I am dressed to the nines for a yearly event I am a part of – two very good friends and I get together every three months and have too much to drink, too much gossip, and too much fun. War buddies who survived a tumultuous programme together, we have such a good time that we have made our Christmas event a posh do. Posh frock for me, tuxedoes for them, cocktails and theatre and laughs. It’s our tradition of three years now, and every year we have a great time, me spending time with two of my best mates and getting to wear a pretty party dress to boot.
This years’ event is no different, and I hop on the Tube to meet up with the boys, who are waiting for me at the Tube platform of where I need to get to. Cocktails are first. It’s time for cocktails.
I sit on the Tube without comment – it’s Christmas party season and here and there in the carriage people are decked out in various stages of both drunkenness and finery. My toe taps to an imaginary tune in my head and my hand holds on to the small clutch I brought. I’m naked without a book but one didn’t fit in my fancy evening bag.
I feel without knowing that someone is next to me, and that they are watching me. I look out the side of my eye, past the swing of a long dangly earring, and I smile,
“You’re late,” I say with a grin.
“I’m not late,” comes his reply.
“Yes you bloody well are. I usually see you earlier in the month.”
“Well I am here now. And now swearing, you know it gets you a place on the naughty list.”
I turn and smile full on. “Hello, Santa.”
I am rewarded with a smile in return. “Hello, Shannon.”
“Should we hug? Are we huggers?” I ask.
“We’re on a packed London Tube train. Technically we shouldn’t even be speaking aloud let alone touching.” We stop at a station and a number of people get off the train.
“Fair dues. How ya’ been, big guy?” I ask.
“Can’t complain,” he replies fairly, sitting back in the seat and folding one leg over the other. “I’m ready for Christmas, so that’s a major relief.”
“You’re ready for Christmas? How is that, it’s several days away still!”
“I got automated. Seriously, I don’t know what I was doing making a list and checking it twice every year. By hand, no less. I was completely blind to technology. “
“Not worried it makes it less personal, that lack of hands on?”
“Oh no, I still check the list. I just only need to do it the once!”
“OK Santa,” I say dubiously. “I’ll believe you this time but should that board game Operation turn up under my tree I’m going to be pissed. I hate that game. Pulled the rib out? EUNNNNNGH! Pulled the rib out? EUNNNNNGH! Man, the rib was the hard one, too.”
“Wow, remind me not to get on your bad side,” Santa mutters. He looks over at me. “You had a good year then, kid?”
“Not bad,” I reply. “I mean, parts of it were bad of course. There is good and bad. You know.”
“I don’t know. Tell me about it.”
“Oh it was good. Mostly. There were a few extreme spots but then I think that’s what you get with me. I have trouble. It’s inevitable. I’m like a problem magnet, I just seem to attract it. Yeah, there have been a few issues. One or two of them major. But I survived them, I always do.” I turn to him. “There was a lot of good, too. My kids started school. I got to see the Olympics and the Olympics rehearsal ceremony. That was amazing. And I had some lovely times in India and Italy. There has been much good.”
He smiles at me. “You’re one of those who can adjust to any current aren’t you?”
I bite my lip. “If you call me Dory from Little Nemo, I’ll go mental on you. Everyone calls me that. I’m not like Dory.”
“Yes you are.”
“Thanks, big guy.” The train stops again.
Santa reaches into his pocket and pulls out a large slice of gingerbread.
“Did you really bag your own gingerbread?” I ask, astonished.
“The missus makes the best gingerbread ever, I cannot get enough of it. I’m trying to watch my cholesterol, so I try to limit it.”
“Right,” I say, watching him snack happily.
“And are you happy?” he asks finally, brushing the gingerbread off his beard.
I purse my lips and consider, looking at the Tube map opposite us. “Aren’t most people happy in one way or another? I’m employed. I have a home. I have a lovely family. That’s what it’s about, right?”
Santa nods, considering. “For some. It’s not unusual to have things that you’re working for.”
“Oh I’m doing that. I’ve written a book. Or most of one, I’ve thought of some changes and additions. And we’ll see what happens with that. Maybe nothing. We’ll see.”
The Tube jolts and Santa sways into me. Instantly I inhale the scent of cinnamon and peppermint, of snow and of books, of cookies and popcorn. He smells of comfort. He smells of what childhood should smell like. I wish I could bottle it and open it on all the nights when the rights go wrong.
“Mine is the next stop, Santa,” I say regretfully.
“I know, young lady,” he says with a smile. “So best tell me what you want for Christmas.”
“There’s nothing I need or want,” I say simply. There isn’t.
“That’s not going to cut it, missy.”
“I know, it’s just how it is. There’s nothing I need or want. For me, that is.”
“Anything you want for anyone else?”
I think about it, and then turn to Santa. “Bless the children, Santa.” He looks at me solemnly. “It’s not religious, and I don’t want to talk about it. Just….I want the children to be blessed. All of them.” He nods, pats my hand with a large hand, and smiles at me. He is all the good I’ve known.
I smile back. “OK, now what do you want for Christmas?” I ask.
He looks surprised. “Pardon?”
“Well you always ask me. This time I’m asking you.”
His eyebrows – two fluffy white caterpillars on his brow – go up and down in surprise. “Well. Well, well, well. No one has ever asked me that.”
“Ever?” I ask.
“No, I don’t think so. I mean, that’s not how this whole thing works,” he replies. “I don’t know, actually. I don’t know what to think.”
The Tube starts to slow down as we approach my stop. I stand, and Santa stands with me. “Well think about it and send me a letter. Let me know if you’ve been naughty or nice, ok?”
The Tube stops and we wait for the doors to open. Santa smiles at me. “You look lovely, by the way.”
I curtsy. I stand there and think about it, and then take a risk and reach out and hug Santa, and he’s every bit as warm and comforting as I knew he would be. His large mittens pat my back and I feel as though I am five years old. “I decided we were huggers after all, Santa.” I step back. “I look forward to seeing you every single year.”
The doors open and I step out of the train, looking for my friends. I see them down the platform, and they wave and start to make their way over.
“Is this our last Christmas together?” Santa asks from inside the Tube.
“Absolutely not,” I reply. “You’re one of my people, and I need you and I love you. You’re one of my best friends, which is weird because really, I suspect you’re a figment of my imagination.”
“Kissing up to me will not get you any more presents, Shannon.”
I smile at him. “It’s not our last Christmas together. It’s just the last one I’ll ever blog about.”
Santa smiles back as the doors close. The train sounds, and as my friends approach in a whirl of tuxedoes and laughter and throw their arms around me, I watch the Tube disappear into the tunnel, and Santa waving good-bye on it.