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In the late night of December 22nd, just as I finished my shift at the Japanese restaurant where I work as a waitress, I saw a man at the train station. He was sitting near the station entrance. He was facing the wall eating rice, and while eating he was badly coughing. All of a sudden, a portion of his food went down the wrong way and he started choking. There were lots of people around. I was sure that they were coming from an end-of-the-year party. They were chatting with their colleagues before going home. Their faces were reddish from the alcohol and looked happy. But no one seemed to care about that homeless man sitting on the cold tile, eating cold rice drinking nothing, even though there was a vending machine right next to him. It broke my heart. I could hear people’s laughter and him choking at the same time. It really killed me. I felt angry – I didn’t even know at whom. Maybe I was angry at the whole society.
It broke my heart. I could hear people’s laughter and him choking at the same time.
I went to buy a hot Japanese tea at the vending machine and I gave it to him. I just said, ”Please drink this so that you won’t choke anymore”. Then he said to me, ”I’m sorry”, and he took the cup of tea from my hand. On my way back home, I asked myself, “Sorry? Sorry for what? Choking?”. Then I thought, “Oh, no. This is not right.” That night I kept thinking about him and since Christmas was only a few days ahead, I decided to be his Secret Santa. His rice looked cold, he didn’t have anything hot to drink, his clothes were too old and too thin, not proper winter clothes. And if I remembered correctly, he wasn’t even wearing socks. I decided to give him all of these. It was a shame that I did not have a lot of money to give to many other people. But I was hoping that it would finally make him smile. And hopefully, he would not say sorry this time. I mean even if he said ‘’Sorry’’ again, this time I wanted to tell him that there was nothing to be sorry about. Plus, it was Christmas!
I went shopping on the next day. I bought him a hooded jacket. It was lined with fur from the inside and was very warm. I did not know his favorite color but red looked cool so I chose red in medium size. Also, I bought three pairs of socks. And snacks including Choco Pie. I only had good memories about Choco Pie. When I was a bit sad, my mother gave me Choco Pie and she told me that it will make me feel better, and somehow it really did. Choco Pie made me happy so if there was anyone whom I wanted to make happy, I gave them Choco Pie. This time it was him. And I knew a store that sells huge Santa stocking bag so I bought one as well and I put all items in it. Then I did not have any money left in my wallet so I went back home and looked for more items. I added a black and white scarf, two face towels, a beanie and a huge shoulder bag so he would be able to carry these items. Then I told my younger brother about him. He gave me a ski jacket, three brand new long sleeve winter shirts and new red gloves! He was very helpful and I thanked him. The Santa stocking bag was so full that I could not add anything anymore. I was ready for Christmas Eve. I was a bit afraid that this may not make him smile because he may not like what I got for him. Plus, he did not even know me. But I still wanted to give it a try.
On Christmas Eve, I bought him two Onigiri at my local grocery store and I put them in the Santa bag. Then I went to the restaurant to work. Since I did not have any money to buy some food for myself, I did not eat anything that day. Bringing food to the customers and watching people eat made my stomach rumble. When I finished my shift, I wanted to hurry to the train station so I skipped my meal again. I punched my working time card, and I saw that someone had added in handwriting some working hours on the days that I had not even been working. My boss came to me and told me that he had added the extra working time and that I was going to receive additional 200 dollars with my next salary. That day, I only had a few coins left in my wallet and it was for my train ticket. I knew I was not receiving the money on that day, but his act of generosity touched me really deeply. I thanked him profusely. Receiving what I really needed and so unexpectedly was truly a beautiful gift. Then I thought about the homeless man and I thought that maybe this whole Secret Santa plan might make him happy as well. So I quickly changed my clothes, grabbed the Santa bag and hurried to the station.
But he was not there. I decided to wait until my last train came. I sat down on the cold tile like he had been sitting the other day. And I waited and I waited. I was the only one sitting on the ground. The place was called Ginza, one of the richest areas in Tokyo, where there are many stores such as Channel, Gucci, and Valentino. And most of the restaurants are quite expensive. People were dressed very nicely. My jeans had holes in them so I had a few safety pins on my jeans to cover the holes. When people looked at my jeans, they laughed. But my friends thought that I had pins because I love Rock music and they somehow thought it was fashionable and told me that I look cool so I loved my jeans more than ever.
At the station’s entrance I watched people come and go. They sometimes stopped and stared at me. Then an old man came up to me and he asked me, ‘’Would you like a candy? Here, take one’’. I took it and I thanked him. Maybe I looked miserable to him because I was sitting alone on the ground. My jeans had holes. My black boots were also ripped and had white paint accidentally spilled on them. And I was obviously waiting for someone and holding a huge Santa bag late on a Christmas Eve. So yes, I may have looked miserable, especially in a rich place like Ginza.
The men left for the platform. While he was waiting for his train, he was looking back at me the whole time, and sometimes he waved at me. I waved him back, too. Then he folded his hands together and bowed as if he was praying. I had no idea what prayer he said for me but it made me smile. I wasn’t feeling so lonely anymore, but at same time I couldn’t help thinking, what if it wasn’t me? What if it was that homeless man? Would he give him a candy, too? Would he wave him goodbye? Would he pray for him? And I thought, ‘’No, I bet he would not’’. He wasn’t walking straight. He was drunk and was obviously in a good mood. And I was a still a young girl to him, maybe that is why he was kind enough to give me a candy. Maybe I was wrong about it. Maybe he did the same with everyone. But I felt that way on that night. And I strongly felt that I was right. And it made me sad.
It wasn’t only him who was kind to me. There was this old lady. She said to her husband, ‘’Oh dear, look at her’’. Then she asked me, ‘’What happened? Are you okay?’’ I was happy that she asked, and I do not deny the fact that she was very generous but I realized that people are nice to you when you look “normal” enough for them. Maybe I had to try and look like a homeless woman and sit there again and see how they would react. Then I’d know if I was right or wrong. Time went by, I waited until my last train came but the homeless man did not show up. So I brought the Santa bag back home. And I ate his two Onigiri that night. That was all I ate on Christmas Eve.
On Christmas day, before going to see my friends, I bought him two Onigiri again and I went to the station. I sat down on the cold tile. And I waited for him for almost two hours but he didn’t come. I met an old friend of mine by a surprise. She knew from my Facebook page what I was doing there and said, ‘’It’s really kind of you that you are doing this for a homeless person. I just smiled at her. I did not know what to say. Many of my friends said the same thing but I always found myself not knowing how I should feel about it. I thought that I should have done it a long time ago. And I should have been doing it time and again. People need to eat and drink every day. Not just on one day. Not just on Christmas day. I found myself feeling guilty about it.
At one point it was time to leave and go see my friends. But after the Christmas party with them, I went back to the station and waited for the man again. This time a friend of mine came along. She said she did not mind if we had to wait until the last train. It was really kind of her. I prayed for a Christmas miracle. My friend was praying for me, too. But he did not show up. Maybe he changed the place. Maybe he went somewhere warmer. I did not want to keep my friend in the cold for too long, so I told her that I would come back on the next day and we went back home. It was really sad that I had to carry that Santa bag home again and tell my brother that I failed to give it to the man.
I decided to be patient. I went to the station on 26th December as well. But he never showed up. I kept going to the station again and again, but he never showed up. I looked at my Santa bag and it felt as if my bag and all of my gifts were crying too. So I apologized to them. And I promised that I will bring all of them into his hands someday, hopefully very soon.
I was there again on New Year’s Eve. But while I was waiting, I saw someone looking into a garbage box and I had food in the Santa bag. And it looked as if he also needed winter clothes. I watched him for a while, and I thought something was not right there. So I decided to follow him and give the Santa bag to him. I went out in the street, and I saw the man walking ahead of me. I ran to him and said, ”Excuse me. If you would like, I have some snacks and some winter clothes in this bag”. He stopped walking and I showed him all items but he only took the snacks, thanked me and was ready to leave. I wasn’t expecting that, so I stopped him again. ”Please wait, what about the clothes? I also have gloves”. He said, ”No, I already have some”. ”But I also have a shoulder bag, socks and a scarf”. He shook his head. He said ”Thank you” again. He bowed to me and left.
I stayed there for a while and I watched him go. He was dragging his right feet while he was walking so he walked very slowly. He was looking down all the time. He never looked up. Never looked at anyone. The city was crowded with people. They all had at least two shopping bags. Trees were all decorated and lighted up for the New Year’s Eve. And he walked among those lights and people. I realized that he never looked me in the eyes, too. The whole city was in excitement. Because in seven hours, we were saying goodbye to 2014 and welcome 2015.
I carried my Santa bag on and I looked for another homeless man. Then I found a man walking. I went to him and said ”Excuse me. If you would like, I have some snacks and some winter clothes’’. Then he said, ”Can I have some snacks and the gloves?”. I was surprised to hear it. Only the snacks and the gloves? Again? So I said ”Of course, but I also have a jacket, socks and some other things as well”. Then he said to me, ”Thank you but you already gave me a lot”. And he smiled. I told him he could take everything. ”Here. It’s a ski jacket, very warm”. Then finally he took it from my hand. Then I realized that someone was watching us. He was also homeless. He was watching us with a smile on his face. He looked very friendly. I said hello and asked him if he wanted some clothes since all of the snacks were gone. He looked at my stuff and said ”Can I have a shirt?”. So again, I thought, only the shirt? So I told him ”Of course. It is a winter shirt so it will keep you warm. But I also have towels, a scarf”. I just kept talking and gave another winter shirt to the man who reluctantly took the ski jacket too. I almost forced him to take it. Then the friendly man said, ”Can you give rest of the clothes to other homeless men? They must be freezing, too”. His words really left me speechless. I just nodded. Then he said, ”Thank you”. I asked the two men if they had friends nearby so that I could maybe visit them and give out the rest. They told me that they did not. Before leaving, they both smiled at me and said, ”Thank you”. So I had to say, ”No. I thank you”. Then they smiled at me again. And we said goodbye.
I found myself walking again. And I found myself trying not to cry. I had thought that the first man would take everything and that would be the end of it. But I had met three homeless men and yet my Santa bag was still very heavy. I had never expected this to happen. I felt quite foolish.
I had met three homeless men and yet my Santa bag was still very heavy. I had never expected this to happen. I felt quite foolish.
I walked for about 30 minutes. I couldn’t find another homeless person. I wandered around the city. I saw many people pointing at my Santa bag and taking photos. I heard people laughing at me like, ”Christmas season already passed, lady”. Nevertheless, I just kept walking and walking. Then a man in his mid-30s came up to me and asked about my Santa bag. I didn’t want to explain so I tried to ignore him but he did not leave so I told him that these were clothes for homeless people to keep warm during the cold winter. ‘’Aren’t you supposed to be celebrating New Year’s Eve with friends? Oh, wait, I got it. You want to get that feeling of achievement at the very end of the year, huh?’’. I replied, ‘’No. I will not feel that I have achieved anything even when I am done giving all these items to homeless people. And I really meant it. I was already feeling like a fool for thinking that one homeless man would take everything. And that my way of thinking about homeless people was very wrong and I was prejudiced against them. Then the man finally left me alone. So I stood at the place where I could see the whole street. I tried to look for a person who is looking down and walking very slowly. But 15 minutes passed and I was still unable to see anyone so I started to walk again. By that time, I knew that this would take hours because the next person may not want all the items again. But of course, if he or she did, then I was willing to give away all.
I walked to a small park. I had been there before but I had not seen any homeless people, so I had left. This time I saw a man near a garbage box. I went to him and I showed my Santa bag. ”If you would like, I have socks, a scarf, a jacket, towels, a bag and more stuff that will keep you warm.” He asked me, ”Are those for free?”. I said, ”Of course”. ”Then can I have a shirt and two pairs of socks? Only if you don’t mind. One is for my friend, I’m on my way to see him now. I gave him a shirt and all of the socks. ‘’These socks are in different colors and I don’t know what you and your friend like so there’s only three pairs of socks but please have them. How about the other things?’’ I asked him but he replied he could not take anything else. I said, ‘’Maybe your friend need a jacket?”. He said, ”We are okay. I cannot take so much from you”. I told him many times that it’s really okay. That I want him to take it if he needed one. But he did not take a single more thing. Before leaving, he smiled at me, bowed down to me, and repeated ”Thank you” many times. I replied, ‘’No. I thank you for accepting these from me. I’m really happy that you did. I wish you have a wonderful year ahead’’. I thought that he was about to walk away so I turned back and started to walk, then I heard his voice, ‘’Excuse me’’. So I looked back. He came up to me and said, ‘’Thank you so much’’. And he smiled. I did not know what to say. So I smiled and I bowed to him and left. He only took one shirt and a few socks. My Santa bag was still heavy. Feeling that heaviness after meeting four homeless men made me cry again. People in the city were obsessed with shopping, looking for more clothes, more bags and more food. It really made me think.
Feeling that heaviness after meeting four homeless men made me cry again. People in the city were obsessed with shopping, looking for more clothes, more bags and more food. It really made me think.
I walked around the city for some time. I didn’t find any homeless people so I went back to the park. Then I saw a man sleeping there. I was about to leave my Santa bag next to him, so that he could wake up and have no choice but to take it all. And that finally I would get to become someone’s Secret Santa. What I love about Santa Claus is that he never shows himself, he puts a gift next to the pillow or under the Christmas tree and he disappears.
But then I saw another homeless man walking into the park. He looked right in my eyes so I greeted him, ‘’Good evening’’. He smiled at me and looked at my Santa bag. I said, ”If you would like, I have a jacket and a scarf, a towel, a bag and a beanie. I would be very happy if you accept them. It’s really cold”. He stood right next to me and asked, ”Are you sure?”. I said, ”Yes, of course. The jacket is brand new. Please, don’t worry about it”. Then he smiled again, ”I’ve only had used clothes. And they are quite old”. I retorted, ”Oh. Well, these are very warm and new. The jacket is red, I hope the color will suit you well and the size will match”. He asked me if he could try it on. He was having trouble closing up the zipper. So I asked him if I could do it for him and he said yes.
I zipped it for him, the size was perfect, and the red color really looked good on him. I was so happy and told him that he looked great in red. He started laughing and I handed him a towel without saying anything. He took it and put it in his bag. That was so natural. I felt happy again. He was wearing a scarf but the fabric was very thin, so I showed him the scarf. ”This is really warm, too. Please feel it”. He touched the scarf and confirmed, ”Yes, it is”. So I put it around his neck. Then he said, ”I was wondering how to survive this cold winter. I’m lucky that I met you here, but why? Why are you doing this?”
I knew exactly why I was doing it because I had been thinking about it, too. Why do I often talk to homeless people? Why do I always love and search for underdogs? It is because I am an underdog myself. I have felt like this almost my entire life. When I was a kid, I remember staring at grown-ups and telling myself, ‘’You should never become like that person. Don’t you dare become that kind of adult who does not care about a kid, who does not care about a weaker person, who does not give a helping hand to others. Don’t ever become such an adult, Chesil’’.
But now that I am 29 years old, I am not so sure whether I am the adult that I wanted to be. I have joined and founded a community with my friends to help people who are suffering from a depression, PTSD, etc. And I also joined Anti-Nuke community, but I know that what I used to do and what I am doing now is not enough. I mean it is almost nothing.
I know that what I used to do and what I am doing now is not enough.
I have always felt so useless and powerless. Life is not fair and humanity is not equal. I thought what we all can do independently and individually is to love one another. Help one another. Care for one another. But I have done only little things in my life and I never got rid of the feeling of being shuttered from society. Not having the rights to vote, because of being Korean born and raised in Japan, was one of the things that made me think that the world does not care about what I think. So whenever I saw homeless people, I saw myself in them. Because they are shuttered from society too. On March 11th, 2011, a massive earthquake hit Japan and people in Tokyo were also in a panic. On that day, a lot of people became homeless. And I remember it was so cold out at night. What people wanted was a warm place to stay. A place where they could sit, eat and drink. And I was proud of myself that I could offer them what they really needed. But it looks as if many have already forgotten about it. Forgotten about those feelings of need and being homeless. Or maybe they do remember but they do not reflect on it deeply enough to start sharing with others. Initially, I thought that I was angry at society but then I realized that I was angry at myself.
On March 11th, 2011, a massive earthquake hit Japan. On that day, a lot of people became homeless. And I remember it was so cold out at night. What people wanted was a warm place to stay. A place where they could sit, eat and drink. And I was proud of myself that I could offer them what they really needed. But it looks as if many have already forgotten about it.
When I was giving my stuff to homeless people and when they thanked me, I came to realize that I was using it as an excuse to make myself feel better. I really wanted to tell each one of them that I was sorry for everything. When the homeless man asked me, ‘’Why are you doing this?’’, I wanted to tell him. But I felt my eyes watering. I knew if I tried to speak to him about my reasons, I couldn’t talk about it without tears. So I just smiled and pretended that I didn’t hear his question. Instead, I spoke about what I had in my Santa bag. ”You know, there’s still a beanie and a bag left”. He looked at my stuff and he said, ”That might make me look like a girl”. I looked at my stuff and we both laughed. The beanie was in blue so I did not think it was for a girl. And the bag – all of the homeless people I met already had at least one bag. These bags were ripped and had holes but no one wanted a new one. And I thought they were like my jeans and boots – I never want to replace them. There are just too many memories.
Before he left the park, the homeless man said ‘’thank you’’ many times. I bowed to him and wished him a happy new year. He walked away, but turned around to see me, wave and smile. I stayed in the park until I lost him from sight.
Chesil is a South Korean born in Japan. She attended a regular Japanese school, but later transferred to a North Korean school in Tokyo. She moved to USA when she was thirteen years old due to her parents’ separation. There she spent a lot of time immersed in books and music. She moved to South Korea during her teenage years, and she went back to Japan at the age of 20. There she entered a film school, and today she makes films with her friends.