|A blustery winter's evening and Naji Hamad patiently holds the door for Loren Abernathy. She enters their apartment building, but there is no neighborly greeting from her. Minutes later, while the two wait for the elevator, Naji attempts to make small talk, but Loren ignores this, as coldly as she ignored his previous courtesy. Finally, annoyed with his efforts she spins away toward the stairwell and collides with an old man, Samuel, the temporary janitor. She makes sure Samuel isn't hurt then dashes to the stairwell and resumes her flight from Naji.
Entering her hallway from the stairwell, Loren watches as several teenage boys taunt the smaller Naji. They toss his cap back and forth, and remark about his need for a turban. They fling Naji's cap away and turn their attention to Loren. Her, they approach with respect, and mother-like she advises against harassing the neighbor.
Alone in the apartment, Loren begins the nightly ritual; one drink after another. While on television the Twin Towers blaze and Muslims burn the American flag, Loren relives an unretrievable past. From framed photographs to a bottle of bubble-bath, everything is a reminder of her late husband, Michael. A fireman, killed in the fight to save the victims of the 9/11 disaster, his photos can do nothing but watch over the remains of his wife. A phone call from her concerned mother, who asks what Loren would like from Santa, only deepens her pain. Many drinks later, Loren decides a request to Santa is not out of the question. She finds an unused Christmas card and asks Santa for only one thing. Kill all the Muslims! Moments later, she staggers down the hall and drops envelope into the mail slot. She turns, runs into Naji, and warns that Santa will soon be taking care of him, and all the rest of the Muslims.
The next morning, in the hallway, Loren observes Naji as his pregnant wife fusses with his coat at their doorway. Numb from the nights drinking she remembers nothing of the incident, but later, while in a lunchroom conversation with friends someone asks what she wants from Santa? With horror she recalls the hideous request and the Christmas card.
That evening Naji and Loren arrive at the apartment, again at the same time. In the foyer, Samuel stops Naji with an urgent message. His wife and their newborn child are in critical condition and have been rushed to a hospital. Samuel doesn't remember which hospital, but the address is most likely in Naji's apartment. Naji sprints to the stairwell and is gone. The elevator arrives and Loren enters but before the doors can close Samuel offers, "Too bad about Mr. Hamad's wife and child. Christmas Eve and all. Wouldn't it be wonderful if everything was different?"
Moments later, the elevator doors reopen, and Loren finds herself in the midst of a struggle. The three teens block the desperate Naji from his apartment. Naji knocks one of the boys down, and from the coat of another a gun appears. The trigger is pulled, and a shot is fired.
In a darkened hospital room there are the sounds of life support. There is a single bed where a women lies at rest. She opens her eyes. Across the room a man notices, rises from his chair and approaches; it's Naji. He smiles down at the woman; Loren. She doesn't recall what's happened or why she's there until he recounts how she stepped in front of the gun and took the bullet meant for him. With this she has some redemption, but the weight of the card and her request continues to imprison her. As he leaves, he tells her that his wife is well and they have a fine son, Michael Hamad.
Later, she wakes to find Samuel in the room. The old man seems oddly out of place here, but he compliments her heroic action. She is loath to accept the compliment, but he insists. He turns to leave then remembers something for her and holds out the Christmas card! It remains unopened and there is no return address on it. She stares at the card, amazed and relieved that she has it back. How did Samuel know? She looks up for him, but the old man has vanished, as if he were never there. Only the sound of sleigh bells in the distance can be heard.
2004 Marc Calderwood
All Rights Reserved