Carlos opened the door with his key, and noticed that something strange was going on.
Almost every day, he headed from university to this quiet old flat. It was on a third floor and had a long corridor, which led to balconies, lace curtains and an orgy of multi-colored geraniums. Granny was almost 80 but not too old to care for herself — and others.
At the end of the corridor he could see an absurd, blinking, colored glare, which he could not explain. At first he thought they had put a neon light across the street, but it was 2.30pm on a warm, bright day in early fall. Advancing a few steps, he saw that the hall floor was dirty, which frightened him. Dirt, in any of its variants, was incompatible with his grandmother's nature. Bending down, he found a lump of something white, then, a little further, more lumps. They looked like breadcrumbs, but turned out to be plastic foam pellets, the kind used for packing. This was too much, so he now called aloud to his grandmother, by name.
He went ahead until his nose told him to stop. His grandmother was fairly deaf, but she was a great cook, and the smell of stew was wafting through the air. It was no average stew, like the ones his mom made in the pressure cooker - the chickpeas were always hard, the potatoes would disintegrate — but his grandmother's stew, which was exquisite. That delicious aroma calmed him before he even had time to think that maybe she had fainted after making the soup, and he ran to the kitchen to find it empty.
Dear, what a fright you gave me! He swung around and saw her in the doorway. Wait, I have to turn the gadget on. After twiddling a control in her ear, she opened her arms and approached him. How are you, dear. How were the classes?
Carlos embraced and kissed her, before admitting that he too had been frightened — genuinely frightened, because something strange was going on in the house. So you noticed! She smiled like a naughty schoolgirl. You'll see it in a minute, but for now you have to shut your eyes, because it's a surprise...
He gladly obeyed, still savoring the calm that had replaced the fright, and held out his hand to his grandmother, who led him as she had done when he was five years old.
Now you can look — again he obeyed — Ta-daa!
Carlos saw the Christmas tree, resplendent with ornaments, balls, stars, cherubs, gnomes and a hundred lights blinking tirelessly amid the glitter. Then he understood it all, the light coming from beyond the end of the passage, the dirty floor, the silence of his grandmother. But it failed to calm his perplexity. She noticed, and smiled again.
I'm not off my rocker. I know very well that it's September. I'm perfectly OK in the head, don't worry. But... you go out every day, right? You come back, you walk in the street, you amuse yourself. But me... I spend all day here, listening to the radio, and the television. Every day I hear that there's no future, no work, they're privatizing the hospitals, reducing my pension... And if I were young, it wouldn't matter because, talk about hard times, you should see what I've been through, dear.
But we could handle it, we were strong, we were used to hardship, emigration, struggle. Please don't be offended, but you kids seem to be made of softer stuff, so I thought... What could I do to cheer myself up, cheer all of you up? And I know it seems silly, but I'm fed up with sadness, Carlos. And I'm even more fed up with resignation.
Her grandson looked at her, looked at the tree, and looked back at her.
Merry Christmas in September, granny.
She laughed and gave him a hug. Merry Christmas!