We drag in the outside table, faded, splattered with old paint, pull it close to the dining room table to make room for friends. On the stove there is a pot with wine and a pot with juice, both simmering with cinnamon sticks, cloves, the smells of Christmas. We ladle the hot drinks into mugs, though it is sunny and warm, drink them on the porch on old safari chairs. When the mugs are empty and the sun is setting, we sit at the long tables and eat Advent Soup, pass chips and vegetables, find comfort in small traditions.

Phil pulls the car to the side of the road and I step out onto a narrow muddy ledge, tiptoe to the street corner where two men come running through traffic towards me, holding huge bouquets of roses and unlikely flowers that I cannot name. I decide on big bouquets of pink roses, imagine the girls’ surprise after their ballet recital, splurge and add two bunches of agapanthus, stunning purple fireworks. I cannot understand the flower seller who asks for money, his teeth missing, his accent thick. I am distracted by his matted dreadlocks and our tight schedule, shove wrinkled shillings into his hand, run back to the car. I am so proud of my extravagant gift until we start driving and the car fills with a putrid smell. It is the water dripping from the flowers, all over my arms, my legs, the seat, the smell of sewer water. We pull into the parking lot of the Oshwal Auditorium and I open the car door, kick the flowers to the ground, run to scrub my arms and legs with soap. Later, the beautiful smelly flowers have disappeared from beneath the car. I tell the story to the girls on the drive home, assure them of my great intentions.

We sit under Christmas lights and watch The Polar Express, eat palak paneer and greasy bhajias around the coffee table. P is tense, hides her face, asks us to tell her when it gets better. When the movie is over, J says she hopes she can go on the Polar Express this Christmas, or at least get a toy train that moves by itself. Her eyes sparkle in the dim light, trusting and hopeful. I remember when she was four and she informed the neighbour kids that she believes in “Every kind of magic.”

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