Santa carefully placed the bicycle next to the Christmas tree. Getting it through the chimney had been quite an achievement. Getting himself through the chimney, now that had been a real tour de force. He had to suck in his belly and hold his breath, right after reminding Dasher and Prancer of his earlier warning. Maybe he had gained weight. Santa blamed lockdown. Never in his life has he said no to a snack and, as it turns out, snacking is one of the few things you can do during a lockdown. They’re Covid kilos, he told himself. They don’t count.
The extra weight had given him a nudge in going down the chimney but it was no help in getting back up. He grasped the bricks inside the chimney but he just couldn’t pull himself up. After several tries, he decided to give himself a proper liftoff: he jumped as high as he could and grabbed the bricks his hands could find. However, he had grabbled so enthusiastically that the brick in his right hand gave way and tumbled all the way down, right alongside Santa. They both hit the ground with a dull thud. As Santa tried to get up, he felt a pain shooting down his back. He stumbled to the chair right next to the fireplace and plunked down with a sigh of relief. The chair wasn’t very comfortable and the armrests were worn out but Santa didn’t notice. His attention went to the coffee table, where Timothy had put out a plate of chocolate chip cookies and a glass of milk. Santa felt like he had deserved a cookie. Doesn’t matter anymore now, he laughed to himself.
“Santa?” A little boy had appeared in the doorway. His voice startled Santa, almost making him spit out his cookie. “Santa, is that you?” When he had recovered, Santa turned to the boy and immediately recognised him, just like he would recognise any other child. It was Timothy: he was standing there in his blue pyjamas, staring at him with big brown eyes, his stuffed giraffe under his arm.
“Oh well, hello there, Timothy. I didn’t expect to see you tonight.”
“I heard a bang.”
“Yes well, that was me. I’m sorry, did I wake you?”
“No, I was already awake. I couldn’t sleep because I wanted it to be tomorrow.”
Santa chuckled. He had seen generations of children grow up and they all had one thing in common: the anticipation. The innocent excitement and curiosity that keeps them feverish right until they can wake their parents and run to the Christmas tree to find out what exactly has kept them up all night.
“Come here, Timothy,” Santa beckoned him to sit in the chair next to him. “Well, now that you’re here, we might as well have a chat. How are you?”
“Santa, aren’t you supposed to wear a face mask when we’re this close?”
Not you too, Santa thought. He leaned over to Timothy and winked: “Well, you’re not wearing a face mask either, are you?”
“No, but I’m only 9, I don’t have to wear it.”
Santa leaned back and stared at Timothy for a second. There really was no getting around it. He laughed: “Ho ho ho, very right you are, Timothy! Let me just pop on my face mask.” He reached inside his pocket and put on the mask as best he could. “Now then, tell me: how are you?”
“I’m okay, Santa. I’m glad you’re here, did you bring me anything?”
“Why yes, I did, it’s right over there.” Timothy’s gaze followed his towards the bicycle.
“Oh, you brought me a bike! Thank you, Santa!”
“Well, I’m glad it makes you happy. You take good care of it.”
“Oh, but it’s not for me.”
Santa looked confused. “What do you mean? I double-checked my list, I’m pretty sure it’s for you, Timothy.”
“Yes yes, I asked for it, but it’s not for me.”
Santa scratched his head. “But if it’s not for you, who’s it for then?”
“It’s for Lizzie, she lives in the apartment across the hall.”
“But, Timothy, why did you ask a bicycle for her?”
“Because usually, her mom drives her to school because there’s no bus service here. But the past few months, her mum couldn’t bring her because she’s a nurse at the hospital and she has to work a lot. So, Lizzie had to walk to school every day. It’s quite far and she often came in late. Not on purpose, Santa, she’s a nice girl! It’s just… far. So, I thought I could help her by asking you for a bike. That way, I can give it to her and she doesn’t have to walk all the way to school anymore.”
Santa’s heart overflowed with joy. He put his hand on Timothy’s shoulder: “You’re a very fine young man, Timothy. And since you gave your bike away, I would like to give you something else.” Santa reached down his pocket. He and Mrs. Claus always made some extra toys in case he came across a child who hadn’t had the chance to write him a letter. He rummaged about this bottomless pocket until he found what he was looking for. “Ah, there we are.” He grabbed the soft trunk and with one swing, pulled it out of his pocket.
“An elephant!” Timothy cheered.
“Sssst,” Santa put his fingers to his lips. “Mustn’t wake up mum and dad. Here you go, Timothy. Merry Christmas.”
Timothy took the elephant in his arms, alongside his giraffe. “Merry Christmas, Santa.”
Santa got back into his sleigh with a smile on his face. Christmas isn’t cancelled. As long as there were people like Timothy, Christmas would never be cancelled. Because it’s not about coming together in person, but about coming together in spirit. Even when we have to stay one-and-a-half metres apart. Santa took the reins in his hands and looked at the Pole Star. “You were right, my dear,” he said to the starry sky. “But I think we both know I’m never going to admit that.” And off he went, chasing the moon, making sure that – even this year – every child would wake up to a magical Christmas.