So. Christmas is over for another year. And I survived, thanks to the company and laughter of a friend from Poland and another friend from Mali. Never has so much sweet potato been consumed by so few 🙂
Being in Malta away from family at Christmas can be a wee bit depressing so yesterday was a concerted effort to break away from nostalgia, melancholy and useless feelings of self-pity – all sentiments which give rise to either anger or sadness or both every time a Christmas song plays on the radio (every song in other words).
Here’s thinking back to a Christmas in Duende. Christmas 1920:
That Christmas, they stayed in Madrid despite protests from their families. Jose had exams in January and didn’t want to interrupt his studies while Nayo was more than happy to stay and paint. Salvador’s spirits were lifted and the festive season took on a different guise as he derived a welcome pleasure from decorating the house. He even caught himself whistling a Christmas carol as he placed the newly acquired nativity scene in the hallway. He remembered the one his mother used to bring out every year and how excited it would make him as a child. The whole smell of the house changed and, on January the fifth, he and Horacio would stuff their shoes with straw before placing them on the doorstep in anticipation of the Three Wise Men who’d undoubtedly come in the night and replace the hay with gifts. He assumed Jose and Nayo would’ve outgrown some of these traditions but they seemed happy to play long. Fun doesn’t have to stop just because childhood ends.
As soon as the stars appeared on Nochebuena, Salvador lit an oil lamp and smiled at the magic of it all.
‘Noche estrellas,’ he said, before disappearing to the kitchen to check the oven.
They left the meat to stew in its own juices and went to Mass. Even they knew their behaviour contradicted the priest’s strict regulations, Jose and Nayo had been brought up in the Church and could find no way to relinquish their faith. Jose’s philosophical understanding had broadened his horizons but still the God he’d grown up with remained right there by his side. The God he knew was one of forgiveness not retribution and, where Nayo was concerned, there was nothing to forgive.
‘Esta noche es Nochebuena, y no es noche de dormir,’ laughed Salvador as they returned home to the aroma of well-cooked lamb. The stars had disappeared by the time they went to bed and that night, Nayo lay beside Jose. Their first Christmas alone and together was a moment not to be missed.
‘How much I want this,’ whispered Jose as Nayo held his face in his hands.
‘How much I want this and for always,’ he insisted as their lips came together softly then parted to meet full and strong again. To wake on Christmas morning side by side was more than either of them could’ve asked for and they let their bodies show gratitude for this gift, leaving Salvador waiting impatiently for Christmas to begin.
January the sixth mattered most to them as the exchange of presents was important. Jose and Nayo had so much to appreciate and Salvador needed to know this. For Nayo, it was easy. He’d painted a picture and wrapped it up in shiny paper, while knowing the shape would give the game away.
Salvador was shocked Nayo had gone to so much trouble and he inhaled deeply when he removed the wrapping paper. It was a portrait of Salvador but one that bypassed naturalistic representation. He recognised himself but what Nayo had captured was more than this. Somehow, Nayo had found the Salvador of his youth. The young man with ideals and dreams and expectations. The young man who still lived inside Salvador and refused to yield. The insight in this painting was beyond Salvador’s understanding and he wondered if Nayo had access to other secrets and, if so, how.
He kissed Nayo on both cheeks and hugged him. The words to express what he was really feeling were unavailable so gestures had to suffice. In this instance, they were more than enough.
Jose’s gift was less personal and yet deeply so at the same time.
‘Ortega y Gasset has the Chair in Metaphysics at the university,’ Jose explained. ‘This is a fairly recent publication and I’ve heard it’s quite poignant.’
Salvador smiled and looked at the book which was to take him through a metaphorical and meditative journey through trees and forests, streams and snow, for many days to come.