“They say that London never really sleeps” he mused “but it does sometimes take a quick nap.”
The nine o’clock service was about to start in Quex Road and Damien watched as latecomers dashed around the corner up the steps and in through the tall doors of the church. He had attended Midnight Mass himself the previous night and now had the rest of the day to himself.
He showered and shaved and boiled the kettle for tea. The familiar sounds of “A Fairy Tale Of New York” wafted in through the open window from the street below.
“It wouldn’t be Christmas without it.” Damien hummed along to the chorus as he busied himself around the small kitchen getting milk from the fridge and filling the toaster with thick slices of bread.
He brought his breakfast over to the sofa and switched on Sky News. The British were still banging on about Brexit, while Donald Trump had tweeted to congratulate himself on being the best US president in history. There were temporary ceasefires in most of the trouble spots across the world and the weather forecast threatened light snow for London later in the day.
Damien opened his iPad and connected to the internet to check the local news from home. Abbeyfeale was in festive mode. The new Christmas lights along Main Street looked fantastic, and all the shopfronts were brightly decorated. Many people had returned home to spend time with family and friends, and Damien wished that he was one of them.
He had promised his parents that they would all sit down together to eat the Christmas dinner this year, but it was a promise that he was unable to keep. A heavy seasonal workload and ongoing staff shortages were keeping him in London over the busy holiday period.
His parents understood that his work was important but they would still be disappointed. They were getting on in years now and this would be the first time that they had to spend Christmas Day on their own without any of the children.
John ran a busy Irish bar over in New York while Eddie was teaching English in Dubai. Neither of them could make it home. The two girls were married and had young families to take care of. They would visit on St Stephen’s Day.
Meanwhile, the elderly couple would be left to enjoy their own company on Christmas Day with just the odd friend or neighbour calling in.
Damien cleared away the breakfast things and began tidying the small bedsit. He arranged his few Christmas cards on the mantelpiece but decided not to open his presents until dinner time as was the custom back home.
Thinking of home again he sat down and closed his eyes and imagined his parents preparing for 12 o'clock Mass. Himself would be dressed in the good suit and shirt with his shoes polished until you could see your face in them. Herself would be fussing around him, straightening his tie and wiping imaginary fluff from his shoulders and lapels.
“Leave me be, woman!” he would admonish her. “You are only rising dust!”
“I won’t have you making a show of me in front of the whole parish.” She grabbed her coat and hat. “Come on, or we’ll be last up the aisle as usual!”
“And the last shall be first.” he muttered under his breath as he followed her obediently out the door.
Damien opened his eyes. He had fallen asleep. Dreaming of home again as he often did. He sighed and looked at the clock. It was mid afternoon. Time to eat.
His dinner was already in the fridge wrapped in cling film. The housekeeper, Mrs Moore, had roasted a turkey for her lodgers the night before with all the trimmings and had left a generous plate of food for him.
“Just pop it in the microwave on full for three minutes, love,” she told him, as she rushed away to spend Christmas with her own family up in Leeds.
Damien put the plate in the microwave as instructed and switched it on. He then laid the small table and poured himself a half glass of wine.
As he waited for the dinner to heat up, his thoughts turned to home once more. His parents would also be sitting down to eat at this time. He imagined them at the kitchen table, Himself carving the turkey while she bustled about with plates and cutlery. It would be a quiet Christmas for them this year.
The ping of the microwave brought him back to the present. He opened the glass door and took out the hot meal and placed it carefully on the table.
And then he had an idea. And it was an idea so beautiful and so simple that he wondered why he had not thought of it before.
The previous summer he had spent an enjoyable week at home in Ireland visiting family and friends and doing all the things that people on holidays normally do. And, before he returned to London, he had bought his parents a new laptop and taught them how to use it. Soon his mother was sending and receiving emails and exchanging photos and news with relatives and friends from all over the world. It was as if a whole new universe had opened up for her. She was even checking items on eBay although she had yet to summon up the courage to place a bid on anything.
Himself was a bit more resistant to change and did not trust many of these newfangled inventions.
“The television and the radio are good enough for me – so they are.” he insisted. However, he would occasionally look at photos of his grandchildren, and also asked herself to check the local weather forecast online when he had hay down.
Before he left to return to London, Damien showed his mother how to use Skype in case they ever needed to communicate face to face. Now might be a good time to put that demonstration to the test.
He placed his iPad on the table and typed in the link. It connected and began to ring. Suddenly, the screen lit up and his mother’s face appeared almost pressing against the monitor as she peered intently in to it.
“Hello! Hello!” she called out loudly. “Is there somebody there?”
“Hi, Mom.” Damien answered.
“Damien! Is it yourself, son? There’s nothing wrong, is there?” she sounded concerned
“Everything is fine. Mom.” he assured her. “How are you all getting on?”
“We are all good.” she moved back from the monitor. “Your father is here with me, We are just sitting down to the dinner.”
“I thought you would be. Do you mind if I join you?”
“What!” His mother became flustered. “Are you on your way home, son? Jeepers, the dinner will be cold by the time you get here!”
“Who is it?” his father demanded in the background.
“It’s Damien, He’s on his way home. I’ll have to go and air the bed.”
“Calm down, Mom. I’m not coming home” Damien reassured her. “Pick up the laptop” he continued, “and take it over and put it on the table where I can see the two of you.”
His mother did as he asked, and soon Damien had a perfect view of both his parents with the Christmas dinner spread out in front of them. He looked at them and his heart melted.
“Now,” he said “I can see you, and you can see me. We can all enjoy the Christmas dinner together. We can read our cards and open our presents. And afterwards, we’ll have a little drink and have a good old natter and give out about the neighbours like we do every year.”
His father raised a glass to the monitor. “Happy Christmas, son.” he said
“Happy Christmas, Dad.” Damien raised his own glass in response.
“It has the makings of a great Christmas after all,” his mother smiled, “and do you know what would make it even better?”
“I am way ahead of you.” Damien rose from his seat. “Just hang on a second while I gather up my few accoutrements.”
He disappeared from the screen and reappeared again moments later adjusting his clerical collar. He laid his missal and holy water sprinkler on the table and looked at the monitor as his parents bowed their heads.
“In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti.” Father Damien prayed, using the Latin incantation that they so loved. He made the sign of the cross and lovingly blessed his parents and wished them continued health and happiness on this Holy Christmas Day.