The Bells of Hope

"...oh no, you'll have to play them."

 

1. “Hey mister, can I have a quarter?”  The little girl pleaded as her round chocolate colored eyes looked up at the man.  She had stepped right in front of the man with her hand out causing him to stop abruptly.  “My mom is real sick!” 

It was a cold November morning and the girl was bundled in a dark woolen coat that looked a bit older than she was.

“What’s wrong with her my dear?”  He asked the girl.

“I don’t know mister; we can’t afford to go to the doctor, and she just keeps coughing.”

“Well my dear, I’ll tell you what.”  The man said as he reached for his wallet.  “I’ll gi…”

At that very moment, a boy rushed up, grabbed the wallet from the man’s hand and raced down the street with it.  Another man in his thirties who had seen the whole thing happening chased the boy down, wrestled him to the sidewalk and recovered the wallet as the boy pulled away and escaped 

Returning the wallet to the man, he stood by as the wealthy looking victim looked inside.  “It’s all here.” The man said relieved.  “Thank you my good man.”  He said to Hector taking out a crisp twenty dollar bill. “Here is something for your trouble sir.”  As he looked to the side, the little girl was still standing there.  He was still holding the wallet and she was still looking sadly up at him.  “And one for you too my dear he said as he took another twenty out and handed it to her.  He had been planning to give her a dollar, but with the crowd watching, he felt a bit embarrassed, and decided he had better give her a twenty also.

A half hour later, and several blocks away, Hector, the man who had returned the wallet, the little girl and the boy who had stolen the wallet all met to discuss their caper.  “I won this time, Eliana my little princess.”  Hector said to his daughter.

 “You just got lucky daddy, don’t you think so, Juan?” 

“Yes, he was an easy ‘mark’ Papa.”  Juan said.  “He didn’t even see that I took his Visa card.  It was right behind his Platinum American Express.”

“Don’t leave home without it.”  Hector said to the children as the three high fived each other proudly.

At that very moment out of the corner of his eye Hector saw a well dressed older gentleman opening the trunk of a black Lincoln and placing something inside.  As the old man stood up, he became lightheaded and began to lose his balance and started to fall over towards the street, just as a white Federal Express panel truck was racing up the street.  It was obvious that the truck was going to hit the old man.

Hector reached and grabbed the man’s coat, pulling him back towards the sidewalk just as the truck sped by, knocking the old gentleman’s hat off into the street.  The driver, listening to his iPod, was oblivious to the serious accident that had just been avoided. 

As the old man began to regain his composure, he started to thank Hector, shaking his hand and holding onto Hectors arm with his other hand.  “You save my life!” he said to Hector with a strong Italian accent.  “He save my life!”  He started to say to the bystanders who had gathered around due to the commotion.  “How can I ever repay you?”  the old man, whose name was Vincent, said reaching for his wallet.

“Put your money back Señor,” Hector said.  “You don’t owe me anything. 

“This man save my life!”  Vincent repeated to the crowd.  Then he looked at Hector’s children.  Juan, who was holding the hat he had retrieved from the street, and his eleven year old sister Elaina and repeated the words.  “This man save my life!  Is he your father?”

“Si Senior.”  The kids said proudly in unison, not realizing that they had reverted back to Spanish, but very pleased with their father all the same.  Juan brushed off the hat with his hand and handed it to the old man, who thanked him.

Surmising that Hector and the kids were probably illegal, Vincent made only one more feeble attempt at giving the Samaritan money, and then said.  “If you won’t take any money my friend, then at least come to my store and pick out something that you would like.”  With that, Vincent handed Hector a business card.  The name on the card was “Vincent’s Music Company.” Vincent’s last name was Caruso, and the address of the store was about fifteen blocks away.

“The Padre would be so proud of you Papa!” Elaina said to her father, referring to the parish priest back home in Nogales, Mexico.

“It was nothing dear.”  Hector said. “Anyone else would have done the same thing.”

The three quickly said goodbye to the old gentleman and hurried off as a policeman who had been alerted to the near accident was quickly rushing towards the crowd to see what all the commotion was about.

 

2. The following morning Hector went to Betty the landlady’s apartment and paid the rent for the three rooms that he shared with seven others including his own children.  The two credit cards that they had stolen the day before had been sold for $60.00 each and with some money from the other family they once again had enough to pay the $200.00 weekly rent.

Yesterday the school had been closed due to a gas main leaking nearby which was why the kids were with Hector stealing credit cards.  Today however, both kids were back in school.  Hector and both of his children understood the importance of education.  Usually, the team only worked the scam on weekends, and they only stole enough to pay the rent and to get money for food.  Hector also only targeted rich men and was able to justify his actions as being necessary to help his family and not really hurting the victims.

After the kids were off to school, Hector tried unsuccessfully to find day labor as he did most days and then decided to go and see how the old man was doing, so he set out on foot for the music store.  He walked briskly down the sidewalk, and as he neared the proper block, he began looking at store numbers and then saw a sign sticking out from the building that said “Fine used musical instruments.”  And yes, it was Vincent Caruso’s store.  He looked through the windows for a few moments before entering.

“Is Señor Vincent here?”  Hector said quietly to the young lady behind the counter.  He assumed that she must be Vincent’s granddaughter.

“He went to the bank Sir, but he will be back in just a few minutes.”

“Thank you Señorita.  If it is alright with you, I will just look around and wait for him.”  Hector said as he noticed that there were many interesting things to see.

There were several brass horns and violins displayed in the two storefront windows.  In the window to the left, as Hector was looking out toward the door, there were two accordions, one quite a bit smaller than the other, and a rather old looking cello with a broken string.  In the store window to the right side, next to a dark red drum set, was a long, open wooden box with twelve freshly polished brass bells with wooden handles and leather straps that immediately caught Hectors eye.

“Those are ‘White Chapel’ bells from England, one of the finest brands.  They were played in a church in England that John Newton had once preached in.  He’s the man who wrote ‘Amazing Grace,’ you know.”  Vincent was saying as he walked toward Hector from the rear.  “Marisa said you wanted to see me, sir.”  He continued as Hector turned around.  “Oh, my friend it is you.”  The old man said, immediately recognizing his Samaritan from two days earlier.

“Hello Señor Vincent.” Hector said, reaching out his hand which the old man grasped firmly.  “I just wanted to stop by and see how you were doing.”

“Marisa, this is the man who save my life the other day.”  Vincent called to his granddaughter who was standing back at the counter.

“So, you are Hector!”  Marisa said as she walked over and shook Hector’s hand as well.  “Grandfather will not stop talking about you.”

“Si Señorita, I am Hector Morales.  I am so very happy to meet you Miss. Marisa.”

“I told Hector that he could come to our store and pick out anything he wanted.”  Vincent said as he looked toward his granddaughter.

Marisa smiled as she now knew why her grandfather had taken the bells out of storage two days ago.  He had owned the prized set for more than fifty years and never wanted to sell them.  She had thought that because of Vincent’s recent close call with death that perhaps he finally was going to sell the bells to pay for one last trip back to Italy before he died.  Her grandfather was not like that however, he was always just thinking about others.

“So, would you like to take the bells my friend?”  Vincent said to Hector.

“Oh, no Señor, no.”  Hector said to his friend.  “I could not take these bells.  They are far too valuable.  You don’t need to give me anything Señor Vincent, I just wanted to come and see if you were ok.”

“At least you should listen to them!”  The old man said as he opened the door to the display reaching inside to get the bells, bringing them to the counter where he opened the case again.  “Just listen to this, but if you do, you will want to play them my friend,” Vincent said as he rung one of the bells, and reached for another.  The tone was pure and loud and carried on as he rung the other one and the harmonics caused by the second bell kept the first one ringing too.

“It sounds just like the church bells in my country Señor.”  Hector said to his new friend.

“So then, it is settled.”  Victor said.  “No more discussion my friend, you shall have the Christmas Bells.”

 

3. “Papa, these bells are so beautiful.” Eliana, who had opened the case, said as she and Juan were getting ready to go off to school the next morning.  “What are you going to do with them? 

“Eliana, I think that that old man that we met the other day is some sort of Angel from God.  His name is Vincent and he gave me these bells.  I will sell these bells and we will have enough money to stop stealing.  And, I will be able to buy you and Juan something for Christmas.”

Juan took one of the bells out of the case and rang it.  “These are just like little church bells Papa.”  Juan remembered hearing the church bell toll in the little church in Nogales when his mother had died less than a year ago.

The kids went off to school and Hector got the idea that he might sell the bells to one of the churches over on the next block.  He quickly drank a cup of coffee and headed out the door holding the case containing the bells tightly under his arm.

Hector walked quickly up the street towards a church that he had passed by many times, but had never paid any attention to.  St. Vincent’s church was the name on the sign as he stood for a moment outside.  “All are Welcome” appeared in white letters below the name.  It was one of the churches that he thought might buy the bells from him, and as he realized the name was St. Vincent’s, he was reassured that Vincent must be an Angel, because the church had his name.

“I’m sorry Hector,” Father Flannigan, the old priest, said after several minutes discussing the bells, “When you came in I thought you wanted to donate the bells to us.  We are a poor church and have no money to buy them my son.  But you must bring your family to worship with us this Sunday!”

“Gracias, Padre, that would be very nice, thank you for inviting us.  Good bye. 

“Good bye, Hector.”

As Hector left St. Vincent’s to head out toward the next church, he saw an old man sitting on the steps.  The man, dressed in a ragged coat and worn shoes, was sitting out of the way on the opposite side of the steps right next to the iron railing.   “Can you spare a quarter for an old blind man?”  The man almost shouted as he could hear Hector walking down the other side.  Hector walked to where the man was sitting and saw that he was blind.  He put down the bells to reach in his pocket for a quarter.

“What is that you have there,” the blind man said as Hector was finding some change in his pocket.

“They are church music bells, my friend.”  Hector answered placing fifty cents in the old man’s hand.

“Do you play them?”

“No Señor, I’m going to sell them.”  Hector said. 

“Oh no, you’ll never be able to sell them my friend.”  The old man said.  “You’ll have to play them.  When I was your age, I used to play Hand Bells.”

Not knowing why, Hector immediately said to the old man.  “Have you had breakfast yet Señor?  Perhaps you would like to tell me about the music bells.”

“Let’s have a look,” the blind man said, chuckling as he realized that he had made a joke using the word ‘look.’  Hector set the case down and opened it carefully taking out one of the bells and handing it to the old man.  “Are these ‘White Chapel’ bells my friend?”  He said as he rung it producing a pure tone.  “They are among the finest in all of England.”

“Why, yes, I think they are Señor.”  Hector said, remembering that Vincent had said so yesterday when he saw the bells in the window.  Hector reached for the blind man’s hand, shaking it and saying.  “My name is Hector, Señor, let me help you up.”

“Thank you Hector,” the old gentleman said.  “I am Thomas and those stone steps were certainly getting hard.”

The two walked a few blocks to a McDonalds and Hector bought coffee and breakfast sandwiches for each of them.  They sat for a while discussing ‘bells’ and the group of ‘ringers’ that the old man had been in forty-four years ago.  After they had talked for about an hour, Hector said.  “I’d better get going my friend, if I am going to sell these bells today.”

“Oh, you’ll never be able to sell them Hector.”  Thomas reminded Hector.  “You’ll have to play them.”

“Where do you stay Thomas?”

“Sometimes I stay at the shelter, and sometimes not.”  Thomas answered.

“Next week is the American’s ‘Thanksgiving day” Hector said, “and my children wish to celebrate it like their new schoolmates.  Perhaps you will come to our home and dine with us.”

“Will you be cooking a turkey?”  Thomas asked.

“Certainly Señor, we are in America now.”  Hector said.  “And thank you for telling me about the music bells.”

 

4. The following day, Hector looked for work and then again tried to sell the music bells.  He visited three more churches with the same results and he started to walk back to his apartment.  He also thought about selling them to a Pawn Shop, or even another music store, but somehow he was convinced that they belonged in a church and he couldn’t just sell them to anybody.

“Would you like to buy a rose mister?” an old lady who Hector had seen often on the streets, but hardly knew, said as she stepped out in front of him from a doorway startling Him.  The hunched over woman was holding a small bunch of red roses in her hand while the other hand held a cane that steadied her.  She had rather long grey hair which seemed to be everywhere and a red scarf was covering her head trying to keep the hair under control.

“How much are your roses Señora?”

“The name’s Lucy, and the roses are fifty cents.” She said as Hector glanced over her shoulder and saw what must have been her belongings in a blue wire cart lined with clear plastic in the doorway.

Hector set down the case containing the bells and took out a dollar from his pocket.  “I’ll take two.”  He said handing her the dollar.

“What you got in that there case?”  Lucy asked as she carefully removed the two roses from the bunch balancing her cane by her side as she worked.  She wrapped each rose separately in paper and handed them to Hector.

“They are Christmas Music Bells Lucy.”  Hector said.

“Do you play them?”  Lucy asked and then volunteered.  “I used to play the violin.  But that was about twenty-five years ago.”

“No, I am trying to sell them.”

Hector started towards home with the bells under his arm and the roses in his hand as the November sun warmed his heart.  As he approached the corner of the next street he saw the teenage girl who he knew only as Victoria.  She was only a couple of years older than his sixteen year old son Juan and had been working the streets as a prostitute as long as Hector had been in the city.  When they had first met some months ago, Victoria had propositioned Hector who had just arrived in America with his two children after his young wife had died back in Mexico.  Somehow, Victoria reminded Hector of his wife when she was younger and they had become friends.

“Vicky, my good friend,” Hector said as he approached Victoria who was trying to look sexy leaning on the street lamp.  “I have roses for the two women in my life,” as he handed one of the red roses to the teen who awkwardly took it from him as some bystanders looked on.

“Oh thank you Mr. Morales.  I’ll bet the other one is for Eliana.”

“Why yes it is Señorita.”  Hector said as he turned and started to continue towards home.

“What is in that box you are carrying?”  Victoria asked as Hector quickly moved on.

Hector looked back at the fragile teenager as he walked away and said.  “They are Christmas Hand Bells, Victoria.”

“Do you play them?”  She started to ask as Hector continued to walk off, and then she thought about her church in Georgia where she used to play the organ every Sunday and looked at the rose that her friend had just given her.  Next week was Thanksgiving and soon it would be Christmas and Vicky hadn’t seen her mom or her dad since early June when she ran away two weeks before her class was going to graduate.

It was just past four O’clock in the afternoon and already beginning to get dark as Hector got home.  Eliana was doing her homework in one corner and Juan was outside with his friends.  The mother and father of the other family who shared the apartment with them were both still at work.  They were both employed at the hotel four blocks to the north.  Pablo worked in the kitchen and his wife Maria was a housekeeper.  The López family was also from Nogales and had come here five years ago with their own two children.

“Madre, I have brought you a rose!”  Hector said handing the rose to the old woman sitting in the rocking chair with a brightly colored blanket covering her legs.  She was not anyone’s mother but was a distant aunt who had come to America with the López family when they had come from Nogales.

At about that time, Juan came in and went to the kitchen to get a soda.  In a few seconds he was on the way back out the door but just as he was closing it, he opened it again and said to Hector.  “Hi Papa, did you sell your bells yet?”  Before Hector could answer, the door was closed with a bang.

“Gracias Hector,” said Madre looking at the red rose. “Usted es bueno.”

 

5. “This is my new friend Thomas, everyone.”  Hector said to the group on Thanksgiving Day as he stood at the door greeting the old blind man he had met outside St. Vincent’s church a week earlier.  He wondered how the old man had been able to get to his door unassisted.  Everyone welcomed the old gentleman in for the feast, especially Betty the landlady who had also been invited because she was living alone now that her son was away with the Army in Iraq.  “Eliana, did you ask Lucy to join us.”  Hector said to his daughter who was busy bringing food to the table 

“Yes Papa, but she said she was going to have dinner with her friends at the shelter.  They are like her family and she did not want to disappoint them, especially on Thanksgiving.  But she did say that she would stop by after the meal.”

The group sat around the table and enjoyed a wonderful Thanksgiving meal and much conversation while the children, Eliana, Juan, Pablo and Danielle sat at a card table that Hector had borrowed from Betty the landlady.  Hector and the López family were all recent immigrants from Mexico but Thomas had immigrated from Sweden fifty years ago and Betty the landlady had been born in the United States.

“Es usted Mexicano?”   Thomas said to Maria López, sitting across the table, who was surprised to hear her native tongue from the old gentleman.

“Si, Señor.” the pretty young woman shyly answered.  It turned out that Thomas, who, although he was from Sweden, had been married to a woman from Spain and spoke perfect Castilian Spanish.  The two said some more words and before you knew it everyone was involved in conversation.

“So Mr. Thomas,” Betty said after the meal was finished.  “Hector told me that you used to play Hand bells.”

“Yes, I played with a group of Ringers for many years in Sweden and for a short time at a church after I had come to America.”  Thomas said.

“Can you play the bells for us?”  Betty asked just as there was a knock on the door that turned out to be Lucy who was welcomed in by all and the conversation resumed.

“You can ring one bell at a time.” Thomas said, but unlike most other instruments, it takes a group to ‘play’ the bells.  A solo would be nothing more than a Salvation Army bell ringer, or some little jingle bells on the harness of a horse pulling a sled.”

“Can you show us?”  Eliana said eagerly, bringing the case with the twelve polished bells to Thomas who was relaxing on the couch after the meal.

“Certainly my dear.” The old blind man said as he opened the case of the ‘White Chapel Bells’ and instinctively reached for the proper ones, handing two to Eliana who immediately rang each of them.  “Maria, will you come here.”  Thomas called to his new friend.  “Will you help us for a minute my dear?”

“Si Señor.” Maria said as she came over to him, and Thomas placed two of the bells in her hands allowing her to hear the notes of each.

“And your daughter too.” Thomas said.  With some amount of prodding, nine year old Danielle came forward and was also handed a bell.

In a matter of minutes, the three girls were playing a recognizable rendition of ‘Jingle Bells’ as the rest of the people in the room all watched in amazement.  When they were finished, the ‘audience’ all immediately broke out in applause.

“That was easy.”  Eliana, who was eleven said, and her nine year old companion Danielle agreed with her.

“I used to play the violin.”  Lucy the bag lady said.  Can I give it a try?”

“Sure, come over here” said Thomas.  “And Betty, you come over here too and he handed each of the women two bells as well.  “And Juan and Pablo, I will need your help also.”  He called to the boys who were already busy watching television.

Now all twelve bells were out of the case and within about half an hour, the group of seven was able to play ‘Silent Night.’

Hector and Thomas stood there together, Hector watching and Thomas listening to how well they played.  They were both thinking the same thing.  It was what Thomas had said when he had first met Hector.  “You can’t sell them my friend, you will have to play them.”

They played the two pieces that they had learned another couple of times and then put the bells carefully back in their proper places in the case.

As the group said good bye for the evening, Lucy the bag lady stopped at the door to thank Hector and said.  “Hector, perhaps you could bring the children and the bells to play at the shelter some day.”

“I wish their mother could have been here to hear my children and the others play.  Perhaps we should let someone else hear them.”  Hector said. 

6. The following day, Hector tried to get temporary work early in the morning, but did not get picked by the foreman. Because it was the day after Thanksgiving and the kid’s were out of school the three of them scammed two more well dressed men on the street, making off with two more credit cards and sixty dollars in cash.

Thinking about what Lucy had said the previous night, Hector decided to walk again to the music store where he might be able to get some sheet music that the group could learn.  “Is Mr. Vincent here?”  Hector said to Marissa as he walked into the store 

“Oh, you’re the man with the bells!”  Marisa said.  “Hector isn’t it?”

“Yes ‘mam, that’s right.

“My grandfather got sick yesterday right after dinner and went into the hospital.” Marissa said.

“Oh, I am so sorry Señorita.  Will he be ok?”

“It was a stroke, so we don’t know what will happen to him.  I was with him all morning, but he would have wanted me to open the store up so I came down a little while ago. Vincent’s Music Company has never been closed in fifty years except on Sunday and holidays.”

“I will go and visit him at the hospital.”  Hector said, concerned.  “Is he at City General?”

“Yes, he is, in room 405.  That would mean so much to him, for you to visit him, Hector.”

Hector walked the six blocks to the hospital and went up to see Vincent in his room.  The old man was resting peacefully and noticed Hector when he walked in.  Vincent was unable to speak however, but Hector could see from his eyes that he was pleased to see him.

“Mr. Vincent, we played your bells after Thanksgiving dinner.”  Hector said, and the old man’s eyes lit up even brighter than before.  “There were seven of them ringing and they were able to play Jingle Bells and even Silent Night.”

Hector stayed for about an hour and then said goodbye to his friend, adding.  “One of the ladies called Lucy wants us to come and play the bells at the homeless shelter.  Perhaps we could learn how to play them well enough.  Do you think so Mr. Vincent?”

Vincent looked into Hector’s eyes and Hector thought that the old man was asking if they could come and play the bells for him also.  That in fact was exactly what Vincent was saying.

After he left the hospital, Hector went back to the music store to get the music that he had wanted and Marisa helped him pick out some that would be easily learned by the group.

“Oh, Hector,” Marisa said after he had been there for a while, “Can you watch the store for a few minutes while I run to the cleaners.  They close at five.”

“Uh, sure Miss Marisa, I guess that’s ok” Hector said, amazed at the trust she had showed towards him.

“If anyone comes in, tell them I’ll just be a minute.”  Marisa said.

While Marisa went to the cleaners, Hector thumbed through the appropriate music and found some that he thought the group might be able to master before Christmas.

Wouldn’t you know it, just while Marisa was gone, a policeman, a young man named Patrick walked in.  “How’s your grandfather, Marisa.”  He called out loudly, thinking that Hector must have just been a customer and Marisa was in the back finding something for him.  For a moment, Hector did not know what to do.  He certainly didn’t want to make himself known to the police because of his criminal activities of late.

“The lady is not here Senior.”  Hector said after a pause that lasted far too long.  “She went to the cleaners and asked me to watch the store for her.”

The story seemed very strange to Patrick who immediately suspected that some sort of foul play was at hand.  But luckily, Marisa returned at that very moment preventing any possible conflict.

“Patrick, this is the man who saved my grandfather’s life last week.  He just stopped by to see how my grandfather is doing.”

“Oh yes, I heard about that at the station.”  Patrick said, relieved, as he walked over to Hector.  “Thank you my friend, Vincent is a good man.  He has had the music store here for more than fifty years.”

“So, did you find some music to play?”  Marisa said to Hector.

“Si Señorita, I think these will do.  An old blind man named Thomas is going to teach the group to play.”  Hector said.

“What do you all play?”  Patrick asked.

“They play Christmas Hand Bells.” Marisa proudly said.

“That’s very nice Mr. Morales; perhaps your group could come to the station when we give out the toys to the poor children.  It’s just before Christmas.”

 

7. “You made friends with one of the ‘Pigs’ Papa,” said a very upset Juan the next morning when his father told him about meeting Patrick at the music store.  “They don’t like us and just want to put us in jail or send us back to Mexico.”

“No, Juan my son, that is not true.”  Hector said.  “Some of the people here in America are good.  Look at Thomas and Mr. Caruso and his granddaughter Marisa.”

“Juan,” Hector said, changing the subject, “Yesterday I got some music from Vincent’s Music store and we can learn to play some new music with the bells tonight.  Will you join us?”

“I don’t know papa.  Let me see after school.”

“Ok, Juan,” Hector said realizing the children were about to be late to school, “you and your sister had better get going so you are not late.  Eliana, it’s time to go to school.”

“Ok, Papa, I’m coming right now.”

About an hour after the kids went off to school there was a knock on the door and Hector answered it to see Marisa standing there.  She had got his address from the sales slip for the music.

“Mr. Morales,” she said, “I just came from the hospital meeting with the doctors.”

“Please call me Hector, Marisa, but how is he doing?”

 “They are moving my grandfather to the rehab center, and he is going to be there for several weeks.  I know you don’t have a job Hector, do you think you could come and work at the store until he gets better?”

“Oh Miss. Caruso, it would be an honor to work for you.  I don’t know what to say.  But I don’t know much about the music business; I just know how to play the guitar.”

“And you must call me Marisa, Hector, but you saved my grandfather’s life, so who else would I choose. 

Hector thought to himself that if Marisa knew that he was a thief, she would not feel that way about him, and that made him feel very ashamed.  At that very moment he vowed to himself and said a quick silent prayer to God that he and his family would never steal again, even if they had to eat at the shelter or couldn’t eat at all.  It was agreed that he would start work in the morning and after Marisa left, Hector went out to find Thomas and Lucy to plan the evening’s rehearsal.

Thomas was by St. Vincent’s again, sitting on the same place on the steps, but this time he recognized Hector just from his steps.  “Hello my friend.”  He said as he heard Hector approach.  They had a nice conversation and Thomas told Hector that he was having dinner at the shelter and would bring Lucy to the practice.  They said goodbye and Hector left for home, wanting to be there before Eliana got there.

“Victoria, my friend,” Hector said to the young prostitute when he saw her at the street corner.  “I have got a job!  But first, my dear you must tell me about your Thanksgiving Day.”

“It was not too good Mr. Morales; I was with this white man who had got into a fight with his wife that night.  He picked me up just so he would have someone to beat up.  He didn’t even want to have sex with me, he just wanted to slap me around a bit, and I told him he could for a hundred dollars.  And then he left and went home.”

Hector now noticed several bruises on the dark skin of the young girl’s face and arms and felt his heart ache for her.  “I am so sorry, Victoria,” he said.

“I have never felt dirtier, Mr. Morales.  It was worse than having sex with him.”  Vicky said as tears welled up in here eyes and rolled down both cheeks.

Hector placed his hand or her shoulder to console her and she immediately began to sob as she put her arms around him in a hug as Hector began to cry as well, returning the hug.  “Vicky, tonight you must come to our home and join us playing the Christmas Bells.  For a moment she thought about the money she might lose, but immediately said “ok, what time should I be there Mr. Morales?”

“8:00 tonight Vicky, we are going to practice twice a week and then in three weeks we are going to play at the shelter where Lucy lives.”

“Ok,” Victoria said, thinking she should probably take a night off after her last experience, I will be there tonight.  I used to play the piano and the organ back at church when I was a just kid.”

“You still are just a kid Vicky.”  Hector reminded her.  “So Vicky, I wanted to tell you that I have got a job at Mr. Caruso’s music store while he gets better in the hospital!”

“That is nice Mr. Morales, I wish I had a real job.”

“I think that Mr. Caruso is an Angel, Vicky.  Perhaps when you play his Christmas bells you will find yourself a real job too.”

They said goodbye and Hector went off towards home.  “Today I have a real job Rosa my dear.”  He thought to himself as he looked up towards his wife in Heaven.

 

8. “Papa, I thought about what you said, and I think mama would have wanted me to help you with the homeless people.”  Juan said when he got home after school.

“Yes, my son, of course she would.  Your mother loved you and Eliana very much.  If you play the bells with us, perhaps she will hear them in Heaven.”

“Do you think Mama is able to see us from Heaven, Papa?”

“I am sure she can see you Juan, and if you play the bells, she will certainly hear you as well.” Hector answered.

“I miss Mama so much Papa.”  Juan said as the sixteen year old hugged Hector and tears welled up in his eyes.   “I thought I would begin to forget, but if I close my eyes I can still see her face, just as if I had seen her yesterday.”

Before you knew it, Pedro and Maria had come home from work at the hotel and it was a few minutes before 8:00 and Thomas was knocking on the door right on time.

“Hello, Mr. Thomas.”  Maria said as she opened the door to let the old gentleman in.  Lucy was already sitting on the couch talking to Madre.  The kids, all but Juan, were arguing about whether they should watch television on one of the Spanish channels, or an English one.  “It is so nice of you to join us again and to teach us how to play the bells.  Can I get you a cup of coffee?”

“Si Señorita.  That would be nice Maria, but no sugar please.”

They sat for a few minutes and Hector arrived at five minutes after eight having gone to St. Vincent’s to speak to Father Flannigan.

Thomas and Maria, who reminded him of his own wife who had passed away twenty years ago, picked out four pieces from the music that Hector had brought and the rehearsal began in earnest. 

“What do you hear from your son, Betty?”  Mr. Lopez said after she came in with a plate of cookies she had made.

“I got a call from him on Sunday and he thinks that it will take a long time to get the different groups over there to get along.  But he is doing well and wishes that he could be here with me for Christmas.”  Betty said.

It was about a quarter after eight and Victoria had been procrastinating about going up to the apartment until Juan had come along with his friends.  “Isn’t your father Mr. Morales?” She asked as he said goodbye to his friends and started to go in the door 

“Yes, he is.”  Juan said.  “You must be Vicky.  My father talks about you often.”

They talked for a moment and then they both went upstairs to join the group where Thomas quickly assigned them the parts they would be playing.  The rehearsal went on until eleven and everyone took their parts with the utmost seriousness. 

“You are quite talented Miss. Victoria.”  Thomas said recognizing the natural ability that the youngster had.

“Back home in Georgia, I used to play the organ and the piano at church.”  Victoria said.

Hector hadn’t gone to St. Vincent’s to give a “Confession,” but he had wanted to ask Father Flannigan’s opinion as to whether he should tell his new employer that he had been a criminal.  Father Flannigan was so pleased that Hector had decided to quit stealing and he said, “God knows your heart my son.  It sounds like this lady at the music store has the heart of God, so you will know the right thing to do when you see her again.”

As the rehearsal came to an end, Hector said… “Father Flannigan said that we could come and play at St. Vincent’s on Christmas Eve.  If we get good enough perhaps we should give it a try.”

“I think that would be nice.”  Betty remarked and Lucy nodded her head in agreement.

“Do you think we will be good enough by then Thomas?”  Eliana asked.

“I think that if we all work very hard with the same goal in mind, we can be good enough.”  The old man said as he wiped the bells with a cloth and handed each one her of the bells to Eliana to put back into the case.

After explaining to Hector and Maria that he would be ok, Thomas went down to the street alone.  He took a cell phone out of his pocket, made a call and in a couple of minutes he was picked up by a black livery car just around the corner. 

“How did it go sir?”  The driver asked after he had opened the door and let Thomas into the back seat.

“I think they will do quite well.”  Thomas said as he relaxed, sinking back into the soft leather seat.  He closed his eyes and began to think about his wife Sophia when she was Maria’s age.

 

9. “Good morning Hector.” Marisa said as Hector showed up for his first day at work in America.  “Are you ready to go to work?”

“Good morning Miss. Marisa.  Uh, I think I am ready to go to work.”  Hector said.  “How is your grandfather doing today?”

“He is the same, he just lays there looking at the walls, but the doctor says he will recover.  And how are your children Hector?”

“They are fine.  But, Miss. Caruso, there is something I must tell you first.”  Hector said cautiously.

“Yes, what is it?”

“In my country, I always worked hard for my family.  We were poor, but I did honest work.  But when I came here I could not find any work and I had no money for my family, so I stole from other people.”  Hector began to speak quickly to get his confession out.  “I could not work for you and your grandfather unless I told you this thing about me.  If you do not want to give me the job I will understand.”  Hector confessed now speaking more relaxed.

“Hector, my grandfather has been a respected member of this community for more than fifty years… But when he came to America in 1934 he was only fourteen and alone.  He joined a gang that stole money and sold liquor when it was against the law, so I guess that if you have done nothing that my grandfather has not done, then you should have this job.”

Thank you Miss. Caruso, I will work hard for you.”

“I told you to call me Marisa!”  Marisa said.

Marisa showed Hector what needed to be done to manage the store and went off to visit her grandfather after a couple of hours, leaving Hector on his own.  Patrick the policeman stopped by to say hello and they had a nice conversation and again Patrick invited Hector and his Hand Bell Players to the Police Department toy distribution.

Marisa came back at 5:00 O’clock and Hector was so proud that he had finished his first day at work.  He again visited Vincent at the rehabilitation center on his way home.

“We played your bells last night Mr. Vincent.”  Hector spoke.  “They sound so beautiful, just like Heaven, and everyone has learned how to play them so fast.”  Then he said goodbye, but stopped at the nurse’s station on the way out.

“I think we should come and play his Christmas Bells for Señor Vincent on Saturday.”  Hector said to the nurse on duty.  “It may help him to get better.”

“If you go down and see Mrs. Carter, I’m sure that she can arrange to have Mr. Caruso and several of the other patients downstairs on Saturday and you can all play for them.”

“What have I done Madre?”  Hector, arriving home, said to the old woman as she rocked steadily in her chair.  “I don’t know if we are ready yet to play in front of people.”

“If God wills it, then you will do well my son.”  The old lady assured him in Spanish holding his hand in hers, patting his hand with her other hand.

All of a sudden, it was Thursday and the second rehearsal went just as well as the first.  “My friends,” Hector said, “Thomas picked out this piece for you to learn.  It is called Oh come, Oh come Emanuel.”  By the end of the night, they had mastered that piece and were working on “Here Comes Santa Claus,” a relatively hard piece because of its tempo.

Saturday morning came quickly and the group all met outside of Hectors apartment building to walk to Vincent’s rehab center.  The nurses had brought several of the patients to the recreation room and they were waiting for the “Hope Ringers,” as the nurse would soon name them, when they arrived.

The group, who were now already playing well together started by playing “Jingle Bells” the first piece they had learned back on Thanksgiving night.  They were able to play another piece they had mastered and then ended with ‘Silent Night,” while the patients all applauded and asked for more.

“You bring them hope.” One of the nurses remarked as Hector and the group finished up and started handing the bells to Eliana to put them back in the case. “You should call them the “Hope Ringers”

“These bells belong to that man right there.”  Hector said pointing to Vincent who was sitting up on his hospital bed that had been rolled in to hear the ‘concert.’  “He has given us these bells of hope and we just want to give that same hope to others.”

“Lucy,” Betty the landlady said while the group was walking the few short blocks back from the rehab center.  My son’s room is empty now that he is in the Army.  Why don’t you come and stay with me for a while, it is getting colder you know.”

 

10. Tuesday came quickly and everyone was on time for the 8:00 rehearsal.  It was decided that they would perform at the homeless shelter on Friday night and Vicky would play the piano accompanying the bells.

“Father Flannigan.”  Hector called out as he peeked into the door at St. Vincent’s on Thursday around Noon. “Are you here?”

“Why yes, what is it.” Father Flannigan said, “Oh, you are Hector from last week, the man with the bells.  What can I do for you my son.”

“We are going to play the bells at the homeless shelter tomorrow night. Father and I was wondering if we could come here and practice tonight.  One of our members plays the piano, but we don’t have a piano to rehearse with.”

“Of course my son, you can bring your group here to practice.  Are you still planning to perform here on Christmas Eve?”

“Yes Father, I think we will all be here to ring the bells for the Christmas Eve service.”

“Will you be playing “Silent Night?” Father Flannigan asked with a touch of hope in his voice.

“It is the first piece we learned Padre.”

At the rehearsal at St. Vincent’s that evening, Thomas was able to see just how well Victoria played the piano and decided to help the young woman in any way he could.  “Miss Vicky,” Thomas said while they were taking a break, “Where are your parents?”

“They live in Atlanta Mr. Thomas.”

“Why don’t you live with them?”

“It’s a long story.”  Vicky began.  “Our family didn’t have much money and my class was going to graduate and all of my friends were going off to college, and I guess I just got scared and ran away two weeks before school was out.  I got here back in June and tried to get a job, but I could see real soon that that wasn’t going to happen.”

“So you wanted to go to college?”  Thomas asked.”

“I wanted to study music.  But my mom said all I could do was to get a job at the factory where she worked.”

“I cannot see child, would it be all right if I touched your face just to feel what you ‘look’ like?

“It don’t bother me none,” Victoria said thinking about all the men who had already ‘touched’ her since she arrived in June.

As Thomas felt the young girls face he could see right away just how young she was.  He was reassured in the decision that he had already made as tears formed in his blind eyes.

 “Let’s get back to work.”  Hector said to the group and they started to rehearse again.  Father Flannigan came over to talk to Thomas, sitting down in the pew with him.

“So, you are really going to do it my old friend.”  He said to Thomas as he put his arm across the old mans back.

“Yes Michael, I think I have found the first one that God wants me to help.  That young black girl over there at the piano is named Victoria and if she had been able to go to college she would not be on the street working as a prostitute.”  Thomas said to the priest, “and as long as I have even a dollar, I will find others who deserve to be helped as well.”

On Friday evening, the whole group went to play at the shelter and everyone was happy and began to sing Christmas carols while Victoria played the piano. 

Hector was doing well with his new job at the music store and Marisa and her grandfather who was now rapidly recovering decided that Hector should have the job full time as Vincent would have to stop working.  Patrick the policeman’s brother was an immigration lawyer who thought he would be able to help Hector obtain a work visa.  Although he was from Mexico, Hector had been born in Argentina.

There were two more rehearsals and then, before you knew it, it was 7:00 PM on Christmas Eve.  St Vincent’s was packed, partially because the residents of the shelter all came to hear their friend Lucy play and Marisa’s brothers and sisters, all of whom had large families attended in respect for the man who had saved their grandfather and great grandfather’s life.

The Hand Bell performance went perfectly and Victoria performed a beautiful solo on the piano to a standing ovation.  After the performance was finished Thomas approached Victoria to tell her that he had decided to pay her way through Music College 

“How could you do that Mr. Thomas?” she asked, “don’t you live at the shelter?”

“No, my dear,” Thomas chuckled. “I still live in a big house and if you will come with me tonight, we can call your parents and wish them a Merry Christmas and let them know that you are ok. 

“Thomas, when I preached last summer about the rich man selling all that he had and giving it all to the poor.”  Father Flannigan said to his old friend, “I didn’t mean literally giving away everything that you own.”

Thomas could almost see into Father Flannigan’s eyes as he spoke… “Michael Flannigan, my dear friend and Priest, let me ask you just one question. When Jesus, the man whose birth we celebrate tonight told the rich man to sell everything he had and give the money to the poor did he mean it literally?”

The end

The Bells of Hope Ringers

Hector Morales

Rosa Morales

Vincent the Bell Ringer

Thomas the Conductor

Patrick the Policeman

Father Michael Flannigan

Betty the landlady

Marisa Caruso

Madre the grandmother 

Eliana Morales

Maria López

Pedro López

Lucy the bag lady

Juan Morales

Victoria the prostitute

Pablo López

Danielle López

 

A Sean Allen Story © 2006

 

 
 

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