Welcome at the blog of Dini Commandeur. I've written quite a lot of columns for various magazines. I also write short stories every now and then. These columns and stories are available for everybody at this blog. I'll release new columns and stories periodically.


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Happy Holidays

Monday 28 October 2013 Thomas left the Correctional Institution to face his freedom the day before Christmas. A few hours later he was at the police station being held by officers for something he had no part in. He thought of his mates, who were left behind in jail. “You’re lucky,” some of the guys said when he said goodbye to them. “Home for Christmas, there is nothing better than that.” But now he wondered if he would have to spend another Christmas in a cell. Besides, if it had been up to him he surely would have stayed in prison for Christmas. Christmas in prison was not really a punishment. The food tasted better than on regular days, there were good movies on TV, the chaplains handed out planners, nearly all the guards were cheery, and there was the religious service in chapel. With, if all went well, a swinging Christmas choir including shapely female members. Ladies who would move whatever body part they could move while singing. A joy to watch. Christmas in prison always meant happy holidays to him.
This year he would not be part of that. The door of the correctional facility had opened for him, he started the long walk downtown and thought about the progress of his release. There were choices to be made. Like; would he go to his parents or stay in this town and sleep in a shelter? The latter meant a lot of fuss and organization. But there was a bed, shower, a meal and it was warm. He longed for that warmth already. It was so very cold. He dug his hands in his pockets and felt the train ticket the social worker had given him. “Go home, kid”, he had said. “Grant your mother a beautiful Christmas too. Her son back home for Christmas, that must surely make her happy.” Thomas however was not so sure of that. Of course his mother would be happy, yet at the same time continuously scared he would go to the bar, get drunk, and smoke weed. And if that was to happen, there was a good chance he would do all sorts of things again which are not appreciated nor accepted by society. He had explained this to judges so often already; he would like to be a law abiding citizen, honestly, he swore that. But a beer and a drop of liquor were so hard to resist. And well, he would like to see that differently. That he could enjoy just one single drink, without wanting more. Lots more. He would like to have some peace of mind, or be able to be happy without smoking weed. Live without the destructive consequences of drink and drugs. But life was not like that for him.
Subdued he walked on towards the town center. He was cold. It felt like snow was due. He decided that if it was to snow, he would go home. His mother was surely roasting the roulade already, and his father probably peeling the pears for stewing. He also would be able to sleep peacefully at home. Better than in the shelter. No snoring, no nightly bickering, no bother. But what was at home were the worried eyes of his mother, and his father would ask him what his plans for the future were. Why couldn’t life just be simple, wondered Thomas. Just enjoy a good Christmas without fuss, is that really asking too much? He looked at the sky again. Would there really be snow? If yes, he would go to his parents, if not, then to the shelter. Relieved his choice problem was solved he walked on and almost tripped over someone who was on the ground face down. Thomas recognized the man. He had seen him regularly during his stay in jail. Thomas always avoided him like the plague. The man was known for his unexpected violent outbursts. Due to his violent behavior he was locked up regularly and outside of the prison walls he was no longer welcome in any of the shelters. And now he was face down near the canal. Hesitantly Thomas came nearer. Maybe there was someone in the canal, maybe help was needed. There was however not a sight of a drowning man, but there was a pigeon, and the man tried to get the little animal out of the water with a stick. He eventually managed to get the bird ashore, rubbed the little pigeon chest and just when Thomas wondered if the man planned to apply mouth to mouth resuscitation, the man put the pigeon on the ground. “Dead”, he said. They both stared at the little pigeon corpse. “Your pigeon?” Thomas ventured eventually. The man shook his head. No, it was just one of the cities pigeons that ended up in the water, he said. He had tried to save the little thing. But the silly bird had not understood that it was an attempt at its rescue and had lost its life in the fierce battle it put up. Thomas saw tears in the man’s eyes. He felt for him. As well as for the pigeon. “Poor little bird,” he said. The man nodded uncomplaining. “Everything alive, will die,” he said. “Everything has a beginning, everything has an end. That is life.” Thomas was surprised. Was there a philosopher hiding inside this man? Was this man someone who because of his background and circumstances could change into a raging madman while in truth he was kind and sensitive? Someone, who loved animals a lot because he never had been able to trust people? Thomas became soft. There was so much sorrow and sadness in this world. “Now what?” he asked. “What to do with the pigeon now?”. The man did not know. A little grave would be nice, but city center with all the tarmac and pavement this was not an option. They still stood there thinking over alternatives to a burial when another problem arose. A couple of police officers wanted to know what was going on and why there was a dead pigeon on the ground. They looked at the stick with which the man had tried to help the pigeon out of the water. And no, they did not believe the story of the drowned pigeon. They saw a stick, a dead pigeon. They saw a man they recognized as someone who could be ‘acting aggressive’. Regretfully they also recognized Thomas, a troublemaker, a kid who often got into trouble. “Come along,” the officers ordered. “Both of you”. The pigeon was also brought, in case this concerned cruelty against animals and they needed to further inspect it. “Not everything is what it seems,” tried the pigeon saving philosopher, but the officers were not open to that wisdom.
And that is how Thomas spent the first hours after his release in the police station. And after being heard and searched he was allowed out again. The pigeon saver had to stay. They passed each other in the hallway. Thomas on his way to freedom, the man on his way to a cell. “It’s okay,” he said. “At least I have a roof over my head. It is warmer here than out there. And don’t forget everything has a beginning, and everything has an end. Happy holidays.” Still dumbfounded over the change in the man, (so it is possible, a man can change, he thought) Thomas walked outside. It was snowing. And so a little while later he was in the train on his way to his parents, on his way home. The snowflakes kept on whirling, some sticking to the wagon window. A fellow passenger with and MP-3 player softly sang along to a Christmas carol. Things almost went wrong when they found Thomas had forgotten to validate his ticket. But the ticket inspector closed his eyes to that. Thomas was allowed to continue his journey, and able to go home. It was almost Christmas Eve. “Peace on earth,” sang the fellow passenger. “Happy holidays,” said the ticket inspector.

Dini Commandeur
December 2012
Translated from Dutch into English by Moni Hines

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