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Niks sat at the kitchen table. His brow was furrowed and the pencil was grasped so tightly in his eight-year-old fist that the knuckles showed white through his skin. His little pink tongue stuck out of the corner of his mouth as he tried to think and write at the same time.
Niks was writing a letter – or trying to. It wasn’t easy. The page that he had torn out from his school copy only had few words on it as yet, but was already grubby from rubbing out mistakes.
The letter was to Salavecis – that was the first thing he had had to change, because now that he lived in Ireland he had discovered that in this new country, Salavecis was called Santa Claus. Niks was fairly sure that Salavecis would remember him from last year – but would he know that his home was no longer in Latvia but in another place, miles away from where the snow would be piling up against the doors and windows of his grandmother’s house? His mother had said that of course he would, but Niks wasn’t so sure. After all, his mother couldn’t even help him with spelling the words he wanted to say – she could speak English fairly well, but writing it down was a different matter. That’s why Niks had to work so hard in school, so that he soon he could help his mother to fill in all the papers she had to deal with so that she could get a better job.
“I’ve been a good boy. Please bring me a football and a surpris….” The black lead in the pencil snapped in half. He must have been leaning too hard on it. Niks searched his school bag for a parer.
As he thought of the little house in Latvia where they had lived with his grandmother Natasha and his cousins Mikhail and Ivan, Niks began to feel lonely. He had nobody to play with here after school. There weren’t any other children living in these apartments, and his mother didn’t like him to play outside much. She worried about him. His mother had friends all right, but when they were together they spoke in Latvian or Russian so that didn’t help him to learn much English. He thought again about his cousins, and felt a bit sad, so he crossed out ‘football’ from the page and added on ‘friend’ instead. He would have liked to get a new page and start again, but knew he couldn’t waste another from his copy. When he gave the letter to his mother to post to Salavecis, Niks thought that maybe he made a mistake changing his letter. Santa couldn’t really bring a friend all the way from Lapland in his sack, and he really did want a football. But it was too late now – the letter was gone.
Niks needn’t have worried. When he opened his eyes on Christmas morning there, underneath the little Christmas Tree with lots of surprise presents was a lovely black and white football – a proper one that bounced really loudly on the wooden floor. Wow! Santa had known what he really wanted after all. Niks was so happy.
When they came home from Church, Niks started bouncing the ball around the room and up and down the hall. He kicked it really hard and it went flying into the kitchen and his mother yelled at him, “Niks, take that damned ball outside before you break everything!” He held the ball carefully under his arm while he went down all the steps to the front door, then he bounced it in front of him right out to the gate and on to the small patch of grass outside. He threw the ball up into the air and bounced it on his head, then chased it and picked it up and did it again. Then he dropped it on his toe tipped it along the ground like Thierry Henri does on the television.
“Hey, that’s cool. Can we play?” Niks looked around. Sitting on the wall outside the next lot of apartments were two little boys about his own age.
“O.K.” He kicked the ball in their direction and the red-haired one caught it deftly and kicked it back to him. The other boy, in a bright green jacket, chased across to him. “Kick it to me, go on!” he cried. They played happily together for half an hour or more before being called for their dinner.
That night, as he climbed into bed, tired out from the excitement of Christmas Day, the little red-headed boy in Apartment 14d said, “Hey Ma, I’m glad we moved here in time for Christmas. We made a friend today – he lives next door and said he’d meet Sean and me in the morning for a game of football.” Just a few short yards away, Niks lay happily in bed looking out at the night sky. How had Salavecis known, when he landed in his sleigh on the roof last night, that Niks had really wanted the football and a friend?
Call him Santa Claus or Salavecis - he really is wonderful!