A man was looking out of a tall building window towards the street outside, of a snowy Christmas Eve. In fact, it was not just snowing outside but a blizzard and the man was grunting about weather as he watched those people hurrying into buildings. Someone entered the room he was in, the man turned around to meet the eyes of the butler.
“Mr Cringe, I had brought Young Nick back,” the Butler said as he led a young boy in. Nick was standing at the door, smiling with his two rather large front teeth revealed, “Evening, Father.”
“Thank you, Pete,” Mr Cringe let Pete out and showed one of the two armchairs near the fireplace to Nick. Nick hopped and seated comfortably with Mr Cringe sitting on the other armchair, “So, how’s your tour, son? What do you think of the factory?” Mr Cringe was, of course, talking about the toy factory he owned.
“They’re cool, father,” Nick said cheerfully. Looking at Nick, Mr Cringe wondered what was in this boy that made him such a joyful person. Being his son, Nick was a totally different side of Mr Cringe. Mr Cringe was a busy man with many worries, complains and believed that he would be happier if he earns more the next day. And sure enough, he would never been happy because on the next day, he would feel dissatisfied and wished to earn more on the other next day, and so the cycle continued. Mr Cringe looked at his son, “Nick, cool is not the thing we would say for these operation. Did you forget how many times I had told you?”
He stood up and stared into the fire, “There’ll be one day when you will be the owner of this company, Nick. You must be clear that you can’t create money just because it is cool. Cool, is a meaningless word, Nick. You need to think of good ideas to bring the company to the next state.”
“Christmas,” Nick blurted.
For once, Mr Cringe felt satisfaction to the answer. Maybe Nick was not at all a fool after all, he thought. “Good one, Nick. At your age, you are already thinking marketing strategy using festive season –,” Mr Cringe was cut off.
“Christmas,” Nick continued, “Don’t you think it will be best to let those workers home for the holiday?”
Mr Cringe turned to face his son. He was now in mixed emotions as how it was every time Nick started to talk about this same topic. He had no patience in preparing this child for his company, not with his illogical illusion about Christmas; but yet at the same time he loved his son, so much that he never gave up wishing him to grow up into a successful businessman. He held his breath and tried to continue his speech as calm as he possibly could. “Nick, how many times had I told you, we must keep the factory running over the Christmas? People are buying toys over this vacation period, from Christmas to New Year’s Day!”
“This Christmas, Santa will deliver presents and there will be no need to buy any of them,” Nick said, looking at his father. Mr Cringe was still staring into Nick’s eyes. He did not look surprised, nor did he look crossed. He laughed, not in a jolly way, “My dear Nicholas, haven’t you already said that for years?” It was true young Nick had been saying the same thing to his father since he could talk, from ‘Santa will come’ to this. Mr Cringe continued, “And since when did you get any present from Santa? Look at the world today, son. If Santa was real, what had he been doing to the world? Blizzard? War? Chaos?”
“You need to believe, father, it’s the Christmas Spirit...” Nick said.
Mr Cringe let out a sigh, and sat down again, “Nick, I had never received any present from Santa since I was a child. If there was Santa, then let’s wish our factory will be working non-stop due to high demand from the customer, what do you think?” Mr Cringe gave a small laugh. Somehow, Nick was the only person who made him laugh even though Nick might not be saying things he expected. He reached out to pat Nick on his head. That was when the fireplace crackled. Mr Cringe turned at it for once but ignored it. Nick, on the other hand, lean over the arm of the chair, looking at the fire dreamily, “He hears you, father – He hears you.”
Mr Cringe chuckled, “Of course, my son, because I am going to ensure the factory operating smoothly now.” Mr Cringe walked to his desk, his thought however was thinking about the crackling fireplace. Deep inside, he knew it happened; but somehow he wanted to convince himself it was all just a normal wood burning. He shook the thought out of his head as he hit the bell. Pete walked in, “Yes, Mr Cringe?”
“Emphasize extra-hours work on the workers, Pete. I want the factory running twenty four hours a day. About the sales and marketing, I want to see at least a hundred percent improvement from previous year’s sales. I’d seen Crosworth’s and Podmore’s work, the potential is more than that.” Mr Cringe gave his order as he swirled a bit in his office chair.
“Mr Cringe, we understand you want good revenue, but increasing their work hours is just impossible,” Pete replied. Mr Cringe took a deep breath and said towards young Nick, “Nick, go and have some snack over at the pantry downstairs. Your father needs to work here.” Nick smiled and hopped off his chair, reaching to the door before turning back to his father, “You must believe, father,” and walked out of the room. Mr Cringe then turned to Pete, “What do you mean by impossible? We could pay them extra and many of them would ask to work thirty six hours a day.”
“Many of them have family, Mr Cringe, taking them away from their family on such occasion would be too harsh,” Pete said.
“It’s either work or losing their job at this bad time,” Mr Cringe heightened his voice. Pete cleared his throat but didn’t say anything. Something was clearly troubling him as he nodded and was going to exit when the fireplace crackled again. Pete and Mr Cringe turned towards it at the same time and their eyes met. “Well?” Mr Cringe said first, “What are you waiting for? Continue to work!”
Pete winced at first but then something slipped through his mouth, “Mr Cringe –,”
Mr Cringe looked up. “ – Don’t you – Can’t you remember?” Pete continued.
“Remember what?” Mr Cringe said. He looked up at Pete as the sound from the fireplace repeated itself. Somehow, Pete felt the courage with the fire sparkling. He looked at Mr Cringe, right into his eyes, “Nick, sir. There’s a reason why he’s always so jolly and warm, that boy.”
“He’s always like that of course. Blimey, is there no reason for my son to be happy? After all these I had done for him?” Mr Cringe said.
“Father Christmas was a jolly and warm figure, Mr Cringe,” Pete said. At this, he turned and locked the door behind him before turning back to face Mr Cringe in a very serious look, “Nick – Nicholas, was known to be the Santa’s name.”
Mr Cringe looked at Pete, puzzled. “Are you suggesting my son to apply for a job as the Santa? Sitting on those fake thrones, greeting children as their parents shop for Christmas?” Mr Cringe asked, “at least he’s not old enough to have a part time job, he’s only ten!”
“Exactly, Mr Cringe,” Pete said, “Ten years!” He walked pass Mr Cringe and stood just beside the window, where Mr Cringes was just a moment ago, “When was the last time you think Santa was here?”
“I had never received any present from that old man, Pete, not in my life,” Mr Cringe said softly and looked out the window as how Pete did, “Well; I do remember Christmas was a much different thing those days, when I was a child.”
“Ten years, Mr Cringe,” Pete said suddenly, “Ten years, sir!” Pete was now staring at Mr Cringe, with tears in his eyes. “Remember, Mr Cringe, please tell me you can remember. I don’t know what I should do but to just try my best in asking you to remember. That’s the only way.”
“Remember what?” Mr Cringe said as he looked at Pete. Mr Cringe might not be a man who would pity his worker, but Pete was different. Pete had been working in their family for a very long time, proving himself loyal and useful all the time. Mr Cringe, however unwillingly, will always feel the trust in confiding what he thought in this man.
“Ten years, sir. It was ten years since the last true Christmas. Nick, short for Nicholas, is the name of Father Christmas. Young Nick was named Nicholas Cringe, but what’s your name, sir? What’s your name, sir?”
Mr Cringe looked at Pete and stunned. His eyes were looking on the blizzard outside and he could feel his memories dashing in his head. The sound from the fireplace was getting louder and louder. The louder they were, the more Mr Cringe thought of. He murmured, “I – I think – I think I’m remembering something... I’m – My name is Cringe... Cringe... Nick... My name is,” He turned to Pete, “Nicholas Cringe.” He was surprised he had forgotten his own name for so long, “But – how could I forget?” Pete recognized Mr Cringe may not be remembering everything but he felt relieved to see him remembering things.
“Nicholas Cringe the Seventh, sir. Your son is a jolly person, it runs in the family, sir, because you are too,” Pete looked out of the window again, “You were, Sir. It was ten years ago... Funny thing is that it was the same weather as this that day, but you were still asking the workers to work overnight. Near midnight it was, and you, Sir, you went off - “
“- I went off in my sleigh,” Mr Cringe continued Pete’s sentence, “Leaving my wife at home, sick. I left her to do my duty of delivering presents to the children all over the world, only to find my wife in her deathbed when I came back the next morning.” He looked at Pete sadly, “And that’s the day I realize what’s everything about. I had never spent the very first hours of Christmas Day with my family. What’s the point of delivering the presents, when all you get in the end was your wife gone.” Mr Cringe let out a little cry, “I can’t even be by her side at her last hour!”
That was indeed what happened during Christmas ten years ago. The memory must be so grave for Mr Cringe, or should it be Santa, that he unconsciously erases everything about Christmas from his mind. Pete was very quiet, gazing that old man with his sympathy, but he knew that’s not the way it should be. “Sir, but you could let go and once again bring joy to the world on this festive season, bringing warmth to everyone around the globe,” Pete advised.
“Pete,” Mr Cringe sighed, “Thanks for reminding me who I was, but Christmas is dead. Santa is long dead. The magic is gone since that day. Look at me, Pete, I’m no longer jolly! I’m just a normal sad old man, grieving over my wife, counting my assets... I’m not the Santa anymore. But –“
Pete startled. “You didn’t mean the magic was passed on to Nick, did you?” Mr Cringe asked, “You mentioned he was jolly and he definitely is always one.” Pete shrugged, “I don’t know, sir, only the one with the magic will know.” Mr Cringe frowned.
Nicholas, wake up.
Both Pete and Mr Cringe gazed towards the voice, which came from the fireplace. The two stood up and inched towards it, curious.
You are the Santa, Nicholas. The Magic is still intact. It was just backfired, nine Christmas ago.
“Who’s this,” Mr Cringe asked even though it sounds ridiculous to be talking into the fire.
I’m you, Nicholas. I’m the Nicholas with Christmas Magic. Ten years ago, right when the Christmas started, you made your own Christmas wish. When you were so grief of your wife’s death, you said, “I wish all these – all these Santa stuff - are dead.” And so it did, in some way. But it was not that simple, Nicholas, you can’t just throw away your job just like that. The Magic still lives, which is me.
Mr Cringe looked into the fire with awe, “And so you should get what I said clear. I would rather spend my Christmas like a normal man, at home.”
But Nicholas, it wasn’t your fault your wife was dead. She was having difficulties in giving birth to young Nicholas who, you could have noticed, has Christmas spirit in him just like you. Your wife passed away with a happy heart, seeing young Nicholas in her arms before she went into a deep sleep.
Mr Cringe thought for a while. He was still very sad over the loss. He does not think he would ever forget such a pain. Though, in some part of his heart, he know he was not doing things right. His attention was summoned to the window. He strode across the room and watch out of the glass window. Among the blizzard, he could barely see anyone clearly except figures rushing along street and weak lights from windows across the street. But something was different this time. He felt something much painful than the one he had. He could hear the boy across the street asking for his dream toy train; the lady staying on the end of the street was asking for textbooks for her next school term. He could also feel the desperate desire of the family in the village a mile from there wishing for a warm dinner and a girl at the backstreet, wishing she could enter one of those warmed house. All of sudden, the desire of almost the whole world was squeezed into his head. He felt the pain, not for these people – but for himself who did not do his duty for almost a decade. He closed his eyes and thought.
Pete was looking at Mr Cringe, wishing he could do something to help the situation when young Nick raced into the room, looked shocked, “Father, Pete, Father! The workers, they – “ Pete stopped young Nick, “Calm down, Nick, what’s the matter?” “The workers,” young Nick panted, “They turned into elves! Or I think they looked like elves. I don’t know! I wished Santa would come! It’s my fault!”
Mr Cringe turned from the window as he spoke, “Nick, what did I say I wished for this Christmas?” Young Nick looked at his father, puzzled. Mr Cringe gave him a smile, a smile young Nick had never seen before. Across that old man’s face, there was the smile, a true smile from the bottom of his heart. “I wished to have my factory keep running the whole night – well then, Nick, it is going to keep on running now,” Mr Cringe let out a laugh sounded like ‘Ho!’, “because your father, is going to do what I had ignored for nine years.” Mr Cringe looked at Pete, “Are you ready then, Pete? You’ve been around me even after I changed, for all these years...”
Pete was now looking very happy indeed that he excitedly nodded, “Yes, Sir, I will get all the things ready, by midnight.”
“Nick, you could stay with me while I work,” Mr Cringe laughed and winked at the still puzzled Young Nick. Mr Cringe went across his room as Pete went out of the room. Grabbing a common ballpoint pen, he started to scribble on papers, the name of every child in the world with details like location, wishes and whether they were in good or naughty list. As he wrote that, he murmured, “Oh Gracious, there aren’t any kid in this world who are truly naughty do they? I shall at least give them something...” Young Nick, however, was standing beside him while looking at his father doing something out of his mind, “Father?”
“Father Christmas, Nick,” Mr Cringe said, “Your father, me – is an old fool – well, was an old fool. But now, I’m going to do what I should have done nine years ago.” He stopped. He turned to Young Nick. He had indeed owe his son an explanation, “Nick, come,” he let the ten-year-old sat on a stool next to him, “ Your birthday is on Christmas Day, correct?”
“The truth is...”
“It’s not on Christmas Day?”
“No no, Nick. Your mother passed away after giving birth to you. And I-“
“You are too sad to continue your duty, Santa,” Young Nick smiled.
“How d’you –“
“I’m your son, father,” Young Nick smiled, “I know most of the things, sort of.” Mr Cringe looked at his son warmly and said, “Now, let me continue to work before it’s too late...” Young Nick nodded and they continued the work happily.
As how it had been, the factory owned by Mr Cringe was working through the night. However, what was different this time was the festive feeling coming out every window of the factory. They were warm yellow lights, softening the harsh blizzard outside. Some of the workers, now turned back to elves, were baking sweet cookies, covering the sky with sweet aromatic smoke. Near midnight, everything was fortunately readied and Mr Cringe walked out of his room in his suit, red and white Santa suit with black boots. Young Nick was awed by seeing his father’s beard growing that long and silvery white in just few hours. Mr Cringe, now returning to his old name as Santa, holds up his arm to Young Nick, offering. “So, Son, want to have a ride with Santa?” he said.
Young Nick broke into a broad smile as he gave his father a big hug, “Yes, father; Yes, Santa. I would like to ride around the globe with you!”
Santa hold Nick’s hand and both of them walked down an aisle, with the elves cheering beside, overjoyed to witness the Santa’s returning to duty. The sleigh was in the middle of the transportation garage, polished and geared with reindeers. Mr Cringe wouldn’t have known how Pete did hide such a sleigh and a dozen of reindeers in the middle of a town; but Santa knows – Santa knows everything. He led Young Nick up to the sleigh first before sitting next to him, waving to the elves.
“My dear friends,” Santa laughed, “Thank you for all the effort, to make Christmas happens!” His voice was then drowned by the cheering elves, which he waved cheerfully back. Young Nick smiled happily as he watched his father. And in no time, Santa rode the sleigh with the reindeers. Young Nick found himself above the ground, dashing through the snow. “Nick,” Santa said as they were travelling.
“Hmm?” Young Nick looked up.
Santa was looking at him, with tears in his eyes, “Thanks, for believing in me.” Young Nick smiled.
The next morning, children will wake up to find present under their Christmas tree. The boy across the street found his toy train racing around the tree apparently. The lady on the end of the street was given books. The family in a village found a basket of warm bread and milk on their dining table. And the girl, who wished to be warmed, was invited by the boy into his house to play with his new toy train while staying in before the winter is over. Young Nick, of course, knew his wish came true.
© Copyright 2016 Mafer. All rights reserved.