For Annesha. For being the most patient [you know what I am talking about! ;)] beautiful and brilliant best friend anyone can ever have or wish for ….. Merry Christmas ! Fair warning – I am no English geek, so pardon the mistakes and the fact that I have attempted to bore you. A Facebook post seemed too heavy metal for my ‘bapok eingriji’ – so here’s to you.
Once Upon an indifferent Christmas night, there roamed four souls, as different as chalk and cheese; in four divergent cities across the world, each dealing with four synoptic hues of ambivalence. Abounding in all the “good” that the Yule – mood looks forward to. Money. Family. Hope. Well-being. Lacking in all the same.
“Knocked up, Lon. Pregnant Lon. Pot – Bellied Lon. Loser Mother …”
The possible uncharitable titles that can be granted to an unmarried pregnant girl named Lon, reverberate through the mind of this certain Lonnette Rutherbend, as she tries to cover up a shriveled and naked Christmas tree with dusty stockings and faded white stars. Unappetizing candy bars. Grim and orange Santas. Yellow hollies. Bald tinsels. Stems of black mistletoe. Lights for lights’ sake.
She shifts with a heavy discomfort to stand apace and appreciate her handiwork. A gallant attempt at optimism, perhaps.
She has always been a blithesome family person. Christmases to her are always and have been vibrant, jocose, noisy, sacred, congested … very British (well, you get the picture)! Last Christmas did fit her definition, but of course then she didn’t have her very sacrilegious and scandalous pregnancy. She had an unfortunate year so far; nothing went well for this family black – sheep. Apostatized, she became the skeleton in the closet, loathingly paid for till she pays for “herself”, unwanted in the geodesic line of Heathrow till she is “relieved” of her infamy, shunned by her “Pop – RnB – Rap” peers, and chiseled off by the “football – captain” boyfriend who no longer found her delightful in the after – gym hours.
He had offered to pay for the abortion. “Even that’s what Papa said”, she had replied.
Now she is another dejected seventeen year old with a swollen and kicking uterus who saves up a little every day, to buy the next day’s newspaper and scan through the grey columns of orphanage and adoption. And curse the cross heading that claims the mirage of “Happy Parenthood”.
She yawns and stretches. She has to get the milk and bread that are to serve as her Christmas Treat coupled with low – end baby food. Her father had been generous enough to send her four extra pounds with her sister’s and mother’s round robin, twittering of their latest festive shopping and Christmas – barbecue. Lon had almost burned her “extra pudding innings” with it.
She clumsily puts on her overcoat, claws for the apartment key and stumbles out of the dingy, disgraceful anchorage. She mentally ticks a fictional checklist: milk, Bread. And a ginger – bread man out of his final batch of baking, that the baker downtown had assured she could afford.
Sub – urban Lancaster is shabbily adorned in its own undaunted version of Christmastide. A magnified “outdoor” version of Lon’s own carnival haven. Mary did you know? from a faulting transmitter assails the air. The day is comfortably windy, picturesquely snowy and cheerfully cold. Somber streaks of sunlight flit through the sleepy willows, giving her auburn hair a faint halo. The shops are closed; the hollies and mistletoe writhes gracing the door – bells are capped in slender – bodied icings. The snow on the road has been carelessly shoved aside, perhaps by an underpaid human snow blower, hurrying home for his miserly stuffed turkey. She assumes her fanciful mind games: perhaps he goes into a purple house, welcomed by two – no wait – three kids wearing Santa hats. Their Christmas tree probably has more stockings than presents. The second row of lights up the tree has fallen silent with age. Maybe the blower’s wife has knitted jumpers with reindeer faces. The blower’s daughter has just received a black party dress in a huge blue box from her boyfriend. Justin Bieber’s Mistletoe, Damein Rice’s Blower’s Daughter, Andy William’s Sleigh Ride, Taylor Swift’s Santa Baby and like flood her mind. She shakes away the plastic ghosts of Christmas. Her fairy tale is dead.
Trudging along the wet and narrow lane, she makes it to “Grandeur Patisserie” to join the long line of slum workers: in physicality and hope that Lombard Quaker would give a rebate for the scraps of his drowsy hearth. The cold wind turns biting compelling Lon to tighten the cover around her. She wishes that the queue will move quickly but a commotion up the counter shatters her wishful thinking. She leans sideways to see an old lady in a brown bonnet, gathering her ginger scoops and narrating to Quaker how she will be spending her day. She talks of the sweater she has got her son. The brownie with cocoa sauce that didn’t come any dear. Their Christmas tree flaunting two pink hairy tinsels. She jabbers rustically for ten minutes before hobbling down the road, muttering to herself with occasional outbursts of “Ahoy, I‘m goin’ ter spen’ ith Yule day wi’th em boy. Em boy …”
Lon observes unsympathetically: they all seem to tolerate her. She is nastily cooking up a “Mean Girls” commentary, when the small talk of two low women next to her, reaches her ears.
“Poer Abbey. They say she ‘s turnin’ mad.”
“Well, she seem’d to bark ‘em.”
“Who can blame her? Yer gotta hol’ on ter somethin’ ter live yer know! Her poer lad die’d twee sum’ners ago. Eva sinze, she has plann’d it all … and celebrat’d as if hez sti’l alierve …”
Lon tears herself from the discourse of natural philosophy, her ears hot and red from – cold? eavesdropping? actualization? She steps in for her share, the wisdom buzzing in a monotone about her ears …
She closes the door of her apartment, shutting out the world and the wind that have been so cruel. Placing her baggage on the kitchen counter, she heaves a sigh and addresses her belly. In a gentle tone –
“Baby whats – your – name, you must be shocked to hear me being nice to you. I am sorry for being so horrible before! But I got to hold on to something to live, you know; and I choose you. I can’t wait to have you in my arms – have you here with me next Christmas.”
She loudly hums Home this Christmas, hoping that soon her child will take to her favourite festive song. She gazes softly at the alight tree perched beside her baggage. The lights have never been brighter …
Austin Theodore gazes distantly from the shrill “Gucci Talk”. All that is visible of Christmas above the endless sea of D&G Monica lips, Rossano Ferretti tresses, Eau d’ Hadrien stench, Vera Wang gowns, Dormeuil tuxedos and Winston cocktails are tiny fairy lights against decked up silhouettes. Twelve Traditional bottle – green silhouettes. The lights shouldn’t be of much interest to the heir of the Theodore Estates – what are Christmas parties for, anyway? Apart from bragging and procuring wealthy one – night standers? Protocol dictates that he should be at his father’s side, debating Wall Street stocks or by his mother’s, flaunting his crooked smile as she critiques her De Beers neck-piece with her peers. Or better, he should be in his bedroom, zipping away Cheryl’s scarlet Dior Couture creation and two hour later – descend down the oak stairway in drowsy tousled hair. He is not in a socialite party surrounded by sparkling successful preppies. Austin is miles away in a certain Barrett Hall, sitting across a blazing fire, amidst his “friends” – people who would never make it to the invitee – list of his parents’ New Year Party!
The word “Friends” is an understatement – they were his family; not the kind that provided for his living, but the kind that abide by him. And the greatest tribute he has paid to and with them so far is to toast up a glass of champagne on Halloween. It had been an eventful year, ever since he volunteered to go to the orphanage with this ‘queer’ Harvard and acappella group. Shane and Dominique are doctors and flamboyantly gay. Nadira is a Pakistani and an economist. Cole is a black, seeped deep into editing and journalism. Jackson is arguing his way through American living and Business Law. Tiffany is a controlled blonde who loves Chaucer, Shakespeare and Enid Blyton. And Isobel … Austin sharply inhales the festive air. She is a history student, who endears Jason Walker, Alison Weir, Hitler and black coffee. She likes theater, ballet, paint brushes, cutlery, and charity … he could go on and on about her! And she loves everything and everyone except him. And to his dismay, right now, she might just be wrapped up with Jackson, lying beside her dorm Christmas tree, each stroking the other’s face in the electric twilight.
Everything was fine till a month ago when he had caught them kissing behind the cafeteria. Austin’s arrogance got better of him – a bawl had to be brewed up and a fissure had to be made. He had to be deprived. Now he misses it all. Singing acappella songs while walking down the Darling. A café table with books of seven majors sprawled over. Or a short hike around Massachusetts. Isobel’s famous sarcasm. Her “How did your day go?” questions at the end of the day. Austin aches within, far more distracted to realize that Cheryl has abandoned her leather talk for something more interesting. Sly and seductive heavily mascaraed grey eyes meet his from underneath the platinum – blonde canopy.
His wake up call!
He rises to the challenge. Blatant. And dutiful. Come, he silently nods toward the “enticing” stairs. He is determined that today, she will look into his eyes and feel she is making love to a vociferous stranger…
Kanok Appitah hurries home after his half – shift of clerical servitude. He is sixty, sturdy and a Nigerian fan of Neil Armstrong – the singer, not the astronaut. Fifteen Nairas jingle in his breast – pocket, as he almost dances through the tropical street toward his home twenty blocks away. It doesn’t snow in Abuja – it sweats. He pauses at Wuse Market to buy a liver pie, and gluttonously delves it on the way to his apartment. After reaching there, quickly he changes into his Santa Claus costume and rushes down to the nearby toy store. This is his tenth year as Father Christmas at Tabonka Gift Store. The manager and the staff adore him – he is affordable and humorous. The kids adore him – he pays attention to each and every one’s Christmas list. Their parents adore him – he keeps the children engaged. He has been a successful Santa Claus so far, bestowing teddies and candy bars, avoiding porches and airplanes, and ensuring at the end, Nikora (the manager), grinning, writes off a large “PROFIT” in his accounts register on Boxing Day.
The manager has put the sleigh where it has been for the last ten years: Brown and white in the corner, and loaded with sacks of toys, chocolates and other goodies that figure repeatedly in never – ending scribbled Christmas gift lists. Golden tinsels hang from the window sills. Large hollies play hide and seek with the barbies and teddy bears. The colorful elves await hugs and kisses. The rice – lights slither through the shelves, enlightening the entire shop, blinking and jazzing as they go. The Nativity Scene – a most serene and blessed pageantry – sits grandly on the Manager’s Desk – Mary in pink, Joseph in Grey, the baby in his manger, surrounded by the Magi, the shepherds and the angels. This is Kanok’s favorite part of this toy land. A sight to behold. A sight to cherish forever. The manager gives him his toothless grin as he takes his place on the sleigh. Kanok is his unparalleled Father Christmas!
Then why should this Christmas be any different?
… Except this year, he spots a rather grouchy boy amid the enthusiastic jocund crammed shop. He wears neither Santa hat, nor red coat and holds no candy cane or toy in his hand. He stands with a man and a woman who seem to be in the middle of a Cold War. The three of them stand apart from the friendly crowd, stone faced as if in a funeral service. In black, they awkwardly outsing the red and green hues of the shop – like burnt patches on a silk stocking.
Hesitantly dis – regarding the screams of “Red Dog, Planet Krypto, Cyclops glasses, footballs, flash cards, Bat – Mobile, Princess Barbies, Lego Houses, Pooh teddies, poodles and chocolate bars”, the Santa beckons forward this lonely boy. Frozen smiles and stiff palms push the boy toward the plastic sleigh into the screeching lot of his peers. The boy silently stalks up and gazes into the white bearded face with an indifferent expression.
“Ho! Ho! Ho!” Kanok weaves the cascabels in front of the pink countenance and asks in a booming but tender voice – “Come near, dearest child. Don’t you wish anything from Santa?”
The boy nods and answers simply – “Not really. I don’t believe in Santa Claus.” He goes back the way he came, as quietly as a phantom. The three of them leave the shop. Over the tiny heads, he sees them get into three separate expensive cars, probably heading in three separate directions. Indeed, the boy has good reasons to hate Santa!
How many of such unhappy kids had he missed in the past?
Kanok gazes sadly at the small girl sitting on his lap and hankering desperately for his attention. His ready Santa smile sends her into fits of giggle and she hugs him. As he returns her gesture, he acknowledges a change in the surrounding. The cajoling cologne of candy floss, vanilla brownies and mistletoe seem to have vanished. All that reaches him is the stink of plastic.
Kanok returns home late that night, clutching a blue – berry muffin and bearing a heavy pants’ leg of seven hundred Nairas. And a destitute tear on his cheek.
And somewhere in India, two cancer patients toast away their last Christmas goodbye.
Peter and Ross sit in the empty common room after a day of joyous celebrations. It has been a long day. Cheap ammonite, Mrs. Gonzalvez’s local plum – cake and Fabrizio’s Christmas honey pudding and the company! The tree is scantily decorated yet the lights are vibrant, bestowing the much adored festive cheer. The two men sit on the creaking couch, their “lavish” dinner spread before them on the rickety table. The night is one of conversation – of an un – consanguineous bonding. Of a relationship grounded in time. Of memories that none bothers to write in a diary or stick in a photo – album!
In drowsy inebriate, Peter falls back and strokes his chemo – therapy baldness, remarking – “years and years hence love had been in the air…”
Ross compliments the conclusion – “And we were young ….”
Well you can imagine the heart rendering drunken stupor. Romantically Christmassy. Sadly recapitulative. Very 1960 – ly quoth and classy. Predominantly Portuguese. Necessarily along the old fringes of the ruined forts and golden beaches of Goa. And figuratively unmemorable the day after.
True, both had been young. Both had lives untroubled by the philosophy of the impending doom. Both had wives and children. Both had a world from where, one day, they were ousted, in dissimilar dispensaries by a wrathful Fate. Both had cancer. One had ten months. The other over a year.
“Rossh, what wold happen next yeah mhan?”
“Kya, mahn! thish yeah ishn’t gone yet ….”
“Nhext yeah …. Nhext …. Rosh …”
Clangorous stentorian Snores.
Cheap liquor smell congests the small parlor. The flickering lights dance across the wooden ceiling as two babes on another late December night drift off to blissful oblivion.
Hope the vignettes are worth your time. Thank you. Merry Christmas! (Ooops, I might be a little late though …..)