Just then a buzzer interrupted us. Who could our caller be? “Rent’s not due yet,” I said. “Surely it’s too early for him to be calling for it?” We led a solitary existence then, with few visitors, but the superintendent had an annoying habit of “reminding” tenants of their obligations several days in advance. But at least he did it politely.
“Perhaps he wishes us the joys of the season,” said Cathy disbelievingly.
“Not likely,” I answered, going to the intercom, where I was surprised to be met with the sound of the loud closing of the street door. “Whoever it was has now entered the building,” I said portentously. “Perhaps it’s Santa…”

A few minutes later, there was a knock at the door. It was Santa, or at least, one of his messengers. A uniformed chauffeur touched his cap to me, and introduced himself as an emissary of the High Commission for India. He handed me an expensively-wrapped present. “The card says who it is from,” he said, and touched his cap again before leaving. It turned out to be a very large bottle of Johnnie Walker Black Label 12-year-old Scotch whiskey. The card did not identify Inderpal as the donor, but its provenance was obvious. The anonymous flowery script on the card bore no name. The gift evidently placed me in the august company of the diplomatic corps, seasonal beneficiaries of the legation’s largesse. How Inderpal had managed this I do not know, but I vowed to find out. I hoped the cost had not come from Inderpal’s own pocket.

“Did you get nice Chrissmus present, sir?” asked Inderpal in a whisper upon our return to school. He danced around me in the classroom before his classmates arrived. “That was very kind of you and the High Commission staff,” I began, “but it was a very expensive gift. I hope you did not have to pay for that yourself?” It seemed unchivalrous to pursue this further, as he was delirious with glee, rubbing his hands together, smiling beatifically, and brushing off my discreet enquiries, saying only that he was happy I had received it before Christmas Day.

Inderpal left our class the poorer when he left in February. I never saw or heard from him again. I think my own father drank most of the gift, always toasting Inderpal, whom he never met, in absentia, and Johnnie Walker kept him going for at least another three Christmas seasons. The memory of Inderpal himself has endured somewhat longer: some thirty-five years to date, in fact. All who met him had been touched, however briefly, by his unalloyed spirit of happiness. May he continue to dwell in joy and comfort wherever he is today, in his fifties, perhaps surprising a little tribe of Inderpals and Divyas of his own with his capacity to give joy to others. One may at least hope so…



Peter was born in England, spent his childhood there and in South America, and taught English for 33 years in Ottawa, Canada. Now retired, he reads and writes voraciously, and travels occasionally with his wife Louise.
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