“Whoa boys, slow down. I know you just had dinner and feel like some hard running but you need to remember I’m not as young as I used to be.
You don’t want to damage Rajiv’s bike or Chandra’s doll do you? Sunil has been very good this year and deserves to get his beautiful train set intact. Anna has also studied hard and helped her mommy a lot so we should ensure her teddy bear is in pristine condition. Sanjay’s brilliance in his class means he gets the cricket bat he’s always wished for.
Steady boys, there’s no pressing need to hurry. I’m sure we’ll get all the gifts delivered on time and then you can run as fast as you want to on the return journey home”
The last part of that statement was followed by a rumbling laugh.
Four pairs of reindeer ears wiggled together in acknowledgement of the message, and then eight pairs of hooves clawed the night sky faster. This was not the first time they were pulling the gift laden sleigh so they knew the drill well enough.
Nicholas relaxed in his seat and gathered his red robes around himself for some respite from the chilly air. His belly rumbled; a sure sign that dinner was being digested and there was space for some topping. Gloved hands absentmindedly rummaged through his pocket for an energy bar which he slowly unwrapped, popped into his mouth and chewed loudly.
Delivering gifts to the children of the world was a part time job he did at Christmas. It had always been a welcome diversion from his regular gig as a snow consultant at the North Pole Weather Office. He loved the opportunity to bring laughter to the children, the joy and wonder on their faces as they unwrapped the gifts was always a spectacle to behold. Each year he got a different region of the world to service and this time he had drawn India.
The chilly night air whistled past as the sleigh sped on with jangling bells. Small plumes of dust floated upwards as the reindeers’ galloped through the clouds, the antlers rattling. The heavens hummed a special kind of song which combined with the low temperatures and soothed Nick. Soon he felt drowsy and his head slowly dropped onto his white luxuriant beard.
The sleigh shook violently, having struck something so hard that the shock almost made Nicholas fall out from beneath the covers of his seal skin blanket. They were still in motion but with gradually reducing speed. A tilt towards the left front corner was a sign that whatever they had struck had damaged one of the runners.
Nicholas grabbed the reins to steady the reindeers and get them under control as the sleigh fell through the clouds and plunged down towards the surface; down past roofs and darkened windows until they touched solid ground where they finally came to rest. He got off to inspect the extent of damage to the vehicle, whether it was something that could be quickly fixed. To his dismay, it wasn’t, the damage was a major one. He sighed in exasperation and looked around to determine where they were; as even the sleigh’s GPS had gotten broken from the force of impact.
Right in front of him, in the middle of the road, was a large circular garden, surrounded by a low fence of white metal, with a huge neon cube at the very center, flashing a giant red Z. A green road sign with white lettering hung over the road to the left, its bold arrows indicating directions. Before he could make out what the sign said, the lights of an approaching vehicle pierced the darkness. The car was still a bit of a distance but it was surely headed in their direction.
There is an unwritten code that Santa must never be seen or caught out in the open, especially by adults, as their minds were already filled with too much cynicism. Quickly, Nicholas shooed his reindeers in the direction of the garden, so they could take cover. All four animals, sensitive as ever picked up on his agitation and obeyed his command without any bickering. The damaged runner screeched a bit as it dragged over the interlocked bricks used to pave the road. One of the wrapped boxes fell off as the sleigh dragged and bumped its way into the roundabout but he bent over and picked it up in a flash. Putting his fingers to his lips to signal the reindeers to silence, Nicholas arranged everything and told everyone in hushed tones to stay very still where they were. It was just in time, as the approaching vehicle’s headlight suddenly swept over all of them. Everybody was frozen in place.
Immediately after that car came another. The convoy of cars drove past, in an endless sequence. Nicholas and his reindeers stood fixed in their places waiting for the train to end, so they could look for a solution before continuing on their journey. Just as it looked as if their prayers were about to be answered, a couple of the cars spotted their frozen forms, diverted and parked nearby, disgorging their occupants, who swarmed the garden to take pictures. Then they called out to some of the other cars that were in sight to come and join them in witnessing the beautiful sight.
Jovian worked frantically, coordinating the activities of the delivery crew. It was hard tiring work making sure all the gifts were correctly delivered before Christmas but he did it year after year for the pleasure it brought him. An alarm beeped from the console on his left, indicating there was a hitch somewhere. He paused from his present task and moved his seat closer to the monitor to see where the problem was from. Punching a series of commands into his keyboard brought up a small image in the corner of his monitor’s screen. He zoomed in on it and the image of Nicholas in an open area, surrounded by flashing lights and a group of people taking pictures instantly became recognizable. He and his crew of reindeers were pretending to be inanimate, just like the operating manual instructed agents to act, whenever there was the danger of discovery. A quick check of his clipboard showed Nicholas should have been in India by now. His satellite tracker however indicated that the sleigh was somewhere in Lagos, Nigeria. Calling Nicholas on the radio to find out what had gone wrong was out of the question until the circling posse of photographers left, so he left the console and continued with his work.
Ten minutes later when he returned to check the monitor, Nicholas was still exactly where he had left him earlier and the people had even increased in number. A closer look at the picture showed them laughing, taking pictures and generally having a good time viewing the spectacle. He stroked his massive beard in thought as an idea took shape in his mind. Maybe the strange situation could be taken advantage of.
He got on the radio immediately.
“Jovian to Nick, Jovian to Nick, do you copy? I know you can’t talk right now so wiggle your left eyebrow if you copy”.
The enlarged image on the screen wiggled its left eyebrow.
“Good. I have reviewed your situation and it looks like you’re actually doing a good job bringing joy to the adults around you. It might not actually be a bad idea to let them also share in the fun of Christmas. I will arrange to have somebody else work on your list of deliveries. Just stay in position where you are for more of them to come and see, at least till the end of December.
Wiggle your left eyebrow if you copy”.
Nick’s image wiggled its left eyebrow again.
Jovian smiled to himself. He could always trust Nicholas with the delicate tasks; now all that was left was to look for another person to take his place and deliver gifts to the children of India. He stood up and left the room. Improvisation was a necessary skill on his team.
The image on the monitor loomed large. The green sign hanging over the road read ‘AJOSE ADEOGUN STREET’.
Throughout that night and many that follow, Nicholas and his reindeers can be seen standing inside Ajose Adeogun Roundabout, pretending to be inflated dolls.
As of today, the pretense is working; a visit will put your doubts to rest.
MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYONE