Deep in the wilderness of an African village, there lived a missionary. He was a loving man and his piety never came in the way of his love for his little flock. Unlike other more zealous men of God, this man’s primary- and sole- focus, was in giving service, not in collecting souls.

Naturally, the man was loved and revered.

There was a small boy of ten who love the priest with complete, dogged devotion. He would trail behind the priest all day long as the priest went about the little tribe. Neither love nor scolding worked in getting the boy to go home. From the time the priest stepped out of his small abode, until the time he told the boy he wanted to sleep, the boy followed him like a shadow.

The child was intensely and completely aware of the priest. His charcoal black, shining eyes never left the priests’ face even for a moment. After a while, the priest began to take his presence for granted, knowing he would always be there. Within a few months, the boy could anticipate his every wish even before the priest himself was aware of it. He would find a pitcher of cold water thrust in his hand just as he would begin to realize that he was thirsty. There would always be something to eat just as he would begin to feel hungry.

The priest, a humble man, was initially overwhelmed by the boy’s dedication and love. But when he saw that the flame of that devotion never wavered, the newness waned. He got accustomed to the adulation. First he began to expect it, then to take it for granted. The priest was human, after all.

Early on a beautiful Christmas morning, the priest opened the door of his humble dwelling to begin his day. As usual, he expected to find the boy parked on the front steps. The boy wasn’t there. The priest frowned, touched by a sense of unease.

As he stepped out, he noticed the boy running towards him from the direction of the forest. It was obvious the boy was emerging from it. The priest was amazed because it was still dark and the forest was full of wild and dangerous beasts. Fearing the worst, the priest ran towards the boy, arms outstretched.

Panting, with his breath whooshing raggedly in his chest, the little boy collapsed in the arms of his beloved mentor. The priest held him close, his eyes anxiously scanning the path the boy had taken, looking for a sign of pursuit from a wild beast. There was nothing. The forest was silent.

The priest looked down at the boy still ensconced in his protective arms, a mute question in his eyes. Holding his glance, the boy twisted his body and brought his hand forward. In it, was a rare, fragile bloom of cactus. This cactus grew deep in the forest. Once every two years, it blossomed at the crack of dawn. The bloom perished within minutes of sunrise. To venture into the forest was a daunting task even for the ferocious warriors of the tribe. For a child to undertake the journey, alone and at dark, was astounding. The priest began to tremble with the horror of the risk the boy had undertaken. In his love, in his relief, he became angry with the boy.

With placid serenity, the boy stood with his eyes downcast as the priest’s fury burst upon his little head. He listened, silently. Finally, when the priest’s ire was spent, he looked up at him and said, “I know you love this flower. It is Christmas today and this is my gift to you.”

“This flower is my gift…?!” the priest was incredulous and exasperated.

“The journey is part of the gift, Father”, the boy whispered humbly.



For me, this is not the point of the story. The point is a fictional projection once the boy’s state of mind has been established. In this story, the priest is a passive character. He is the receiver, not the do-er. The one moving the story forward is the boy. Let me take the story forward:

“The journey is part of the gift, Father”, the boy whispered  humbly.

“Oh, that’s sweet of you boy! I am happy surely. But it was silly of you to go through the trouble; after all this is just a flower. It wont even last the morning. Now you take this flower and put it inside, at my table. Then come with me, we have lots of work to do today.”

The priest looks off towards the left where some people have begun lining up in front of the makeshift, rudimentary clinic.

With a still, unmoving silence within him, the child lays the flower- and his soul- at the feet of his God. His eyes, which hold the last shreds of his most precious, fragile hope, remain downcast. The child doesn’t want the priest to bear the burden of his expectation. He awaits the verdict of his adored, ready to accept anything given to him.

The precious gift lies in the dust before the priest. It lies wrapped up in the thoughtfulness, love and adulation of the child. It was in the priest’s hands to give meaning to the gift. The boy’s walk through the forest at such risk to his person could be redeemed by just a look. The bloom was rare, but what of the devotion which prompted the boy to undertake the ‘journey’?

The priest doesn’t notice the boy’s silence- he is used to it. In a way, he was still exasperated and annoyed with the child for having upset his routine with a trifle. He was impatient for the day to begin. He was preoccupied with issues the day would bring and was looking away from the boy. With one fluid, unhesitating sweep of motion, the priest steps on the delicate bloom at his feet and grinds it into dust.

A lot more than just a flower was destroyed that Christmas morning.