The Christmas Present

As the smell of rum-soaked plum cakes wafted across the evening air, Sarah forgot for a moment, just how snowy it was outside. She quickly rushed into the London Central Train Station and made her way to the counter. “One ticket to Brighton, please”, she said. She didn’t really know why she wanted to go to Brighton, but it just felt like the right place to be. On the way to the platform, she suddenly stopped to look at her ticket. She was quite forgetful these days. Just yesterday, she was baking her signature chocolate chip cookies and completely forgot to take them out of the oven. Mrs. Dawson, who lived downstairs, had come to give her the electricity bill and she said, “Did you forget anything in the oven dear? I think something is burning”. Sarah ran to the kitchen only to find burnt cookies and smoke everywhere. 

Sarah stood on the platform looking quite lost, when a kind man offered to help her onto the train. Incidentally, his seat was right next to hers. “You can call me Jack”, he said. The voice was strangely familiar to her, but she couldn’t understand why. “Beautiful day, isn’t it?”, said Sarah. “Splendid. It is Christmas Eve after all!”, he said. As the train sped away from the city, they talked about Brighton, and how beautiful it was there. Sarah was quite surprised with how much she knew about Brighton. They talked about the beach; the soft sand, the brilliant blue water, kids running around in their swimsuits and lovers huddled up in corners. A lot of memories came flooding back to both of them, but whether they were happy or sad, couldn’t be said.

While they were talking, Sarah suddenly got up to leave. Jack asked her where she was going, but she didn’t answer and started packing her things. She looked very flustered and confused. She turned around and asked him, “Where are we?”. Jack answered, ” We just passed Albourne, Miss. We will be reaching Brighton in some time”. She sat back down saying, “Oh! Is it? I see. Lovely little place, Albourne is. I used to go there to visit my uncle quite often”.

In a little while, Sarah fell asleep and Jack helped himself to the cookies on the table, chocolate chip being his favourite. All the while, he seemed to be smiling to himself, as if he was the happiest man on earth.

Finally, they reached Brighton and everybody hurried out of the train, eager to go home to their families. But it looked like no one had come to pick up Sarah and Jack generously offered to drop her home. 

Jack stopped outside a small house and called out at the top of his voice, “Jessie! Joshua! I found her!”. A boy and a girl came running across the porch. At this moment, millions of thoughts raced across Sarah’s mind. But she was too confused to understand what was going on. “Ma?!” both the kids screamed together. They couldn’t believe it!

 “Joshua, go and call Dr. Wells immediately!” Jack said to the boy. Jack took Sarah inside and sat her down near the fireplace. She couldn’t understand where exactly she was, but it all seemed very familiar somehow.

Jack came and sat down in front of her. He showed her a framed photograph and asked “Sarah, my dear, do you remember?”  

It was a picture of a family in the beach, and there she was in the middle. Jack was beside her and Joshua and Jessie were sitting on their shoulders. She quietly turned to Jack and asked, “What happened to me?”

Just then, Dr. Wells entered the living room, with Joshua right behind him. He looked at Jack and said, “Tell her everything. There is a chance she might get her memory back. ” 

Hoping for a miracle, Jack began telling Sarah her own story. As he spoke, the children looked expectantly at their mother, hoping and praying that she would somehow remember.

He told her about how they had met at a party on the beach, got married three months later and had twins a year after that. He told her how, one day she had slipped on the snow outside and gotten hurt on her head. Dr. Wells had said that she had a memory disorder due to the injury, and that they should be careful because she would gradually start forgetting everything. He said that initially, she would start forgetting recent events and specifics like names and places and that her childhood memories would be the last to go. However, he also said that the memories she remembers and loses can be very random and unpredictable.

One Christmas eve, Jack came home after buying the turkey, and Sarah was gone. Jessie said that she had been behaving quite strangely since that morning and that sometime before leaving, she looked at Jessie and asked her who she was. She said that she suddenly started being very aggressive and said she didn’t know where she was and that she wanted to go home. With that, she had stormed out of the house. On hearing this from Jessie, Jack felt completely lost. He had no idea what to do. But he knew he had to be strong for the kids. So he dropped them at their neighbors house and told them that he would return with Sarah for sure. 

Since Sarah said she was going home, he realised she might have gone to her parents house in London. Jack immediately boarded a train to London, desperately hoping she had gone there. But her parents were as clueless as him. Together, they looked for her everywhere. But after two days, Jack realised he needed to go back to his children. Her parents continued to search for Sarah, while Jack returned to Brighton, empty handed. Just like that, she disappeared from their lives. 

Jack now looked up at Sarah and saw her eyes widen. “Yes! I remember now!” she said. Jack’s eyes swelled up with tears and the kids jumped around in happiness. “Merry Christmas everyone! Looks like my job here is done. Take good care of her. She’s a miracle.” said Dr. Wells, with a smile. 

When Jack came back after seeing off Dr. Wells, Joshua asked, “How did you find Ma, dad?”. “Well, that’s one interesting story”, said Jack. “As you both know, I had gone to London to search for Sarah. Once I reached there, I went to your grandparents house to see if they had found anything. But they said that even the police had no lead. I was now very desperate and set out on my own. On the way, I stopped at a bakery for some coffee, where they offered me some complimentary Christmas cookies. When I tasted those chocolate chip cookies, I was sure that these were Sarah’s signature cookies! I asked the old lady at the counter who baked them and she said it was a young lady by the name of Sarah. I couldn’t believe my ears! I had finally found her! I explained everything to her and she was so happy I had come. She said that when she met Sarah, she kept saying she wanted to go home but she didn’t know where it was. Since then, the kind woman had given her a job at her bakery and taken care of her. I asked where Sarah was now and she said that every now and then, Sarah would go to the railway station and buy a ticket to Brighton. However, she would forget why she went there and thus come back home with the address on her hand. She said she had gone to the station now. I thanked the lady for everything she had done and rushed to the station, where I saw Sarah standing on the platform. It was the happiest moment of my life.” said Jack. 

Later in the evening, they had dinner and the kids went to sleep. Jack and Sarah were sitting in the living room by the fire when she said, “I’m sorry Jack. I only said yes for the kids. They couldn’t have beared it if I had said no. But I don’t remember anything you told me.” Jack couldn’t believe what he was hearing. She then said, ” But I’m staying here. Even though I don’t remember, something tells me this is home. Something tells me this is family.” 

Jack hugged his wife. It didn’t matter that she didn’t remember. He was just happy to have her back. She was the best Christmas present he could have asked for.

Pooja Srinivasan

I'll see you on the other side.

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