I watch the man, dressed in patches and rags, hunched against the cold.
He’s carrying a large bag, going door to door, leaving little packages wrapped in brown paper, knocking and then running away.
I follow him, watching little kids open their doors to a surprise. Their smiles wide as they grab the little presents and run back inside.
Most people don’t remember Ol’ Jack Valentine.
I shouldn’t be surprised, really. The old traditions seem to be fading.
Ah, but look at those wee one’s faces! Usually those smiles are reserved for Christmas.
We continue walking. The wind is painful, my hands are in my pockets as deep as they can go. I know he’s cold, I can see him shivering, but he’s still nimble, hopping around, doing acrobatics, running from doors. Even under the weight of his bag, it’s still hard to keep up with him.
He wears a black mask, covering half of his face.
The mask? I guess it does seem a bit sinister, doesn’t it?
It’s protection. I’m weaker than I seem. See…Eros est un loup, Cesar.
Love is always painful. Especially for an arlequin such as myself.
The smile never fades, the smile is the real mask. But it’s always best to keep your eyes hidden.
I take a good look at his smile. It looks wooden, plastic, cold. His attitude exudes warmth, but his smile feels painted on.
I notice a blooming red spot over his heart on the patchwork shirt.
Yes, yes, I’m bleeding. It happens every Valentine’s Eve. My heart breaks for all the lovers in the world. All those who love and are not loved in return, those who love and cannot be with the one they want, those who love too much or are loved too little.
I bleed so they don’t have to hurt.
His bag is finally empty. He leans against a wall, catching his breath, looking older.
He takes off his cap and scratches his head, then removes the mask.
His eyes are rimmed red and full of tears.
Ah, it hurts…but it’s worth it. You saw all of those smiles, yes? That was real love in those smiles.
Here’s a little secret that I’ll let you in on. Those presents, those brown paper wrapped packages…they’re empty. No toys, no candy…well, empty but full. Inside each one is a kiss, a smile, a song…you can’t see it. But you can definitely feel it. A little bit of magic.
He wipes his eyes and puts his mask back on. His smile widens and he gives me a little bow and, with a flourish, produces a little present for me.
Happy Valentine’s Eve, young man.
He laughs and bounces away.
I start walking home, the package is light but warm.
I tear off the paper to reveal a little purple swirled box with a ribbon on it.
I open it.
There’s a warm feeling against my lips with a slight taste of raw honey.
A song fills my head.
Happy Valentine’s Eve.