The door opened silently and she came into the bedroom. White light filtered through the closed curtains. She guessed that the moon was high in the sky. The smells of the seasonal cooking still lingered in the air and she could sense the sweet perfume of stewed cranberries, orange peel and mincemeat pies. There was a complete silence as she moved slowly towards the bed.
– Maya…- she whispered.
There was no answer so she moved a little closer.
– Maya? – she whispered again.
It was then that she heard the muffled giggle.
– Maya? Are you awake? – she asked softly, although she already knew the answer.
The little head was stubbornly facing the wall. The laughter was now impossible to hide, as she turned over and sat on the bed.
– I am sorry I was pretending to be asleep. I thought I would give you a surprise – Maya said, a little embarrassed – I am so happy you are back. I wasn’t sure you would be coming, but when I heard the door opening I knew it was you.
– I will always come if you want me to be here. I made you a promise, do you remember? – she answered.
-Yes, I remember. It is so nice to be with you while I wait for everyone to wake up. I can’t understand why they sleep for so long the night before Christmas.
– I imagine they are tired. Your Mummy has been working hard to get everything ready and your auntie and her family have travelled from far away, haven’t they? That is why they need their sleep tonight – she explained.
– Mummy wanted my cousin Violet to sleep here, but I said no. I was worried you wouldn’t come if she was around – said Maya very seriously.
– Well, maybe next year your cousin can join us too. I don’t mind – she said – Now tell me. Is everything ready? Have you all prepared your stockings?
-¡Yes, of course! – Maya said excitedly – Our stockings are hung by the fireplace and there is a big basket for Father Christmas to leave the presents. Mummy has already set the table with red candles and golden stars. We’ll be eating turkey, fish pie, roasted potatoes and vegetables. There’ll be Christmas pudding as well and a chocolate “bûche de Noël” that auntie Olivia has brought and …
Maya’s sweet voice filled her with joy so she let her speak. It wasn’t worth saying anything to interrupt that adorable monologue and Maya liked talking very much. She not only told her about the Christmas celebrations, but also about school, her friends and Edwina, the family new kitten.
– Oh. Did you hear that? I think something is happening – said Maya, suddenly stopping her chatter.
They both listened out and heard somebody walking in the corridor.
– I think Christmas Day has arrived – said Maya happily, as she slid from the bed on to the floor – I can go downstairs now. Do you want to come with me? You can help me open my presents. Mummy and Daddy won’t mind.
They certainly will mind, she told herself and kept silent while Maya was waiting in front of her, jumping from one foot to the other.
– I think it is better that I stay here – she answered finally, but as sweetly as she could.
Maya seemed disappointed with her answer but said nothing and walked slowly to the door.
– Will I see you next Christmas? – she asked timidly before she left.
– Of course, Maya. I will come if you want me to be here with you.
She heard the little steps going down the stairs, the noise softening until it disappeared completely. She knew there wasn’t much time left and tried not to sadden herself. It would not change anything. She also knew that it wouldn’t be long before Maya, like all the other children before her, would start using the logic of the living to ask herself some questions. How was it possible that her Christmas visitor lived all year in a cupboard without food or clothes? How did she keep warm during the winter? Who was she? Why did she never say her name? The questions would raise doubts and doubts would raise fears and fears would bring Mummy to empty the cupboard.
– There is nothing here, darling. Look, the cupboard is completely empty – Mummy would say.
But the child would know by now that that was not true, that something strange did live there, something that existed under different rules to everybody else’s. Something the child did not want to see come out of the cupboard, neither at Christmastime, nor ever.
Time had come. The lethargy was invading her like a frozen mist. She could resist but she knew it was hopeless and soon would be inside the prison where she belonged. She glanced for the last time at the room bathed with the first morning light. Next Christmas, Maya may still not be aware of the logic of the living. Maybe her cousin Violet would not be aware either. Maybe the three of them could sit and talk together, waiting for Christmas morning to arrive.