’That was another loud morning upstairs at yours.’ ’ By the way, the little something for St. Nick in front of your door is from me.’
Before Marie could respond, Mr. Winter had already disappeared in his flat. Sometimes she could slap his face. He would always rant about her and Felix and then again he would put a lovely wrapped St. Nick in front of their door – they could do without it! Her friend had warned her of living under the same roof as their landlord. But nowhere else would they find such a great three-room flat in Bad Homburg located directly by the spa gardens and affordable at that. Right now, she didn’t want to think about it; she hadn’t picked up Felix earlier from kindergarten to spend her time brooding now.
’Come on, Felix, who’s first at the park!’
Both of them stormed off and dropped into the snow in the park. It had been snowing all day long and the park had its own charm. The lake was frozen and now, in the dawn, the lanterns were shining and everything was lit in a magic light. A solid blanket of snow gave the park a special peaceful appearance. Marie played with Felix in the snow and took photos of the winter wonderland in between.
’Mum, let’s do a snowball fight’, and upon saying so Felix threw the first snowball which didn’t hit her but a passer-by.
’Ah, hit with full force.’ The man held his hands theatrically in front of his heart and sank to the floor, formed a snowball at lightning speed which he threw at Felix. Before Marie could say knife, both of them were in the middle of a snowball fight that included her.
Later, the three of them were sitting together in Marie and Felix’s flat and drank hot chocolate. Yes, he was a stranger but it felt good. This first acquaintance with Max followed several more and finally Marie and Max became an item and he moved in.
’OMG! Mr Winter was so annoying again in the morning. Another of Felix’s toys was in the way. I’m so fed up with him!’
There was a short silence.
’Well, but you have to admit that Felix has a habit of leaving things lying around.’ Max was looking at her with a grin on his face.
’Yes, but he doesn’t have to be so fussy. Besides, he can say it in a different tone of voice.’
’True. But have you noticed that Mr. Winter isn’t happy?’
’No idea and being honest, I don’t care. You’re always so understanding, aren’t you?’ Marie was bugged as she usually was when Mr. Winter was concerned.
’No, not always. But that’s an important part of my job: to understand people. It makes my job easier, and also more interesting.’
’Yes, I know and that’s why I love you but I find it really difficult to be understanding at times. Mr. Winter is just too much for me.’
Max was silent before he replied. “When I realised that people don’t react stupidly because they are stupid but because I’ve triggered something in them unconsciously, that really helped me. My job as a teacher is to look behind the façade of my pupils and bring out the best in them, and not let them provoke me. Well, things go better or worse.’
’And how can I get there?’
’It’s a process, Marie. Make yourself aware that Mr. Winter isn’t doing it to make you angry or because he’s stupid but because he’s afflicted by something. I’ve learned an important lesson in life: You never know what’s happening in someone’s life. It’s unfair to judge when you don’t know the full story. That doesn’t mean that you have to put up with everything. And be aware that the problem whatever it is, is his, not yours. You, on your part, can see for yourself what you can do better like make Felix tidy up more consistently.’ Max fell silent. ’ If you feel that in your heart, you can be more generous with him. That will also make your life easier.’
Pensively, Marie looked at him. Max’s words stirred something within her.
A couple of days later Max was in Mr. Winter’s flat to bring him back a tool he’d borrowed. Max pointed at one of the photos which were standing on an old bureau.
’Is that your son?’
’Does he live here in the area?’
’He died six years ago.’
’Oh, I’m really sorry.’ Max’s head tilted, he didn’t know what to say.
Max’s sincere sympathy did Mr. Winter good; and he didn’t push him either. So, he finally told him about Anton, his only child, who reminded him of Max. Anton was a pediatrician and a therapist for children and like Max he loved his job. Mr. Winter had a very close relationship to his son. One day he didn’t return from a bike tour, his brakes had failed. An unfortunate accident which had changed his life forever and which he didn’t get over. Mr. Winter had been looking forward to grandchildren and now he was alone. He and his wife had fallen apart over the death of their only child.
’Have you ever thought about help?’
’There’s no use.’
’Yes, there is and your son would agree with me. And I think, he wouldn’t want you to suffer so much.’
Marie and Max invited Mr. Winter for Christmas Eve. They didn’t know if he would come, he didn’t know it himself. They would cook for four people at any rate.
He came, a bit later, but he came. They spent a wonderful evening together with delicious food and funny games. He gave Felix a box of coloured pencils. Later, they sat at the table and Mr. Winter drew a story for him which the two of them made up together. Marie was utterly surprised.
’I didn’t know that Mr. Winter can draw so well’, she whispered to Max when the two of them where in the kitchen.
’I think, there are a few things we don’t know from our landlord.’ Max took Marie in his arms and smiled.
It was late when Marie put Felix to bed.
‘Mum, I love Christmas.’
‘Why, because you get so nice presents?’ Marie winked at Felix.
‘Yes, but Christmas makes people nice. I really like Mr. Winter now.’
Marie had tears in her eyes when she held Felix close to her.
‘Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.’ – Martin Luther King Jr.