Two in the afternoon and Santa was weary. His back was playing up from sitting on the same uncomfortable stool all day, his head was spinning and ached mercilessly from the incessant chirpy music, his chin was sore from inquisitive kids tugging at his beard to see if it was real – of course it was – and most of all he was totally, absolutely, sick of those whining little kids, and worse still, their parents. What a place to spend the last few weeks before Christmas: in a grotty grotto in a large cheapskate department store, but, like every one else these days, he needed the money, even if it was minimum wage.
So here he was with an annoyingly precocious boy on his knee. This horrid little snob, in his pristine school uniform, was holding up a long queue of disgruntled parents, with even more disgruntled children, as he recited his interminable list of overpriced demands. His smug middle class parents looked on, with grinning superiority, as snobby junior took another deep breath, fixed another look of concentration, and continued:
“An Action Man, a train set, a Scalextric, a fire engine, a bow and arrow set, a PlayStation, a cowboy's outfit, an iPod, Lego, a laptop – a proper one mind: no less than 8 Gigs of RAM – a toy garage, some cars to go with it, a Barbie Doll-”
“A Barbie Doll!” exclaimed Santa.
“Santa, dear-oh-dear, your not sexist are you.”
“Course not, no, course not, don't think that lad. Just… Just…”
“Gosh lad. Have you finished?”
“We're getting there Santa, getting there, be about another twenty minutes. Where was I? You keep making me lose track. Oh yes, a nurses outfit-”
“Wait a bit lad, hang on there, others waiting you see. Have to stop you.”
“I haven't mentioned me bike. Its got to be green. Billy down the road has a blue one and I don't like Billy, he's a pleb, a nasty little pleb, he'll probably grow up to be a policeman. So mine has to be green and have ten speeds. Got that Santa.”
“Just about, just about. Run along now.”
Santa pushed the boy off his lap with a well practised shove and out into the grinning embrace of his grinning parents.
“Next,” shouted Santa.
The queue surged foreword one notch pushing the elder snobby's aside. There, disgruntled at the indignity, they gathered themselves together. Then noticing the unhappy face on snobby junior they set off to find the store manager and make a vociferous and noisy complaint. Deep down, deep within their joint minds, was a little flicker of gold, it had a familiar name stamped upon it: compensation.
Next upon Santa's lap was a little girl in a vibrant pink dress.
“Little girl,” said Santa, “you look like a nice little girl, what would you like this Christmas from Santa?”
“A machine gun.”
“No, no. No guns, wouldn't you like something nice? A doll say?”
“Just a machine gun.”
“Dear me no, what about some makeup then? Make you look even prettier.”
“A quality one, has to be quality, M240 would do fine.”
“Errrr… Errrr… and why do you want this errrr… item?
“So I can get all the poxy dolls I want, what do you think? So I don't have to keep coming back to some weird lecherous bloke each year and have to suck up to him to get him to give me presents. Degrading it is. So I can go out and get whatever I want for myself.”
“Sorry my dear, have to put my foot down, but no guns, none whatsoever.”
“Unbelievable. If the government can go around the world selling guns then why can't I have one? That would just be hypercritical. Oh, I see why now. Answered my own question again.”
“That's good little girl. So what would you really, truly, like?”
“I suppose it has to be another poxy doll again. I hate the bloody things. But what can else can you ask for?”
Santa stood up bolt upright and the little girl and her pink dress fell to the floor with a thud.
“That's it,” Santa shouted. “You lot out there, clear off, sod off. No more I'm giving up. Going home. You bunch of no hoper's, I'm going home.” He pushed through the waiting queue, on his way nutting a fat man, holding the hand of a geeky boy, right on his big fat nose. The fat man's nose started to bleed, the geeky boy started to cry, and the fat man looked set to join him.
“Christmas is cancelled, plonkers, Christmas is cancelled,” Santa shouted back at the complaining queue, given them the finger as he did so. Pushing through the front door of the store, his red robes flapping, he muttered: “You lot, sod off. That's it I'm finished.” And he disappeared into the street side crowd of shoppers.
● ● ●
It was still light when Santa arrived back at his hut in the North Pole. What a relief it was to be trudging up the path to his front door, to see the smoke ascending from the chimney and promising warmth, to see the windows just behind which promised a cosy chair and a glass of something nice. Just as he approached the sturdy wooden door it swung open, just missing him by inches and almost making his red nose even redder. Before him stood the plump welcoming figure of trusty Mrs Claus. She looked up, smiled, then bent down to pick up a suitcase in each hand.
Mrs Claus said: “Your home early Santa. Your dinner's in the tin, the tin opener's in the draw, the stove is the black thing in the kitchen, and that's just down the hallway and turn left. I'm off, don't know where, somewhere interesting, less of the white stuff. You can send the divorce papers round to my sister's. Bye.”
Santa stood watching as she walked along the pathway – not her as well.