It was a cold and wet day in mid-December, & the streets were packed with shoppers all hunting for the perfect gifts for their loved ones. Dean wheeled himself along the aisles of the busy toy shop, scanning the shelves for the train set his young daughter had been asking for since she had first spied it several months prior. It was hard to get a good view in the midst of the crowd, but luckily his best friend Luke had offered to come with him, having heard many stories of shopping trips gone wrong over a pint in the local pub.
“There!” Jake pointed to the top shelf where the large, brightly coloured box rested well out of Dean’s reach. Jake stretched up & carefully lifted the box down.
“How much is it again?” Dean asked.
“Uhh…£75,” Jake searched for the price tag.
“Blimey,” Dean murmured, acutely aware of just how little there was in his bank account.
“Gonna go for it anyway?” Jake queried.
“Yeah,” Dean said after a short pause, “Lisa’s been desperate for this for ages.”
Together they navigated through the crowds, eventually making it to the unmanned accessible till.
“I’m sorry, sir, this till isn’t open,” a shop assistant told Luke in-between serving customers.
“I can’t reach your card machine at the normal tills,” Dean said.
“Oh, well, can’t your carer do it for you?”
“I’m not his carer!” Luke protested.
“Oh, then I guess someone will be with you shortly.”
“Serves you right for trying to cut in line,” a stranger snapped from the queue for the till. Luke opened his mouth to say something equally sharp in response about priority access, but Dean quietly reminded him that it wasn’t worth the effort.
“Shortly” turned out to be ten minutes later, Luke simmering angrily the entire time, but eventually someone came over to accessible till. The detachable card machine was initially handed to Luke, who made a point of handing it to Dean, who’s card promptly declined.
“Shit,” Dean murmured, garnering looks of disapproval from nearby shoppers.
“I’d give you an interest-free loan if I hadn’t already emptied my bank account on my own Christmas shopping,” Luke said, as they exited the store having apologised for wasting a minute of the clerk’s time, receiving an apathetic “Merry Christmas” as they went away.
“Nah mate, it’s OK,” Dean said, trying not to sound too dejected, “redundancy just sucks.”
Out on the street the light was fading, & the street lamps began to glow. Some of the shops were beginning to close, locking doors & pulling down shutters, as the crowds dispersed. On their way back to the bus station, Dean & Luke came across a group of Christians cheerily wishing people a Merry Christmas, and offering Bibles to passers-by, & collecting donations for a charity of some-kind.
“No, thank you,” Dean said as they went past.
“Then let me show you the power of Christ by healing you with the Holy Spirit! You shall walk again!” the group leader declared loudly, causing nearby individuals to stare.
“Oh, no tha-,” Dean began but was interrupted by several hands being placed on his shoulders, before he could tell anyone that he could already walk, just not any great distance. Luke stood to one side, part appalled, & part entertained by the debacle. As the prayers began Dean had an idea, & subtlety unclipped his seatbelt.
Before the first line of their prayers had been uttered, Dean leapt up from his wheelchair with the vigour of athlete, & yelled as loud as he could;
“IT’S A MIRACLE, IT’S A CHRISTMAS MIRACLE!”
Stunned, the faith-healers stopped mid-sentence, barely able to process what had just happened. Dean then walked away, taking long, purposeful strides, & disappearing into a nearby alley between shops as a sniggering Luke following him, pushing the now-empty wheelchair. The sound of coins clinking into a bucket was almost drowned out by the applause.
Hidden in the alleyway, Dean was leant against the wall trying to catch his breath, partly from the exertion & partly from laughter. He gratefully flopped down into his wheelchair, which skittered backwards several paces because Luke had forgotten to put on the brakes. Both men laughed and laughed until tears ran down their cheeks.
“Man, that’s cheered me up,” Dean managed to say between fits of laughter.
“I’d heard the stories, mate, but never seen you do it for real!” Luke returned.
When they went back out onto the street several minutes later, the initial crowd having dispersed, & keeping away from the still stunned Christians, Luke gasped.
“Holy crap, have you seen how much cash they’ve just made from that?”
“I can’t really see through the crowd,” Dean said, “but I’m presuming it’s a lot.”
“Repeat that a few more times & I bet you could afford that train set,” Luke joked.
Both men paused.
“Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” Dean asked Luke.
“I need to do some miracles,” Luke replied.
The following weekend, on an equally dismal day, Dean was huddled in the doorway of a coffee shop in an attempt to keep warm, looking at his phone. He received a message from Luke just as the barista politely reminded him that if he wasn’t buying anything, he needed to leave.
Dean pushed through the double doors out onto the street, then looked at his phone again.
“Ready, I’m just outside the shopping centre at the south entrance.”
Dean shoved his phone back in his pocket, pulled his scarf up & hat down so that only his eyes were visible, & rounded the corner onto a busy street. About half way down the road he began to hear the tinny sounds of Christmas carols being played on a feeble speaker, & following the sound he quickly found Luke, free Bible in hand, reminding passers-by of the true meaning of Christmas.
“Aha!” Luke exclaimed theatrically upon spotting his friend, “I see someone in need of a Christmas miracle!”
Dean smirked beneath his scarf as Luke placed a hand on his friends’ head, & began to murmur fervently. A few seconds in, Dean bounced up to his feet yelling about a miracle, & immediately slipped away among the crowd into an empty side street, where he found a bench to wait for his friend. Ten minutes later a grinning Luke rounded the corner, pushing Dean’s wheelchair, which was now carrying an old biscuit tin that clinked with every bump in the pavement.
“That was at least £15,” he said as he approached, this time remembering to put the brakes on before Dean transferred into his wheelchair. Luke emptied the tin into the backpack on Dean’s chair, making sure it was secure.
“Where should we go next?”
“Maybe we could try inside the shopping centre itself,” Dean suggested, “I could probably make it to the food court if you stood outside the cinema.”
“Alright, I’ll text you when I’m set up,” Luke said as he strode away.
Dean stayed on the quiet streets away from prying eyes until his phone buzzed, & then made his way into the shopping centre using the north entrance. Once inside he removed his scarf & hat & unzipped his coat. This time he had a harder time finding Luke, as the speakers playing Christmas tunes drowned out anything that could be heard from Luke’s phone. Luckily, he knew his way around, and sure enough spotted Luke outside the cinema with his coat folded up beneath the tin which already had a few coins in it.
This time Luke wasn’t quite as theatrical, but still spoke loudly enough to draw some attention as they repeated the “miracle”. Dean wandered off to the food court which was practically empty prior to the lunch rush, & chose a seat facing away from the shops outside a closed stall. Some time later the sound of clinking alerted him to Luke’s presence, who repeated the process of emptying the change into Dean’s bag.
Throughout the day they repeated the process several times, always choosing a different location & changing their appearance slightly, and never spending too long in one location. After the fifth attempt, they retreated to an empty coffee shop to warm themselves through & count what they had collected.
“74, 75, 76, 77, £78.67,” Luke counted the last stack of coins into its little bag.
“Good, we should have enough time to go to the toy store,” Dean glanced at his phone, “and yep, their website seems to suggest that they still have it in stock.”
They downed their cheap drinks & journeyed across the city centre, carefully avoiding the spots they had visited throughout the day, & returned to the toy shop. The train set was still in the same spot as it had been the week prior, & this time they only had to wait five minutes for the accessible till to be staffed. Once again, the card machine was passed to Luke, who simply smirked as Dean heaved their backpack onto the counter.
“You can keep the change,” Dean said.
“Well,” the clerk looked surprised before quickly counting the money, “I’m grateful it’s at least sorted into bags.”
He handed Dean’s now empty backpack down to him, & the train set to Luke in a large plastic bag. They thanked him for the service & left the store, and travelled back towards the bus station as the sky darkened.
Lisa’s eyes sparkled with joy as she saw the presents waiting beneath the Christmas tree, her gaze settling on a particularly large box wrapped in red, glittering paper.
“You can open one before breakfast,” Dean said, knowing that this would be the only way he could get Lisa to eat anything before giving in to the excitement.
“That one,” she pointed to the red parcel instantly.
Dean gave his wife, Claire, a knowing smile as he leant forward & gently pulled the gift out from behind the others, placing it on the floor in front of Lisa, who tugged on the tag on top of the box.
My elves told me that you might like this; I hope they were right! Merry Christmas!
Lisa was now hopping up and down on the spot with excitement, & began to tear eagerly at the paper, revealing the train set. She squealed and opened the unsealed box; Dean having spent most of the prior evening making sure it was ready to be played with straight away. The pieces of track were wooden & fit together like a jigsaw. There were bridges & a little train station with figures waiting to board the train, a three-way junction, & even a little turntable. The trains themselves were painted in bright colours, with carriages that stuck together with magnets. It was exactly what Lisa wanted.
It proved quite the task getting Lisa to leave it be while they all had breakfast & opened their other gifts, as all she wanted to do was start playing with her new train set. When her grandparents came over for Christmas dinner, it was the first thing they were shown as they came through the door. Even the family cat was shown the train set as they watched from the empty box. It was also the first topic of discussion at the dinner table.
“There is one thing missing from the set, though,” said Lisa, having spent the past five minutes talking about how good it was.
“What would that be then?” grandma said, smiling.
“There’s no ramps. How will I get daddy on the train? When I grow up and can drive a real train, I’ll make sure there’s always a ramp,” Lisa said.
Dean smiled as his train pulled into the station, which was packed full of people travelling to see friends and family for the Christmas holidays. He sat back & let the crowd rush by as they clambered onto the train, remembering the Christmas twenty years prior when his daughter had so proudly told everyone that as a train driver, her train would always be accessible. The cabin door at the front of the train opened & a young, blonde woman stepped out. Her eyes searched the platform until she spotted Dean & waved. A porter was approaching with a ramp, who she made a beeline for, asking that she put out the ramp herself. Bemused, the porter shrugged & wandered off, leaving her to set it up leading into the first-class carriage. As Dean approached, she bent down and kissed him on the cheek.
“Merry Christmas, Lisa,” Dean said.
She replied, “Merry Christmas, dad.”