Tom was bored. Excited, but bored: a dangerous combination in a pre-schooler. He had been excited for days, after being told by his mum that Father Christmas was coming to his town, but now the big day had arrived and he was stuck in a very long queue in the shopping precinct with what seemed like hundreds of other bored kids and their stressed looking parents.
Tom was being very good, given the circumstances. He was holding his mum’s hand nicely and trying to stand still despite his aching legs. He felt it very unfair when his mum told him off for ‘wriggling’ and said that he ‘had to be good for Santa.’ He was being good for Santa – gooder than almost any other child in the queue. One boy, a few places along, was having a major tantrum, rolling on the floor and screaming and kicking at his dad’s legs.
‘I’m going to count to three,’ the dad hissed through gritted teeth, ‘and if you haven’t stopped this silly nonsense by then we’re going straight home.’ He counted to two, then left a big pause, but his son showed no sign of stopping and actually intensified his squealing. The dad looked around at the other parents in the queue, pulling a face that said ‘what can you do?’ The parents who did know what to do looked away, but the majority flashed insincere smiles of sympathy, silently thanking their stars that it was, on this occasion, not their own child having a public meltdown.
Even Tom, just turned four, knew that an empty threat is no threat at all. He had never heard the term ‘negative reinforcer’, but his mum had, and Tom had consequently learnt that escalation of his naughty behaviours rarely paid dividends for him. Which was why, at this point, he was willing to try to stand quietly and not to wriggle too much, because he really, really wanted to meet Father Christmas.
Slowly the queue shuffled forward. As time dragged on many parents fell by the wayside, including the tantrumming boy’s father. The parents who stayed the distance hastily filled the vacated places, taking the opportunity this slight shift in perspective afforded to amuse their children with fresh observations on the various animatronics surrounding the grotto. Tom and his mum found themselves standing alongside a small water feature – a little stream feeding into a pond where two elves were fishing for plastic trout. Tom enjoyed looking at the ripples dancing on the surface of the pond. So much so, that he was hardly aware of the effect the sound of trickling water was having on him.
‘Stop fidgeting,’ his mum said, shaking his arm. And he did. Briefly.
Eventually they reached the final gate that barred the way into Santa’s workshop. There were two elves – real ones this time rather than mechanical dummies – standing either side of the gate. One was a boy with long, dark, curly hair and a beard and the other was a girl with a ring through her nose and an armful of tattoos showing beneath the sleeve of her pixie dress. They were talking to the children, asking what they would like for Christmas and whether they had sent letters up the chimney to Santa. Tom told them he hadn’t got a chimmerly, but his mummy had sent Santa an e-mail instead. The elves laughed, the girl elf giving mum a high five.
When they walked through the gate they arrived in a tunnel, at the end of which was a door with a sign on. Tom’s mum read him the sign. Santa’s Office, it said. Tom was getting really excited now, but realised there were still at least ten children in front of him in the tunnel. He also realised that he was finding it increasingly difficult not to wriggle, and that the pressure in his tummy was getting quite urgent.
‘Mum, I need a wee,’ he said.
‘What?’ said mum.
‘I need a wee.’
‘What, now?’ said mum, ‘we’re almost there – can’t you wait for a couple of minutes?’
Tom thought about it. ‘I don’t know,’ he said.
‘Well if you can’t,’ his mum said, ‘we’ll lose our place in the queue.’
‘Oh…’ said Tom, ‘… I think I’ll be okay.’ He really, really wanted to meet Father Christmas.
By the time they reached Santa’s office Tom was jumpy with excitement. He was nervous, too, at the thought of meeting someone so magical and special. As they were ushered through the door by a third elf Tom’s heart was racing. He felt it would burst when he saw Santa sitting on a chair beside a huge sack filled with toys. The room twinkled with fairy lights, and the warm orange glow from the fireplace threw long shadows across the walls. It was quite dark, and much spookier than Tom would ever have imagined.
Santa leaned forward to say hello, taking Tom’s hand and pulling him forward. Tom saw that Santa looked very different to the pictures he had seen of him – much thinner, beneath the folds of his read suit, and far less jolly. As Santa picked him up and placed him on his lap Tom noticed that Santa’s teeth were stained and brown, and that he had pongy breath. Then Tom noticed that when Santa spoke his lips moved but his beard and moustache stayed still – they were false! Santa wasn’t Santa at all, but someone else – a stranger – pretending to be Santa!
Tom looked at his mum in terror, but she seemed completely fooled by the pretend Santa. She was smiling, her iPhone lifted to her eye to capture the meeting forever, and this frightened Tom most of all. He started to cry, then to scream, and then he started struggling and kicking to get away. The man pretending to be Santa stood, grabbing Tom more tightly as he did so, adding additional pressure to Tom’s already distended bladder. Tom felt a trickle of wee escaping, then a sudden flood that gushed down his leg and onto Santa’s before cascading to the floor. Struggling to keep hold of the screaming, weeping, piddling child Santa’s boot skidded on the wet floor and he fell backwards, cracking his head against the heavy wooden arm of his chair. Tom landed on top of him then leapt off, running to his mother, his eyes wet with tears, his nose wet with snot and his jeans soaked with widdle…
All things considered Tom’s eagerly anticipated trip to meet Santa did not quite live up to expectations. The video footage of the meeting from his mum’s iPhone proved much more successful, however, going viral on Youtube and embarrassing Tom for many Christmases to come.
Written by David Smith from the keyword Anticipation.