This writing/story originated from my twisted mind. Hence, I reserve all rights to this work.
One day on a Christmas Eve, John was in town and as usual was staying in the hotel. He was waiting for a Sabahan colleague to pick him up for dinner at the colleague's home when he spied Anne talking to a boy in the hotel lounge. The boy was about five years old and was handsome to John's opinion. John was praying that the boy was Anne's son, finally he had a way to reach out to her, he thought. He also thought that he was being sneaky but he brushed aside his reservation in favour of winning Anne's heart. Jessica came over to them, said something to Anne and Anne went off while Jessica stayed with the boy. “Thank you Santa!” thought John.
Mary Anne and Joseph were Joshua's step-siblings. They were children of his mother's second marriage to his stepfather, John Crabtree, who had brought the two of them to the States when his mother married him. His mother Anne, was a Sino-Kadazan. Her father was a Sabahan Chinese and her mother was a Kadazan from Penampang. Joshua's stepfather, John, had always appreciated the Kadazan culture and even wrote a book about Sabah and its natives though he never got around to publishing it. His stepfather had a collection of books about Sabah and these including his unpublished manuscript were given to Joshua when he passed on.
John Crabtree was a naturalist working for the World Wildlife Fund – Sabah when he met Anne. Anne was working as a hotel receptionist in a major hotel in Kota Kinabalu. He fell in love with Anne the first time he laid his eyes on her. Whenever he had to come out from his office in the jungle and into Kota Kinabalu, he made sure that his assistant booked him into the same hotel so that he could see Anne.
Anne was not receptive to his advances at first, John found himself having difficulty in having more than five minutes conversation with Anne but he persisted. He became rather well known among the counter staff as Anne's amorous romeo and whenever he was in town and checking in to the hotel, the other counter staff took pleasure in putting Anne in an awkward position by mysteriously having sudden tasks to attend to that would require them to desert their posts. Hence, leaving Anne alone at the counter.
John was always respectful to Anne and did not aggressively pursue her. One day, in a desperate attempt to get John to be disinterested in her, Anne told him that she had a son. John took that to mean that she was married. He was crest fallen and apologized profusely to Anne for his behavior. However, the next day when Anne was not at the counter, a counter staff motioned John to approach the counter as he was walking in the hotel lobby towards the exit.
“Mr Crabtree, I overheard your conversation with Anne yesterday. You look like a good man and she is a good woman. I'm her best friend. So I tell you this, yes she has a son from her previous marriage but they are divorced now. She loves her son and very protective of him. She says she doesn't want to get hurt again but I think really, she doesn't want her son to get hurt. I hope you will know what to do from here...” said the staff in a hushed tone.
“Thank you!” John looked at the staff's name tag, “Really, thank you Jessica!” John smiled broadly and his blue eyes beaming with rekindled determination. John was almost dancing as he walked out of the hotel to attend to his business.
For the next few visits, John kept a respectful distance from Anne but both of them were always cordial to each other. John did not give any indication to Anne that he was aware of her circumstances. Slowly he got bits and pieces about Anne's background from Jessica, information like how she was renting an apartment in the city and she lived alone with her son, like how it had been difficult for Anne having to work and raise her son alone, that her ex-husband was doing time in Kepayan jail for a commercial crime and that the divorce was instigated by her parents who thought that she should severe her ties with her ex-husband.
John grew to respect and admire Anne for her resolve and strength but there were times when he tried to forget about Anne because he couldn't find a way to get through her walls. He immersed himself in his work and convinced himself that once his tenure was over and he was back in the states, he would forget about her.
As he made his way towards the boy and Jessica, he overheard her saying in malay(John had picked up the language by now and rather proficient in it), “Don't be angry with your mama, she has to work tonight but I make her promise to buy you a big present tomorrow, ok Joshua?”
“Mama doesn't have money, she told me so. Where's papa? He promised that he will come see me this Christmas! Mommy said he will be here, that's why I followed her to work. Why is everyone lying to me?” Sobbed Joshua.
“Papa......Papa....” The little boy sobbed in a manner as though he was trying to will his father to appear. John's heart was torn at the site of this. He himself lost his father when he was young, so he knew the pain of yearning for one's loved ones. John quickly improvised a plan in his mind on how to make the little boy's Christmas better.
“Hello, Jessica. This must be Joshua?”
“John?! Oh hello. Merry Christmas! Yes, this is Joshua.” the startled Jessica replied.
Joshua ignored them and continued to sob. John knelt down on one knee and gently patted the boy's hair. He lowered his head so that Joshua's eyes were in his eye line.
“Look at me Joshua. I'm your papa's friend.” This got the boy's attention and he looked at John ready to soak in any news about his papa. Jessica looked curiously at John wondering what he was up to.
“Your papa really really wanted to come and see you but he couldn't make it because he has a lot of work to do and a lot of people are depending on him. He's a very important person and he sent me to tell you how much he misses you and he is sorry he couldn't come.” As John said this, Joshua's little face became distorted; a manifestation of how his little heart was broken inside, about to break into an inconsolable wail.
When John saw this, he instinctively drew the little boy towards him and gave the boy a hug as he said to him, “Joshua, your papa says he knows you misses him and he misses you too and it's okay to cry but he also doesn't want you to be very sad, it will break his heart. He said he will feel better if you make him buy you loads of presence to make up for his absence.”
“Papa has money already?” asked the little boy doubtfully as he pulled himself away from John's embrace.
“Yes, I happen to know that he has made a lot of money!” said John with a smile.
“Does he have enough to eat? We were always hungry previously and mama was always angry with him. Only if he's not hungry, then I would want presence from him. He told me that he was going to make a lot of money for me and mama but then he never came home after that..”
John could feel his eyes about to well up with tears and he composed himself with a deep breath. What a thoughtful and sweet child, he thought to himself.
“Your papa has plenty to eat, Joshua. Now tell me what you want for Christmas and I'll get them for you with your papa's money. He gave me loads of money to buy presence for you.”
“hmm.... I want a colouring set.” Joshua ventured with still a hint of doubt.
“and...?” asked John.
“Just a colouring set.” replied Joshua unsurely.
“That's it? Your papa will be sad if you refuses to let him buy you more things. He wants this to be the best Christmas ever! A playstation? A bicycle?”
John took out his wallet and showed the cash in it. “See Joshua! This is the money that your papa gave to me. There's plenty here!”
There was actually only 200 Ringgit, four pieces of 50 Ringgit notes in the wallet but Joshua did not know how to count yet and John's confidence and enthusiasm won the little boy over. By the time Joshua was finish giving his wish list, John had twenty items written on a piece of paper that Jessica brought over from the counter.
John's Sabahan colleague finally arrived and he bade goodbye to a happy and excited Joshua. Jessica chased after him and pulled John to a corner, “John, you know he will be disappointed tomorrow when all the things he wished for are not there!”.
“Don't worry, it will be there and don't tell Anne any of this.” John assured Jessica with a mischievous smile. “Oh yes, I'm going to need an address to send the stuff to. Just leave it in my room.”
John hurriedly walk towards his colleague who was waiting outside the hotel entrance now, smoking his cigarette.
“Hello Patrick!” greeted John, his excitement betrayed by his broad smile and his gait.
“You look excited? I'm not sure my wife's cooking is really that great.” Patrick ribbed him.
“I'll make sure to tell your wife you said that later” John replied with a hearty laugh.
“Patrick, do you mind if we make a short detour to the bank and maybe do some Christmas shopping before we head to your house?”
“Let me guess, you're trying to win that divorcee by bribing her this year? You have not given up the idea of winning her over yet, have you?” Patrick jestingly asked.
“Nope my friend. And I've just upped the ante by going to win over her son too!” John declared excitedly.