Finnigan was a despicable human being, a fact he himself well knew.
He looked up at the large colorful rosette of St. Jude’s Chapel illuminated with the warm soft glow of tens of hearts in prayer.
‘Ah, Christmas Time!’ he whispered with relish, breathing hot air into his gloveless cupped hands.
It was freezing but Finnigan knew his hardship would soon be rewarded. He’d scrounge around the crowd for a while and then it’s straight off to The Sidetrack. He could already feel the whiskey streaming down his throat, heating him up, filling up all his empty spaces…
Finnigan willed the doors to already open – floodgates letting the wave of parishioners spill put into the courtyard and Finnigan’s outstretched arms.
He had found out long ago that he belonged outside, viewing the temples from his safe vantage point 20 yards away. Because when it came to his line of work simply nothing beat churches. People were so overwhelmed with their own sanctity, you had a considerable chance to earn your whiskey.
Finally the doors swung open, casting light and the sound of church organs upon the courtyard. Finnigan tightened his fingers around his cup.
The first passersby were a woolen-hatted brown-curled young girl, bobbing next to a tall pimply youth that couldn’t believe his luck. Finnigan casually pushed his cup slightly in their direction. No success.
After a few more unsatisfactory bids he decided to use a more enterprising strategy and move deeper among Father Dander’s flock. He walked like a ghost. Within the living, but simultaneously without. The cloud of cordiality hung over everyone exempting him.
But Finnigan couldn’t complain. He didn’t need their sympathy, he needed their generosity. And sure enough, soon the musical ring of coins (and even the occasional rasp of a bill!) in his cup put him in the holiday spirit. Praise the Lord!
Finnigan adopted the practice of making a slight dip of the head after receiving every gift.
Soon he had developed a pleasing rhythm.
Clink. Nod. Clink. Nod. Clink. Nod.
When the crowd had already started dispersing when suddenly realised he was not alone.
A tiny girl of indiscriminate preteen age was standing by the entrance of the church. She had a thick sweater of a designless nature, sweatpants and sandals with thick socks. (Damn it, why hadn’t he thought of that?)
Finnigan could feel heat creeping up his neck.
Her face was slim and blue with cold. As far as he could tell her eyes were as black as the midnight sky they were looking up at.
Finnigan squinted and inspected her unsympathetically. She did not have cup or a can or a box, nor were her hands outstretched imploringly. But she was surely here for the same reason a himself, Finnigan thought. He reasoned she must’ve already gotten enough and desisted. He turned his back to her – he did not appreciate any competition.
Suddenly, a little voice somewhere within his chest suggested that perhaps she was standing seemingly purposelessly by the door in order to warm herself. He waved the thought away like a bothersome insect.
After all, it was none of his business.
Another clink. Another nod.
The little voice muttered something about being born into insolvency.
He was just as needy as her, Finnigan argued, stamping snow off his boots tempestuously. The little voice didn’t seem to feel it had to dignify his assertion with an answer.
The girl coughed. Not a light ‘ahem’. A long, guttural hack, like an echo of a wrathful roar, a brazen testimony to the sickness deep within…
Finnigan raised his eyes to the heavens. The little voice inside his chest was screaming in victory.
He swivelled around and strode to the girl as quickly as possible. The little voice urged him to move quickly, lest he should change his mind.
Finnigan bent down to reach her eye level. Her irises were not as black as they had seemed. They were blue, furtive and hollowed out by years of privation. Her gaze was instantly recognizable to Finnigan after a lifetime of seeing it in the mirror.
She was undoubtedly a bad child. She likely stole. Maybe even on that very day she had pinched some of the churchgoers.
This however didn’t seem to disturb Finnigan’s little voice. It pressed him to push the cup into the girls small numb hands.
He saw her eyes widen in perfect astonishment when he did.
He stared into them for a time, till all of a sudden the girl raised a small blue fist and jabbed him in the ribs, before running off into the night, like a startled doe. Her tiny fingers wrapped around the cup tightly, expecting at any moment to have it ripped from her grasp. Finnigan followed her flight with bemused eyes.
The winter wind blew a lonely snowflake across the courtyard of St. Jude’s Chapel. It was almost deserted save for a figure of a man laughing hysterically.
What had he expected? Her to throw her arms around his neck in a childish gesture of gratitude, a crood impish smile on her lips?
She was the daughter of the street. She wouldn’t know kindness if it… well, if it came up to her face and gave her a cup of cash.
Finnigan turned around, plunging his frozen hands into the pockets of his anorak.
He braced himself for the mockery and derision awaiting him in The Sidetrack. The mates would sure have a good time off it.
But somehow, the shame awaiting him failed to dampen his spirits.
Finnigan’s little voice was silent on the matter, but he himself knew, that he had never felt more alive.