Chiron was never a fan of the holidays. Living in the poorest parts of Miami, Santa Claus never shoved his fat ass down the Chiron's chimney. As the year went by, Chiron learned to stop expecting anything.
"Well, if you wuz betta, then Santa would have come."
But Chiron was too old to believe in his mother's words, especially when the smell of schnapps was on her breath. Christmas always came and went in the same blurred heat waves that Florida had always endured. Christmas specials of dancing snowmen and tip toeing reindeer seemed like bigger lies than a fat man in a red suit. In Florida, snow was an urban legend that white people frolicked in.
But with Juan and Teresa, Christmas felt like something else entirely.
"What 'chu want fo' Christmas little man?" Juan asked one day at lunch. Juan had found Chiron wandering around the hood after school let out. His face bruised, and his eye swollen. The restaurant was wedged between the beach and the construction sites. This city was always in the process of being built, but it never seemed to reach completion.
Chiron just shrugged, "I dunno. Haven't thought 'bout it none."
Juan smiled, "A'ight. Well, if you could have anything, what would it be?"
And Chiron shrugged. Living with his mother had taught him not to want anything. Wanting something only led to disappointment. When he wanted his mother to stop screaming at him. He was disappointed. When he wanted the other boys in his class to stop chasing him through the streets, screaming "Faggot", he was disappointed. When he wanted to tell his mother all about his dance class and how he wanted to see the Nutcracker when he got older, he was disappointed. When he wanted to hear the soft patter of reindeer on the roof, or the gentle caress of snowfall like the white kids on television...he was disappointed. But Chiron knew Juan would keep pushing until there was at least some tangible idea to fill the silence.
Chiron gazed to his right and saw a small girl playing with a Barbie doll. Its long hair entangled in the girl's fingers. A for a small moment, Chiron forgot his rule. He forgot about not wanting something of his own to hold onto. He wanted something he could hold onto at night, and play with in the day. But...a doll was too ludicrous. He was a boy, after all, so he went with the only logical choice.
"A basketball," Juan said. The word filled the air like a brick, bold and clumsy, as all lies were.
"A basketball?" Juan asked in disbelief.
"Yeah," Chiron said. Basketballs were simple, and easy to handle. No one would call him a faggot for dribbling a ball.
Juan and Teresa were adamant about Chiron coming to spend Christmas with them. Chiron's mother did not argue. With Chiron out of her house for the day she could do as she liked, holiday or no holiday.
When Chiron had arrived, the house was looked like something out of a Charlie Brown cartoon. The tree was small and modest, but it was the first tree Chiron had ever seen. There were red stockings hanging from the walls (because Juan did not have a chimney). And underneath that small tree were two packages. One round and wrapped in green paper. The other was smaller, square and looked to be the size of a shoe box. It was wrapped in a gold paper that seemed to glisten under the tree's christmas lights. And atop the box was a bright, red bow.
Juan gently tapped Chiron's shoulder, "Both a them's fo' you little man."
Chiron looked up, confused. "Both of them?" he asked.
And both Teresa and Juan nodded. "Go 'head."
And Chiron crept towards the tree. He unwrapped the round gift first. A brand new basketball that he knew he would never use. Chiron smiled and placed the ball to the side. He was grateful, of course. But what caught his interest the most, was the second present.
What was in it?
Hell, the thing was wrapped so nicely that Chiron wasn't even sure if he should open it. But he did. He unfolded the edges, and carefully unwrapped the gift, too terrified that it might dissolve in his hands.
"What do you think, do you like it?" Juan asked.
It was a doll. A small, black doll with long hair and full lips. Her smile glimmered like a plastic Mona Lisa.
Chiron clutched the box in his hands. How did Juan know? "I-I love it." Chiron said. "I love it so much."
"Merry Christmas lil' man."