It was Christmas Eve and the beams of the pub were lined with twinkling fairy lights. Miles and I must have looked like bookends sat beside each other in front of the open fireplace piled high with blazing logs. We’re twins.
“I never did tell you what happened to me that night of the Three Kings in Deia all those years ago did I?” Miles said.
“You didn’t,” I said.
“Maybe it’s time I did,” Miles said. This is the story he told me.
* * *
When the Three Kings appeared at the bottom of the main street in Deia, you and I ran down to meet them with all the other kids. The Kings sat on a cart piled high with packages wrapped in shiny gold, silver, green and red paper, pulled by a donkey wearing a tinsel crown. When the Kings began dipping their hands into a big bag and throwing sweets up into the air, us kids ran to catch as many as we could.
Apart from you, that is. You just watched with your mouth open. I think you thought it was snowing sweets.
* * *
It was the first time I’d been in the church. Remember how beautiful it looked filled with the light from hundreds of candles? Everyone in the village was there.
We weren’t quite sure what we were supposed to do but when we saw the other children running to find their parents, we looked for Mum. She was sitting towards the back of the church. We sat down on either side of her.
The Three Kings sat in a row in front of the altar, each with a pile of shiny presents at their feet. Old Father Xavier, the village priest, clapped his hands and the whole church went quiet.
“What’s going to happen, Mum?” I whispered.
“Wait and see, darling,” Mum said.
Father Xavier took a sheet of paper from inside his robe and called out a name. A boy stood up and walked down the aisle to the Kings, received a big box of something or other and walked back clutching it to his chest with both hands, smiling from ear to ear. Every time Father Xavier called out a name, a child received a gift.
All around us, children tore the paper off their gifts and whooped with delight. One girl, the daughter of the man who owned the big hotel in the village, got a brand new shiny pink bicycle.
I remember feeling like I was going to burst with excitement. There were so many things I really, really wanted and I’d been reminding Mum what they were every day.
After what felt like hours, Father Xavier called out “Miles and Dexter”. We ran to the Three Kings. One rummaged through the few presents that were left next to him before handing us two packages.
You took yours and started looking at the paper it was wrapped in, reading the stories and drawings Mum had written. I ripped mine open immediately. When I saw what was inside I threw them on the floor and ran out into the night.
* * *
How I didn’t run off a cliff I’ll never know. But then, it wasn’t the children who slipped and fell in Deia, was it?
I was blind with fury at the injustice and humiliation of it all. I couldn’t believe what Mum had given us. Now the whole of Deia knew how poor we were.
Down at the Cala, I could hear nothing but the sea rolling pebbles over the rocks. The night was so clear it was as if I could have reached out and plucked a star from the sky. I screamed and screamed, listening to my voice echo off the rocks. Tears of rage ran down my cheeks. A wind blew up and clouds began to race across the sky, obscuring the stars.
The waves got bigger and bigger until they were crashing on the beach. The more I screamed, the worse the storm became. If a giant wave had swept me away, I wouldn’t have cared.
Then I noticed a single star reflected on the sea, in the centre of the bay. It was huge, and shining so, so bright with this incredible pure white light. For a moment I thought a spaceship had come to take me away. I stopped screaming and everything instantly became completely still.
Miles took a deep breath, looked at me. “You know I’ve never told anyone this before,” he said. “In that moment of stillness, I heard the star say ‘I am what is inside you. I will never leave you’. I swear to God the star spoke to me. Isn’t that crazy?”
I sipped my brandy, said nothing.
“Then,” Miles said, “I thought about how sad it was that all Mum could afford was those simple brown slippers.” Miles’s voice wobbled.
“And I felt so ashamed of myself. But then I began to feel happier than I’d ever done before in my life. I ran back up to the village laughing with joy. Every time I turned and looked back I could see the reflection of the star shining brightly on the water. And you know the really weird thing? When I looked up from the star in the ocean to the sky, it was empty. I realised my star wasn’t a reflection. It really was inside me.”
Miles leaned forward and warmed his hands on the fire. “You know the rest, I came home. You were sitting by the fire wearing your new slippers, reading the wrapping paper Mum had made. She was crying. I knew I didn’t want to cause anyone else pain ever again in my life. I hugged Mum.”
“And then,” I said. “You came and sat down next to me by the fire – just like we are now – and put on your new slippers too.”
Miles smiled. “Do you still have yours?”
“No. I lost them a long time ago. You? Of course you do.”
“Of course,” Miles said.