By Bernie V. Lopez firstname.lastname@example.org
An outfit in Sidney, Australia, wants to expand this copyrighted screenplay and make it into a movie. A Pilipino version is being considered by a Philippine outfit. Perhaps some of you have read this from a previous post. It is our fourth and final Christmas story. It is an excerpt from an upcoming book entitled Ten Wisdoms of the Lord Prayer.
imagine a mouse leading a lion an elephant submitting to an ant a sage learning from a child a general using the battle plan of a private a nerd inspiring a visionary a goon sanctifying a bishop a tycoon listening to a teenager irony of ironies eastwind Terence is a self-made tycoon. From rags to riches. He is called by newspapers as “The Octopus,” head of a multi-billion conglomerate which has his tentacles on almost everything from utilities to telecommunications, computers to cars, shampoo to ice cream. You name it, he owns it. He is in his late sixties, gray-haired, quick-tempered, bossy, and vicious. He is called covertly in the office as ‘Hitler”. Everyone is scared of him.
His office is as big as half a basketball court, with a glass wall-window having a panoramic view of the sunset on the west side of Midtown Manhattan. His desk is as large as a pool table, glass and chrome, with only one folder and six cellphones on top, nothing else. He starts his day at 7 a.m. As the sun turns red-orange across the Hudson River, he drops everything and begins to relax. There is a knock at the door. Just like in the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, it is the day before Christmas.
TERENCE – Yes. Come in Lisa. I know its you. LISA – (Nervously). Sir, this is Therese, the new hire you requested. TERENCE – Hi Therese. Welcome. Sit down. That will be all, Lisa. Thank you. (Lisa leaves. Therese sits without a word). TERENCE – I have a bad name of being vicious. Deep inside, I am really vicious. It’s my nature. Don’t be afraid. THERESE – I am not afraid. That’s a beautiful sunset. TERENCE – You seem to be at home right away. I like that. Nobody is at home in this office when I am around. I am normally addressed as sir. THERESE – Would you like a little exception? TERENCE – (A bit shocked). Whoow. That’s good for a starter. And for what reason? THERESE – It may be a good change of air for you. I mean, don’t you get tired of people at your feet? It’s about time you meet an equal. TERENCE – Whoow. An equal. Wow. I could fire you right this minute for insolence. THERESE – (Calmly and with a smile). Go ahead. I can take it. You want me to go? TERENCE – Whoow. This is getting better and better. You are interesting. How old are you? THERESE – Nineteen. Believe me, it’s good to talk to an equal for a change. TERENCE – And what is your position in this office? THERESE – I was told I am the assistant to the third assistant Secretary. It’s my first day. I was told you hired me because you wanted a “sunset girl” to help you relax when the day is done. That’s an easy job. I like it. I have a talent in relaxing people. And I hate office work. That’s the reason I took this job. TERENCE – And you call us equals? THERESE – Yes. The only difference between us is you’re rich and I am not. That’s to your advantage. But your are old and I am young. That’s to my advantage. Pretty even, wouldn’t you say? We will both die one day. I might even die before you. TERENCE – And what is your secret in relaxing people. THERESE – (Shrugging her shoulders). Oh, I don’t know. My smile, the way I talk. I’m just me. TERENCE – (Leafing through her biodata). Hmmm. Summa cum laude, Boston U. Top of the class. Marine biology. You’re actually way off the mark, do you know that? THERESE – Not really. I minored in Banking and Finance. You could use me. Aside from sunset duty, I am a genius in finance. Wanna try me? TERENCE – I have a dozen senior analysts who can do finance while sleeping. THERESE – Then let’s stick to the sunset. TERENCE – I hired you because, first you’re at the top of your class, second, your personality test shows you’re an intellectual rebel, and third, you have no experience. Good mix. I want a young bright kid I can talk to at the end of the day. THERESE – About what precisely? TERENCE – Oh I don’t know, anything – corporate, business or even philosophy. I also need someone who is out-of-the-box, a non-corporate person, a tabula rasa. You know what tabula rasa means? THERESE -Terence, may I call you Terence? TERENCE – You already did. THERESE – Terence, don’t insult me please. We just met. You said I was a summa, right? Why ask a stupid question. Tabula rasa. You want someone who is pure of heart, not tinted, not biased, no scars, a blank piece of paper, right? TERENCE – Bulls eye. THERESE – You want an intellectual rebel. You’re tired of half of your VPs being intellectually subservient. You are basically surrounded by yes people, bright ones and not-so-bright ones. TERENCE – There are a few brains here and there, but you’re right, most are a bunch of yes-men. Your first task is to tell me your first impression of me. THERESE – I don’t think you are really an ass-hole. You’re just pretending to be. You’re not really vicious. But for me, you’re pretense is a miserable failure. Maybe you’re just insecure deep inside, which no one seems to have discerned. TERENCE – Have you discerned it? THERESE – I’m not sure. I feel your soft spot though. You try hard to hide it for fear it would be discovered. And that would make you feel naked. You did not mind my insolence. That’s the first soft spot. You are in despair to talk to someone who is an equal. That’s the second soft spot. You’re lonely as an emperor. But then again maybe you are afraid of equals. It’s a complex mix. You are threatened by me when I said we are equals, and yet you welcome it. TERENCE – Wait, you’re putting me on the defensive. THERESE – Then don’t be. I think you sort of wanted a “sunset girl” with no scars for a good reason. You see, you know I’m not like your other secretaries and assistant secretaries because I don’t care. You have no hold on me. That’s a nice feeling for me, and for you also, isn’t it? You want me to defy you, I mean, for a change. TERENCE – Do you feel my despair? THERESE – Obvious from the minute I entered the room. So let me be your “sunset girl” for a week. If you don’t like it, fire me. If I don’t like it I resign.
Therese stands up, goes to the wall, pushes a button, and a mini-bar appears. She puts brandy on two goblets and gets two glasses of iced water, puts them on a tray, and places them on Terence’s table. She turns to him.
THERESE – May I join you. TERENCE – Stupid question. You brought two glasses. THERESE – Ooops. Sorry. Brandy. Iced water on the side. TERENCE – Lisa told you? THERESE – She is a good girl. Meticulous to your needs. Cheers. For the Christmas season.
Glasses clink. They both approach the window and look at lesser skyscrapers silhouetted against the now-deep-red horizon. Terence hands a pair of binoculars to Therese. He gulps his brandy in one shot. Therese sips hers. They watch a seagull against the sunset.
THERESE – You don’t gulp brandy. You sip it. I think I struck a bad chord in you.
TERENCE – Yup, you did. Without showing you finance and market data, do you think I should buy Daily Globe? Let’s see what your tabula rasa summa cum laude brain will say. THERESE – What for? You have everything. It’s just to satisfy your greed. Oops, I don’t mean to be rude. I mean your ego. Oops, I mean your …. your …. (Pause). What the heck. Let’s not call a spade a clover. Let’s not be polite. Let’s lay our cards on the table. It’s your ego and greed, Terence. I am sorry to say. I mean, what do you want a newspaper for, to project your image? Power? Fame? Your image is over-projected already. I mean you were on the cover of Time Magazine three months ago, and Fortune Magazine four months before that. You’ve been on the covers, what, six times in the last what, four years? TERENCE – Seven times. (Laughs uncontrollably). Now I feel good. THERESE – You feel good being stripped bare by a teenager from nowhere? Bare naked truth? I feel good myself. TERENCE – Yeah, feels good. I was right getting a sunset girl. So what do I do? THERESE – Do you have to do anything? I mean can’t you stop? Stop acquiring. Stop merging. Stop this obsession for your empire. You’re busy but you’re bored. It has excited you all your life, but not anymore. You are addicted to it, like morphine to a cancer patient. You need to detoxify. You need to go cold turkey. TERENCE – If I drop everything, I will get bored. THERESE – Not really, if you have some imagination. TERENCE – You know we have been talking for 30 minutes and for the first time, you’re changing me, my life. THERESE – Sunset girls do that. TERENCE – This has been bothering me for a long time. THERESE – I know. I read so many articles about you as soon as I got accepted here. I can see through you. You are naked to me, Terence. You better believe it. All this velvet under your feet is nothing to you. TERENCE – I have seen three shrinks in the last two months.
Terence breaks down without shame, the Octopus, the Hitler sheds tears for the first time in a long long while. Therese gets the bottle of brandy and fills the two goblets to the brim.
THERESE – Yup, that’s the first step. Tears. Very medicinal. TERENCE – This is not the way to drink brandy, Therese. THERESE – Sorry. I’m getting carried away. Okay okay. (She goes to the bar and pours tequila into two small glasses. They gulp it instantly). Shrinks can’t help you, Terence. You are opaque to these guys because they do not understand what makes you tick. They go through the motions of knowing you, but they don’t. They just want your money. TERENCE – And you know what makes me tick. THERESE – Yeah, I do. I felt it in my bones the moment I came in. That is why you don’t scare me. Now, maybe I scare you. TERENCE – So what do I do, Therese. C’mon “sunset girl.” THERESE – You won’t like what I will tell you. TERENCE – For heaven’s sake. THERESE – Okay. Can I put it straight. TERENCE – Wait. More tequila. THERESE – Now you’re talking.
She takes the bottle of tequila and fills the glasses. They are emptied instantly. She pours again. But just as Terence is about to have a second gulp, Therese pulls the glass away.
THERESE – Wait wait wait. Here me out first. TERENCE – Okay. What? THERESE – Get rid of your empire. Give it away. That’s the only way you get out of your rut. TERENCE –My empire a rut? You’re kidding. THERESE – Yes, your empire a rut and you’re drowning in it. (There is silence. Terence yanks the glass from Therese and both down the tequila). I mean your sixty eight, right? You’re in the pre-departure area,right. Tell me, have you ever thought you would die soon? TERENCE – That’s what I have been telling these shrinks. And they would argue against it and I would hate them for being hypocrites. They just wanted to be paid. This has been haunting me for the last four years, the thought of death. THERESE – What good is your empire when you can’t take it with you. Sell half of it. Give it way to whomever. Do you believe in God? TERENCE – I do. I do. THERESE – You should, if you’re in the pre-departure area. You know there is this Jesuit saint, Francis Xavier, who said, “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world, but suffers the loss of his immortal soul?” TERENCE – I was thinking of that actually, burning my empire, but I would not dare. I’m no Nero. And what would I do after? THERESE – Two key words, Terence – ‘profit’ and ‘immortal’. St. Francis puts it in corporate jargon, profit. And he compares your puny finite empire to the infinity of your immortal soul. Compared to empires of history, yours is a grain of sand in the Sahara. TERENCE – Coming from my “sunset girl,” I have just made a decision. Thank you, Therese. Maybe I can put up a foundation to rescue the homeless, give them back their mortgaged houses, how about that? (Therese pours more tequila. They down it in two seconds.) THERESE – Anything, as long as it’s not for you. It has to be for others. That’s the secret. Are you up to saying a prayer with me? (Without a word, the tycoon falls to his knees in all humility, facing the sunset.) No, no. Don’t kneel. Slouch in your chair and swing it to the sunset. Relax. (Terence does so obediently.) Okay, now, I will pray for both of us. Just sit there and listen. (Long silence.) Lord, teach us, Terence and me, how to give to others. Especially Terence, Lord, since he has so much to give. (Long silence.) TERENCE – Go on, go on. THERESE – Done. Finished. You don’t have to elaborate. He knows. I have to go. It’s late, and I feel whoozy. TERENCE – Can I take you home? It’s almost Christmas. Aren’t you going to be with family? THERESE – No, no. I live three blocks away. I live alone. TERENCE – But you feel whoozy. THERESE – (Pouring more tequila). I want to walk home after this nice talk with you. I enjoyed it terribly. For the road? (They empty the glasses.) TERENCE – I will see you tomorrow at sunset? THERESE – It’s Christmas eve tomorrow. Who are you, Ebenezer Scrooge?
They both laugh until they are in tears.
THERESE – I don’t know. You don’t need me anymore. I gave you your sunset, right? TERENCE – But you have to help me plan to give my empire away. THERESE – He will help you. He’s good at that. Just don’t forget to ask Him. I am not good at that. Bye. (She heads for the door.) TERENCE – Wait, wait. Just in case you don’t come back, here take this.
Terence has a hard time writing the cheque. He had to tear the cheques the first two tries. Finally, he hands a crumpled cheque to Therese. Therese pockets the cheque without looking.
TERENCE – Read the cheque, damn it. THERESE – (Stops at the door and reads it). You’re kidding. I can’t take this. TERENCE – You’re doing me a favor. Take the damn cheque. Merry Christmas. THERESE – (Sobs and leaves). Merry Christmas. I won’t be back. TERENCE – Hell, drop in sometime? THERESE – Maybe. Hey, Scrooge. I’m your ghost of Christmas future, ain’t I? TERENCE – Yeah, you have inspired me. I will see Tiny Tim tomorrow. THERESE – Great. I’m glad.
The sub-zero wind outside was strong. Therese opens her coat to let the cold in and deaden her drunk state. With the money, Therese bought a modest beach house in Long Island and a second-hand Benz. She bought a second house for her sister to take care of their sick mother in Cape Cod, where she grew up. Terence was envious and bought a nearby beach house in Long Island. Terence drops by Therese’s beach house.
THERESE – Are you following me? TERENCE – Nope. I’m following Him. THERESE – Oh. How nice. So we’re both headed His way.
Of course, their houses were facing west. They would watch the sunset together often, especially every Christmas eve, the tycoon and the teenager. Slowly, the corporate empire shrunk, and a new empire loomed at the horizon, bigger and more awesome than the first. Therese died at the age of 22, and Terence had to stay behind as there was a lot to give away. He died at the age of 89. His employees were amazed how Terence was no longer a Hitler. He became gentle and soft-spoken, never lost his temper.
The opposite of pride is humility. Humility, like forgiveness, heals. Pride, like hate, consumes. Therese was a humbling experience for Terence. All his pride, arrogance, and viciousness melted at the hands of the teenage genius. Therese was the cool breeze in Terence’s desert empire, the ghost of Christmas future, the sunset girl, who came like a lightning bolt and then vanished in the blink of an eye. It was a repeat of the Christmas Story of Scrooge, except that Terence was a thousand times richer. Every path of tycoons or teenagers, leads to the Lord.
should my heart not be humble should my eyes fail to see should my feet sometimes stumble on the way, stay with me like a lamb that in springtime wandered far from the fold comes the darkness and the frost i get lost, i grow cold i grow cold, i grow weary and i know i have sinned and i go seeking shelter and i cry in the wind though i grope and i blunder and i’m weak and i’m wrong though the road buckles under where I walk, walk alone ‘til i find to my wonder every path leads to Thee all i can do is pray stay with me, stay with me Theme from the movie The Cardinal
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