Fri, 25 December 2009 - 9:52 pm

One of many

Yesterday, we honoured what had passed. Today, we made the most of what we’ve got. We had enough food to forget about struggles for a while. Enough of us put on a show for the kids to help the rest suspend worry and fear. We did something we haven’t done since the bomb happened: we took a day off.

Christmas has haunted us all year. Decorations clinging to the insides of homes, like a meal that won’t be digested. Dead trees standing limply over unopened gifts. Strings of dead lights across streets. Acid-burned angels blowing trumpets over empty streets.

The After feels like it could never let go of this holiday. Robbed of the chance to celebrate it, it has clung on ever since, not letting any of us forget about it or what happened last year. As if we might forget. We didn’t disturb any of it, leaving it as it was out of some kind of respect.

This time around, we had the chance to celebrate it. A few of the others went out early in the offroaders, back to the place where we had been attacked a couple of days ago. I wasn’t the only one to find something before the shamblers cut our trip short; the foragers came back with cans of food as well as the mason jars of fruit. More than that, they brought back gifts, wrapped boxes and parcels, symbols of generosity from people no longer able to give them. They filled an entire vehicle with them, all different shapes and sizes.

We had a lucky dip. Names were drawn out of a bowl and we each took a gift. There were plenty of opportunities for laughter – Mira opened a pack of large men’s underwear, while Thorpe got a lovely make up kit. I wound up with a supersoaker, while Matt unwrapped a couple of Hello Kitty shirts. He threatened to wear them, so I said I’d come after him with the supersoaker, and we agreed that a straight swap was the safest all round.

After the paper-tearing was done and everyone had shuffled the gifts around to people more likely to need or use them, Janice asked if she could say a few words. No-one objected, so she stood up with a small, battered book clutched in one hand. She talked about the original Christmas story, about a baby born in a stable and the great gift he was to all of us. Everyone listened, though not all of us are Christians. In the After, we can all find inspiration and solace in stories like that, if only because they’re so familiar. It’s easy to feel alone and abandoned out here, but I hope that we’re not. We’d all like to think that there’s something out there on our side.

The reminder of what today should be about is grounding for us. For once, we felt connected to something bigger than just us. We weren’t the dregs any more, we weren’t the only living things left scrabbling to survive. It was easier to believe that this is a start for us, that maybe we’re on the right path.

I hope there are others out there, doing what we’re doing. There must be others. On a day like today, I can’t believe we’re all that’s left. We’re just a part of the world, one part of many.

That’s the way it’s supposed to be.

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