The long tendrils of the climbing plant coiled at their ends like the ash grey ringlets of my Grandfather Ankers hair do.
Through a wash of orange light, I bustled along the bike lane whilst dragging my bike behind me. Today, I was assigned a business bid for a new promotional opportunity. I walked quickly in order to get to work on time. It must have been a mile back that I punctured my tire on a nail. Droplets of sweat clung to the side whiskers of my face.
I did not have a watch or a phone for I could not afford either, and so like the Cross River people of Africa, I looked to the sun for the time.
Walking a few miles to the city of Rotterdam may have been disheartening, but I savored the walk like I would a slice of suikerbrood bread because once I did arrive to work, I had to call and bare the news to my grandfather that I would not be visiting for the holidays.
Grandfather Anker, or as my brother likes to call him, Ouder is a frail old man with a smile like daybreak and crinkles on the side of his face that intensify at first light in his eyes.
A year back, in the beginning of my twenty sixth year, I moved from my home in the northeastern United States to the Netherlands in order to care for him. My parents had to pay a great deal of money for my brother to go to university. Afterwards, we all got full times jobs yet still struggled to make a living. Overtime, it all became unmanageable and I struggled to work while looking after him.
To better the both of us, I stayed in the Netherlands and admitted him into a home that borders the Nederland’s and Germany. From there, he can enjoy the highlife from a room in a cosmopolitan city and continue his regular hobbies such as Sudoku and writing. From his window, he can see rivers and mountainous landscapes and on the other side, a stretch of flatland and greenery.
When I helped him move in, I taped the cardinal direction symbol on his window with a star in the middle of north and west so that he’d know where he could always find me.
The city of Rotterdam took form. I hurriedly walked into the buildings, past the metropolitan establishments and The Destroyed City statue that sat in the center on the plaza.
I walked into the office and punched my time card. I would call my grandfather and then do my pitch for the new holiday cards.
I walked to my desk and picked up the phone. I crouched down a bit so that no one else could see that I was violating the rule against personal phone calls at work. I then dialed the number to Ouder’s residential facility and waited.
It rung a few times before the receptionist answered.
“Hi, ma’am. I am calling to speak to one of your residents, Ben Anker.”
A few minutes passed.
“Eveline, my dear?” A familiar yet aged voice said.
“How are you?” He asked.
“I’m well, Ouder. I-I actually have something important to tell you.” I paused. “I don’t have a lot of money right now. Uh, a few months ago, you remember I was laid off. So, with this new job, I’m on thin ice. I won’t be able to visit for the holidays…” I sulked.
“O-oh…” He started in. “So, you’re not visiting?”
“No, Ouder.” I clarified.
Neither of us said anything for a moment. It pained me to imagine him alone on the holidays whilst the other residents traveled and some were visited by their families.
“I’m so sorry.” I told him.
“Don’t be.” He said.
“I know you’ll be fine. It’s just that mama and papa have to work on the holidays and Alex is spending Christmas with friends. I don’t want you to be alone.”
“Eve’, I lived in Rotterdam for many years so I know. You are like the town.”
“How?” I asked.
“ Well,” he began. He then collected the words from his old writing days and proceeded with his speech. “Take for example, that statue, The Destroyed City, with its head turned upwards and its arms suspended in the air. The one with its belly torn open for the world to look through and its mouth gaping as it yells no single thing. That represents your hardships. All of your best qualities are reflected in the rural land tattooed in greenery. But most importantly, in the northwestern sun—”
“I always know where to find you.” I finished his sentence.
“Next time.” He said hopefully.
From there, I hung up.
From the inside of the conference room, I heard a low rumble of voices indicating that the meeting had already begun. I walked into the conference room and took my seat.
“Let’s celebrate the holidays right!” Alex, one of my colleagues concluded her speech.
“Oh… look who finally decided to show up. Eveline, you’re up.” My boss said while pointing to me.
“Okay.” I responded. I collected my belongings, rose from my seat and stood in front of the room. With the magnets on the board, I posted a mockup of my card. The outside of the card was a window to a house and when the card was opened a family’s silhouette gathered in front of a Christmas tree could be seen.
“This card gives you a look inside the home of a unified family. The holidays are a time in which no work is done. We celebrate life. We celebrate our relatives. So, why not have a card that reads, Take a Day Off, and Use the Time to Celebrate with Family.”
“Why do you believe that this is the message that our company needs to spread?” My boss asked. This was a standard question that usually followed any business pitch we presented.
“Because when it comes down to it, family is all you have.” I answered.
At first it was quiet, but then the sound of the branch manager’s voice tore through the silence.
“Revise your design and then we’ll talk more about that promotional opportunity.” He said.
I was both pleased and uneasy. Maybe next year, I would be able to visit.