Black Friday at the Westside Wonder Mall came and went with no real great events… with the exception of several visits from Dottie Dolen. The Santa picture business was steady, but not booming as Tom had heard it had been in years past. That next Saturday it started pretty much as usual, up until around 2:00 PM. Beatrice being the greeter and Yasmine was behind the camera. Tom saw a young boy, maybe ten years of age walking up with his mother. At first he thought of them as average mall people, but as they got closer he noticed the boy, he had a slight limp to his walk and held his arm kind of like the mummy had done in the old monster movies. When the got up to the counter the stopped, Beatrice asked her if they were interested in a photo with Santa or a visit? The mother said, “I think just a visit today.” Tom starred at the boy, his hair was cut short, and it had a kind of gray-ish tone to it… kinda like the color of a mouse. Tom observed the mother step close and speak in Beatrice’s ear quietly. Tom noticed Beatrice, just listening and shaking her head to what the woman was saying to her. Then Beatrice walked over to speak to Tom, her eyes looked watery. “Santa, this is Andrew, he wants to visits... its special” she said with a quiver to her voice. Tom rose up to greet the lad who was slowly was walking to him. “Welcome Andrew,” said Tom assuredly. He gently escorted the boy over to the red couch that was his base of operations. The boy sat down and Tom took a seat next to him. The boys’ mother stood back and watched them quietly. Tom looked at the boy, he was very fragile, his eyes intense and hollow; he reminded Tom of images he’d seen of the Holocaust. Tom really wasn’t sure how to handle this situation? All that could come out of Tom’s mouth was, “What do you want for Christmas?” Tom knew that was not the real thing to say at this time… but he was at a loss. He looked at the child in all his physical weakness. He tried to sing a Christmas song with the boy; the only one he knew all the words to was, The Little St. Nick by The Beach Boys... unfortunately the kid didn't know it.
“Santa, I know that you really just give gives toys to kids, when they’re good… but I don’t need a toy… I just want to be cancer free… I don’t know if you can help with that?” Tom felt the wind knocked out of him… something a kin to a bad, bad wipeout… worse he even felt. Tom white cotton gloves reached for the little boys’ hand. “Santa knows what a wonderful boy you are Andrew, and he’s going to pray hard for you. The only wish that Santa has this Christmas, is that you get better… and to get stronger.” Tom knew that he had to give more to this brave child… Tom raised his index finger to his lips.
“I’m gonna tell you a secret... that only a few trusted people know; Santa had cancer once.”
Suddenly the boys’ eyes became more alive. Tom looked deep into them… he knew how important that this damn silly job had become at this moment… Tom felt that he would give anything for this poor sick child to live a healthy life the way he had.
“That’s why I’m not fat anymore... you see.” A smile appeared on the boys’ face; he seemed to come back to life, like Pinocchio.
“I thought so Santa! Because, you're so skinny now! Are you cancer free?” Tom gave Andrew a wink and touched his face gently. “I know that it’s been scary… and it’s been painful… for both you and your mom… and everyone who loves you... but you must be strong, for both you and her… you have to be strong and brave, and no matter what, don't give up! I promise to be right here next year... so you can tell me you’re cancer free, just like Santa.” Tom looked over at Andrew’s mother, Yasmine and Beatrice who were both holding back tears… as was the mighty Tom Sugerland.
“Let’s take a picture, please. Santa wants a picture with you, Andrew. It would be an honor for me” said Tom. Yasmine’s nose was running as she snapped of shots. After they finished taking the photos, Andrew’s mother came over and hugged Tom. She whispered in his ear, “He saw you and said, “Santa’s like me, mommy… Thank you, Santa.” The boy smiled and waved as his mom led him away. When the boy was out of site, Tom stepped away for a moment to compose himself… he’s never felt so human… at least, it had been a long time that he’d felt such a raw feeling…the girls both stood there, teary eyed… they thought that Tom had given the little boy courage… but in truth, it was the other way around; and Tom knew it.