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A voice on Christmas Eve

He almost gasped out loud at the sudden jab of pain hitting him from within, as it had taken to doing nowadays. He bit the inside of his lip sharply, not wanting her to see him in that state yet again. He knew she was worried about him, and did not wish to increase her concern.

The evening air was chilly. The windows he passed by, lit up for Christmas, did not make him feel warmer
- Lino Spiteri

She had asked him once what it was. He did not give her a straight answer, muttering something about being out of breath at times because he was so out of shape. He promised her he would start going out for an invigorating half-hour walk.

He could tell she was not convinced, even though he had really begun to go for a walk most days. He especially needed to do so when the pain came and took over his whole being.

It was as if an arrow tipped in acute sadness had been let loose from inside of him towards where his heart lay.

Even if he could, he did not want to describe that to her. She would think it was the signal of a looming heart attack. He was well into that age group, now. Not that he felt old. That is, not until recently.

He used to be able to hide his worries behind an easy smile, dealing with them as best he could, sharing with her only what was mutually known to them, never the full details of the extent of his involvement of providing solutions to those of their family who needed help.

Now he felt that his age was rapidly catching up with him. That brought on his anxieties, growing until they became an almost constant state of mind. The drilling pain from inside was the onset of times when his anxieties became almost unbearable.

It’s a touch of depression, he would tell her in answer to her inquiring eyes. Nothing serious. I’ve always suffered a bit from that.

Why should you be depressed? she asked. What’s new that’s wrong.

Nothing, really nothing, he would say, soothingly. Mine is a mild depression, it just comes without being caused by any external factor. It doesn’t happen often.

She was not convinced, but was wise enough to let him be, though making clear by her actions that she was always there beside him, ready to share everything with him. As they had done for a lifetime.

Are you sure you’re all right? she asked him this evening. You wouldn’t like me to call over the doctor would you?

He could hardly speak because of the growing pain. Still, he forced out what he hoped would pass as a cheerful reply.

Who needs doctors! All I need is some fresh air. Look, I’m going out for a brisk walk before dinner – I’ll soon be back. He left, before she could ask any more questions.

The evening air was chilly. The windows he passed by, lit up for Christmas, did not make him feel warmer. The burrowing sadness within him grew.

Please God, he silently cried, please! Help me, help me.

He tried to hurry despite the arthritis that had begun to slow him down, trying to take deep breaths in the hope they would ease the tightness centred around his heart.

Please God, help me! he cried again.

What ails you? a gentle voice asked him.

He looked round to see who had spoken, but he was alone in the darkness of the street leading out of the village.

What is the matter, tell me. Why are you so sad?

He stopped, shaking his head to focus. And he realised the voice was within him.

Without thinking, he burst out a reply.

I’m sad because I am feeling I am going to die soon!

Everybody dies, sooner or later, the voice said in a whisper.

I know! said the man. But, I am not ready to die, not yet, not yet!

No one can choose when to go. But why do you feel unready, tell me.

The man shook his head, and the thoughts suppressed within him came tumbling out.

I have hurt so many in my lifetime. I am a sinner.

Isn’t everybody? sighed the gentle voice. I should know, for do I not carry all the sins of the world on my back? Yours will not break me.

Tears were now streaming down the man’s face.

But I have not yet begged forforgiveness…

You have repented. Thatis enough, my Father understands. He stands forforgiveness, does he not?

Yes, cried the man, but I have not atoned towards those I have hurt.

You think not, said the voice, but you wish to. My Father judges by the intention.

Even so, said the man, tears tumbling from his eyes in the cold, I still am not ready to go! There are those who depend on me so, that is why, sinner though I am, I pray for health and wisdom to be able to continue to give guidance andsuccour.

And they have been given to you, have they not? said the voice. And there is something else: why should you not believe that my Father will continue to provide for those who need help, even when you’re gone, which – if I may tell you a little secret – will not be for some time yet.

The man did not think of anything else to say within him. He felt the inner pain slowly easing, the sadness melting, Warmth came over him.

Thank you! He whispered, turning back to hurry home.

His wife quickly hid her anxiety when he let himself in.

How do you feel? she asked.

I am so much better, thank God! he answered. So much! Let me wish you an early Happy Christmas. Let’s Skype the children before they go out for the night.

And he gathered her in his arms and kissed her as passionately as when they were young.

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