The streets were strewn with red bunting. Sleighs hung from street lamps. And reindeers roamed the roads. This was how the Earth said goodbye to Saint Nicholas. After ten days of official mourning, there were many days of unofficial desperation.
“Without Father Christmas, we are but lost children in the face of the eternal night of fundamentalism,” said the President in one of his more lucid moments. He had a point.
Christmas had, for many years, managed to infantalise an entire world of western adults.
‘Twas they that watched the September debuts of Christmas movies. ‘Twas they who toiled over the decorating of the house, decking the halls with boughs of whatever they could get their hands on to decorate it with. Indeed, ’twas they who bought until the money they had was no more. ‘Twas they who stood on cold street corners and in draughty supermarket car-parks singing endlessly pointless Christmas carols and pestering passersby for heartfelt donations to the deserving cause of the Rotary Clubs from whence they came and to where they would disappear after their brief festive outings.
Joe’s shift was almost over. He had been working since the late afternoon when the last of the procession had disappeared down the main thoroughfare. He had never seen so many people and he had never seen so many people in tears. The President’s speech went down well with the angrier elements of the crowd. He was in no doubt who was to blame for the atrocity and he was in no doubt that man-made synthetic fabrics, alcohol consumption, the friction caused by a fat boy, and an unreported gas-leak had absolutely nothing to do with it. To make it plainer than the bulbous nose on his face, he attempted to spell out the name of those responsible. He got halfway through MUSL.., faltered, stammered, looked towards his aid, stammered some more, then said, “Them, you know who I mean.”
Unfortunately, the media, of the populist firebrand variety, knew all too well and had prepared the ground for the devastating explosion of the angry pre-gathered crowd of 250,000 citizens (600,000 if you asked the President).
Those who had not committed the terror event now fled for their personal safety. In cars, in vans, and in trucks, a mass of people with sun-kissed skin moved secretively away from their would-be persecutors. Such a movement of human beings, so silently, so secretively, had not been witnessed since a group of a similar size had escaped from Egypt many, many years before.
Joe had watched the separate escapes of families with children and old people and had shaken his head in resignation.
Although his skin had now lost its deeper tones, inquisitive eyes would have had to spend little time in the discovery of Joe’s true origins. There had been an angry crowd of rioters wandering the streets earlier. He had avoided them, realising their murderous intent. The police, who had formed a ceremonial guard of honour, wearing Santa Clause hats over their own caps or helmets, were now nowhere to be seen. No patrol cars cruised the streets. No concerned eyes looked from the safety of windows. No fingers were being placed on emergency numbers.
In the distance, Joe could hear the smashing of glass. There was shouting. There was the sound of car tyres squealing. More shouting. More glass breaking. More tyres. And then the sound of an engine running on the edge of its revs. Joe managed to get out of its way before it came screaming past. He saw the faces of a frightened family framed in the fearful departure. Its brake lights flashed as its horn blared. Then, it was gone.
Time to get off the streets.
He turned towards home and saw them. A group of middle-aged thugs strung out on cheap brandy and even cheaper bravery. His expression must have told them what he most wanted to hide. They came running towards him, chorusing a savage cry.
As he took to his heels, Joachim thought about all of those things that he had never done.
He didn’t know why he was doing this when he ought to have been really concentrating on getting away from the mob. It had become a mob. They were after him with sticks and stones and semi-automatics. For some very obvious reason they were after him. He looked like he didn’t belong. He looked like foreigner, a terrorist, or even a Mexican or Pole. It didn’t matter because they now had the scent of him in their nostrils and he would soon be paying for the murder of Christmas. First him and then the rest of the MUS... hordes. Nobody questioned whether Mexicans or Polish were Christmastians or not. Who would wish to spoil a good lynching?
Joachim had only to turn the next corner for him to discover that particular answer, but until then he worried about the fact that he had never ‘pooped his cherry’ as the Yankees would have said.
Tears ran down his cheeks as he ran into the comforting welcome of the shaft of blue light that had oh so suddenly appeared.