A Catholic Monthly Magazine

The Gift – No Strings Attached

by Maria Kennedy

by Maria Kennedy

Barry was already in trouble when, at breakfast, he asked his Mum. “Mum, can I buy a pie at school for lunch. It’s nearly Christmas, please Mum.”

“Your lunch’s on the counter. It’s already made.”

“But Mum you can have my lunch and I can have a pie. Please Mum.”

Barry’s Mum was adamant he wasn’t getting a pie, and he had better behave, and not have Mrs Sheffield ringing her up at work again. Until he did so he wouldn’t be getting any pies or treats. And if he wasn’t careful, Father Christmas would have to cancel his presents.

Barry knew when he’d been beaten. He didn’t like being put into that cupboard labelled naughty boy. So, he whispered loud enough for his mum to hear—“your sandwiches suck”—before racing from the table, grabbing the lunch box and heading out the door.

Barry burned with the unfairness of it. All he wanted was a pie. It wasn’t fair his mother put the pie in with all his other troubles. Barry didn’t like trouble just like her but trouble had a way of finding him, even when he wasn’t looking for it. He was only borrowing his younger brother’s “blanket” to make a parachute. He always intended to give it back. He didn’t mean to break the front window with the cricket ball. It was worrying, as Christmas approached, because Father Christmas might get the wrong impression of him. He didn’t think he would miss out on his presents, but then again, he might not get the ones you get for being good. Barry sighed. Nothing was fair. Not even presents. And if he wasn’t going to get the good boy presents, well then, he didn’t care to have any. Presents should be no strings attached. For the rest of his way to school, Barry kicked a stone until the leather front of his school shoe was scuffed. He didn’t care about that either.

Barry was much happier in class beside his friend Josh. They were meant to be doing their maths, but instead they were having much more fun playing paper, scissor, rocks under the desk, that is, until Mrs Sheffield separated them. That’s when Barry got the idea to make a paper dart and send Josh a message. Only Mrs Sheffield got to it first and that made her very annoyed and she sent Barry to do his work at a desk outside the Principal’s office.

As Barry sat there in the school corridor, he knew that none of this would have happened if his mother had given him money to buy a pie for lunch. She wanted him to be good first, but he needed the pie first, and then he could be good. At that, Barry stabbed his pencil down on the paper and broke the lead.

Barry tapped quietly on the Principal’s door and entered. “Excuse me Mrs Freeman can I use your pencil sharpener?” and Barry lifted up the broken pencil.

Mrs Freeman looked up from her pages and pointed to the handled pencil sharpener, eyeing the child with her experienced eye—not working and causing disruption in class. “How many pages did Mrs Sheffield give you to do?”

“Two.”Pie for Barry 2

“Show me when you have done the first page, and if it’s satisfactory you can go back to class. Think of it as an early Christmas present.”

Barry sat back down at the hallway desk, frowning at the first maths question. His pencil wavered over it like a dot hanging over a sea of numbers. But Barry resisted. He couldn’t start. He wanted to. But just not this way where everyone was telling him what to do and making him feel like he was always going to be in the naughty box which kept on getting smaller and smaller until he could hardly breathe. It wasn’t fair.

Just then, Barry looked down at his feet. Right there sat a tiny fresh-faced kitten. It mewed up at him as if making a joyous announcement on high, and its face shone like the star of Bethlehem. When Barry leant down and picked it up, the kitten started purring, sounding like a line of camels trekking through soft desert sand. The kitten soon relaxed under Barry’s gentle pats, then sat down on Barry’s lap and went to sleep.

It was amazing how the kitten could sleep curled up into a ball with all paws hidden out of sight and its head buried in its fur. Barry could only study the kitten for so long before he faced his work once more. This time, while the kitten slept, he started answering the questions, first one page and then the other, until they were all done. A weight lifted off Barry’s shoulders and he smiled.Kitten & boy

But Barry didn’t leave his solitary confinement in the corridor just yet. Instead he kept watch over the little kitten, like a shepherd, and he remained seated. That’s how Mrs Freeman found them, sometime later, both kitten and pupil still together, except now, both were sound asleep.

It was a different Barry she saw this time, with his head resting in the crook of one arm, and his other arm cradled protectively around the kitten. Mrs Freeman saw him in a new transformational light, and she would tell him this when he woke up. This was Barry’s message, the gift of the Christmas angel, and it came to Barry not because he had earned it, or deserved it, but simply because. There were no strings attached. Through Mrs Freeman, this message would tell Barry he wasn’t a troublesome kid, just tired, and probably over excited about Christmas. But he needed to try and remember everyone else was just as tired as him, and to try and be more considerate. Yes, the graces of Christmas still abounded, and peace remained among people of good will.

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