For those who care,I have been MIA for quite some time, thanks to a very hectic schedule which has completely drained my creative juices. I do have plenty of unfinished stories waiting to be be posted, will be finishing them very soon.
This is a story which took probably an hour to write. Hope you like it. :)
The silence of the winter night was broken by the sound of my periodic scribbling as I tried to memorise yet another formula by jotting it down. For some inexplicable reason, and contrary to what is generally recommended, I avoid sleep the night before an exam, and instead spend those ungodly hours on some unnecessary revising, interspersed with ten minute power naps. Though there are no tangible benefits from such a practice, it provides me with the excuse that I couldn’t have prepared more, after I went through with the inevitable disaster in the upcoming exam. Of course, all this could be remedied if I studied sincerely the entire semester. Had I done that, I would have fared a lot better academically, plus I would not have had the singularly odd experience about which I write here.
The fact that it was Christmas Eve had entirely slipped my mind. Not that it mattered; I am not a very Christmassy person. I had a thermodynamics exam the following day; my vile university is as Un-Christmassy as I am, if not more. I had to write a three hour paper on the day the rest of the world stuffed themselves with plum cakes and wine and bawled carols.
Still, you get the drift.
I checked the time. Ten past three. Five more hours to go, three chapters still to cover. Five minutes later, I had re-immersed myself in the world of mathematical formulae, spiced with the Greek alphabet, when I felt a chilly draft on my neck. I saw that the door to the balcony adjoining my room was partly open.
I could have sworn I’d locked it; in fact, I couldn’t have sat there all that time had the door been open; I am averse to the slightest cold. Shrugging, I got up to shut it.
“It’s not that cold, is it, son?”
I whirled around to find my bed occupied by a queer sort of man. He was short, wore a red cotton shirt over faded denims and had a magnificent golden cross hanging from a slim chain around his neck. He was clean shaven, and a small JVC carry bag was slung carelessly across his shoulders.
And he was fat. Really fat.
I was too tired to even feel scared.
Or wonder how he came in.
Or wonder how he could go gallivanting around in the bitter cold without wearing warm clothes.
“Take whatever you want; just leave my books alone… I have an exam tomorrow. I won’t even have time to call the cops. And I won’t scream. Honest,” I said tonelessly.
The man laughed. He had a full, deep-throated laugh that seemed vaguely familiar to me, but I couldn’t pinpoint it exactly. “Strange, I’ve been to so many homes, and nobody has been so generous to me before.”
“Perhaps you killed them before they had a chance to be generous to you.” I sounded far braver than I felt.
The man laughed again. It was getting annoying; why couldn’t he just take the money and be done with it?
“It’s my job to give, not take,” he said, still smiling, as though he could read my mind.
I stared at him. And then it dawned on me. He wasn’t a thief after all, but probably a patient from some mental hospital who’d managed to escape.
“I see you don’t recognise me.”
“Am I supposed to?”
He unzipped the JVC bag, and pulled out a fake white beard, the kind that theatre actors use, and brought it to his chin. “Now?” He asked.
“Oh, I see! You’re Santa.”
He nodded appreciatively, “Ah yes, that is one of the many names attributed to me, although not exactly my favourite.”
“Great. I happen to be a minion of the Antichrist. Go away, whoever you are.” I had lost my temper. It was four in the morning; I was short of sleep and short on time. I needed to finish all the chapters, dammit, and here was some nutcase who’d managed to sneak up to my room, God knows how, and was pretending to be Father Christmas. I pinched myself. No, I was awake; it wasn’t a bad dream after all. I had to convince him to leave, else I would undoubtedly fail.
He laughed. “You’ll do fine in your exam, don’t worry,” once again giving the eerie impression that he could read minds.
“What do you want?”
“I’m taking a break.”
“Stuffing children’s stockings with presents, of course. I thought you knew what my job is.”
He had indeed crossed all boundaries of lunacy. The best thing to do would be playing along with him; I wasn’t sure how this was going to end, but I was sure of one thing. My thermodynamics paper would be the academic equivalent of the asteroid which hit the earth to snuff the dinosaurs out.
I sighed. “You’re not supposed to look like this, you wear some red jumpsuit with the silly hat, and the beard’s supposed to be real. And where’s that….er… flying reindeer of yours?”
“You kidding? If I wear my Finnish velvet in this tropical hothouse, I might as well melt. And I used to have a beard a few centuries ago. Got bored. But I still wear that fake piece of beard when I go visiting children; these days, image is everything, you know…. All part of the fancy Santa legend. I really hate it when people stereotype you; Santa has to have a white beard. He has to wear some flouncy old gown. As for Rudolph, he’s retired now. In any case he was just there to jazz things up. My sleigh can fly by itself,” he shrugged.
“I suppose you’ve got me a present then,” I suggested half mockingly.
“Nah, you haven’t exactly been what I would call a good boy.”
“And who are you to judge me? You work one night a year, and manage to take a break even then. Who decides the names of the kids who get gifts?”
“I do, obviously.”
“Pretty basic. Obeying parents and teachers, good behaviour, finishing homework on time etcetera etcetera…you know….no rocket science involved.”
“That’s quite a myopic way of looking at things.”
“How do you decide which child is good and who’s bad?”
“Haven’t you been listening to me? Obeying paren--”
“Oh shut up. Listen to me now; I suppose you’ve heard of the child soldiers in Africa? Or the kids being trained in Afghanistan for the Taliban? They are brainwashed by the gang leaders, their minds are moulded at a very young age, to kill, kidnap, rape and terrorise. They don’t even know what is right and what is wrong. Of course, they obey their elders, who are none other than hardened criminals themselves. Of course, they think what they do is good, and they follow their instructions religiously. If goodness and obedience are your criteria for getting presents, you should be conducting an awards ceremony tonight for them.”
He stared at me. “You think a lot. In any case I have always skipped those countries.”
“Yes, for a bunch of violent sociopaths, the kids there always miss out on the good stuff. However, I wouldn’t have expected this of someone who is apparently closely associated with Christ himself,” I chortled.
“The people there don’t believe in me. They are too busy fighting one another.”
“Ahh….so belief has everything to do with it? There are these street children who sell Santa masks every year at road crossings, around Christmas. They don’t get anything from you….why? Because they don’t know whose masks they’re selling. Hence the concept of Father Christmas doesn’t exist in their minds. And because they don’t know about you, there is no question of believing in your existence. So, you skip them too. You should join politics, you know.”
I was saying all this to make him break down, and end his play acting as Santa. He did no such thing; instead he got all charged up, and started his own tirade.
“Well, if you’re all gung-ho about saving the world, how about donating some of your clothes to the street children?? I believe you have plenty of them!”
“Not plenty, but more than enough, I guess; but I am not Santa, it’s not my job, it’s yours.” I mumbled, taken aback.
“You’re far more stupid than you look. Anybody can be Santa; you have to remember that Santa Claus is not a person; he is a symbol- of hope, love and peace. For centuries, millennia, I come once a year, to spread a bit of cheer in a world that is ravaged by all things unholy, hoping that someday, someone will get my message and try to make things better; but no, once Christmas is over, everyone is back to squabbling, quarrelling and stabbing each other in the back, and Santa lies forgotten.”
“You make your own mistakes, we make ours,” I smiled.
“Well, now I think I should take my leave; you’ve given me something to think about, and I hope I’ve done the same to you,” he rose, stretching his arms.
“One more question……. why did you come here? I mean to my place?”
“Because you believe.”
“What? In Santa??”
“I believe in aliens, yes, but definitely not Santa. And I still don’t think you’re him.”
“Of course you do, in some hidden corner of your mind, probably the place where your childhood is preserved, untouched, unpolluted by the prejudices and beliefs that you acquire as you grow up. If you didn’t believe in me, you would not be able to see me. Best of luck for your exam. I guess what you need is time.”
Saying so, he hefted his carry bag, opened the door to the balcony and smiled at me. This part would be interesting; I would finally get to see how he came in. He vanished. The edges of his body seemed to shimmer until he dissolved into nothingness. My jaw was open. I looked out the balcony, up, down…. He was well and truly gone.
I turned around; still shocked, puzzled about what had actually taken place. And then I remembered my upcoming exam; I could probably finish one chapter if I was quick; I checked the time, and stopped short.
It was 12 am.
It couldn’t be possible; I shook my head in disbelief. I checked the wall clock, the time on my cell phone and my other watch. It was 12 o’clock in the morning, 25th of December. At this time, a couple of thousand years ago, the big guy from Bethlehem was born in a stable, the man who made miracles possible.
I remembered my mysterious visitor’s parting words.
Time. I needed time. And he gave me time.
I smiled, and started on yet another chapter.