Christmas Rebellion: A short story by author, Val Portelli
Everyone stopped talking as the big guy came in the room and took his place at the head of the conference table.
‘I’ve called this meeting as I’ve heard some rumblings, and this company has always been known as a happy one,’ he said. ‘Would someone like to start us off and explain exactly what is troubling the workforce?’
Glancing at the others for support, Rudi cleared his throat and hoped what he was going to say wouldn’t get him the sack.
‘The main concern Mr C,’ he began, ‘is having to work on Christmas eve. We’d all like to be at home with our families instead of flying around all over the world right up to the last minute.’
‘Point taken. Anyone else?’
Taking courage from the mild response Elfie stood up. ‘Yes. The factory guys enjoy the summer break, but then have to work non-stop. I’m sure the time and motion people would find it more efficient to spread the load evenly during the year.’
‘Noted,’ said the boss.
‘And that’s another thing,’ one of the others interjected, gaining confidence as Santa continued making notes without getting upset, ‘why do the orders all come in so late? If we got them earlier, we’d have more time to make them.’
‘I don’t see why we have to wear a uniform,’ a goblin remarked. ‘No-one wears them anymore, and they make me feel stupid.’
Soon everyone was throwing in their thoughts and demands while the chairman listened, and filled up page after page with their complaints. Finally, he stood up and looked sadly round the room at the representatives of his many employees.
‘You’ve all worked for me for many years, but I admit times have changed. In the old days the children were happy with a wooden toy, but now it has to be the very latest electronic gadget and it all adds to the landfill by boxing day. ‘Although the marketing guys start early, it’s word of mouth and social media that decide what is going to be ‘in’ or ‘out’ each year. It’s no good us making something in black when everyone wants vermillion. Until the kids agree, the stores can’t place the orders, and knowing how pernickety teenagers can be, they won’t risk getting it wrong. There are other factors involved, but if you would all bear with me, I’d like to show you something. By the way, Gobby, there are some who still wear a uniform.’
Opening up his state-of-the-art laptop, Santa tapped a few keys and a scene was projected onto the giant screen on the far wall. Despite the cold outside, the picture in front of them showed a man in army fatigues, leaning against a dilapidated building in scorching heat as he looked into his phone. Suddenly his face lit up as a little voice was heard.
‘Hello, sweetheart. Are you being a good girl for Mummy?’
‘Yes, but I miss you. Are you coming home for Christmas? I want to show you all my presents. I’ve asked Santa for a boy doll so I can cuddle him and pretend it’s you, but it’s not the same.’
‘I’m sorry sweetie, but there’s lots of boys and girls here who need our help, so I can’t leave yet. When I get back, we’ll have our own Christmas, even if it’s baking hot and we’re on the beach at the seaside. OK?’
‘That’s silly,’ the little girl giggled, ‘but come home soon.’
A terrifying explosion just behind him made the man turn away for a moment. When he looked back, they could see his eyes were wet but he put a smile on his face as he spoke to the little girl again. ‘I’ve got to go, baby. Give Mummy a big hug from me. Love you.’
The child’s ‘love you too’ was lost as another blast shook the building, and the man ran for cover as the phone went dead.
The screen in the meeting room went black, and there was silence for a few minutes before another picture appeared. This showed a totally different scene. In the background bright lights from the shopping centre reflected off the crowds huddled up in thick coats, trying to balance umbrellas while their arms overflowed with bags and parcels. A scruffy young man, maybe seventeen or eighteen years old, tried to shelter under the roof of the trolley park, and avoid being knocked as people hurried to retrieve their £1 coins from the carts. Despite his hand-written sign, no one thought to put the coin on the plate in front of him. As darkness descended the crowds thinned until the boy was left alone, shivering as the rain turned to sleet and soaked through his thin jacket. After a while two women appeared, dressed in a uniform of white shirt, navy jacket and navy skirts.
‘God Bless you, my child. I’m sure we can find room to squeeze in one more. Come and get dry, and have something to eat while we find you some warmer clothes.’
The employees watched as the young man followed the ladies into a large hall, full of waifs and strays, before he was led to a store of clothing piled on shelves in a small side room. Fifteen minutes later he emerged looking almost unrecognisable. Now clean shaven and wearing a thick jumper, with trousers that were slightly too long. It was the smile on his face which caused the biggest transformation as he sat down to tuck into his first proper meal in months.
The picture on the screen faded, and was replaced by a view of the interior of an ambulance as it sped through the streets with its blue light flashing. Pulling up in front of the hospital, the two paramedics were joined by a porter who helped lift the battered and bloody body onto a stretcher. He was rushed through to the emergency theatre, where gowned and face-masked surgeons attempted to save his life. In a nearby private waiting room, a uniformed nurse comforted the grieving relatives.
‘Well,’ said Santa ticking off his list, ‘if you think uniforms are out-dated you needn’t wear them. If the presents don’t get finished the children will just have to go without. After all, the gifts shouldn’t be the important thing, so it won’t matter if they aren’t ready until the spring. I could sit at home in the warm with Mrs Claus, and not have to go out delivering.’
‘We can’t let everyone down, boss,’ said Rudi, going out towards the waiting sleigh. ‘Anyway, I’m looking forward to the carrots they leave out for us. Right, you lot, let’s get this show on the road. We’ve got a lot to do tonight.’
Smiling, Father Christmas picked up his sack, patted his stomach at the thought of the waiting mince pies, and went out to join his reindeer.
‘Ho, Ho, Ho. Merry Christmas everyone.’
© Val Portelli/Voinks November 2017