when Carlos pulled her aside with pleading whispers. Shortly, they returned to the old man and Carlos' mom once again thanked him for keeping her son company so that nothing would happen to him. The man looked in her eyes and said, "It was no bother Ma'am. We were both tired of shopping."
"Mr., you can come home with us for the night, if you want. Mom says it's okay. Will you come, please?"
The old man was quite taken with the generous offer and haltingly said, "That's very kind of you. I would be pleased. Perhaps there can be some way that I can repay your kindness."
As the three walked through the storm with the new snow crunching beneath their feet, they could hear a church choir practicing in the distance. Carlos asked the old man his name.
"Nick, boy. You can call me Nick."