by Joshua Perrett
I was just leaving the cafe, searching for the last of my candy cane coffee with a straw, when the Mall Manager phoned me.
“Hello, Damien speaking,” I said.
“Damien,” the Mall Manager replied. “We’ve been receiving complaints about the Santa Claus in the grotto. Apparently the children are unhappy with the gifts he’s handing out and he’s being aggressive towards the parents. Would you mind going over to take a look?”
“Absolutely. I’ll head over now.”
I was greeted by a disgruntled parent, face red as a robin redbreast, teary daughter by her side.
“How has this happened?” she said.
“How has what happened?” I replied.
“This,” she said, shoving a black plastic box into my hands.
I studied the box. It was heavy for something no bigger than a Christmas pudding and there was a faint ticking noise coming from inside.
“What is it?” I asked.
“I have no idea – we can’t get it open. Poor Sarah’s upset and so are the kids over there.”
Another parent spotted me and came over. “Who is that man?” he said. “He’s not Santa.”
“Well obviously,” I said, “Santa’s not real.”
Sarah’s tears turned into a blizzard of anguish. Her mum shook her head at me before trying to console her.
“I mean he’s not the Santa from the poster,” the father continued. “He looks nothing like him.”
I unpinned the poster beside us and took it with me to the grotto. The father was right, the mall Santa hadn’t a snowy beard but one of sleety grey, his red robes were white rags and his brandy warm smile had frozen over.
“Excuse me,” I said to him as a child left his lap. “I can’t help but notice that you look a little different to the Santa on this poster.”
“Listen, buddy,” he said. “It’s been a difficult few years for me. Work’s been hard to come by since his death.”
“Since whose death?”
“Bin Laden,” he replied. “Since he was killed, everyone’s forgotten about him. There’s no demand for Osama impersonators anymore.”
“Well couldn’t you have at least bought a new outfit now you’re a mall Santa?”
“Like I said, work’s been hard to come by, so I’m reusing all that I can.” He sighed, “I’ve barely got enough money for rent. I’ve been living in a cave for a while now.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” I said, forgiveness in my voice. “I’ll let you stay if you have a permit. I’ve got to do the routine security checks and all that.”
“I don’t have one.”
“Then I’m afraid you’ll have to leave.”
“But I need the money. My kids want presents too, you know?”
“Let’s hope they get something better than this,” a parent said, black plastic box in hand. “You should be ashamed of yourself.”
“Yeah, get him out of here,” another added.
“I have no choice, sir,” I said. “If you don’t leave, I’ll have to phone the police.”
“Fine. I’ll leave. My work here is done anyway.”
I escorted Osama Bin Santa out of the mall. As we reached the car park outside, I gave him the routine cautioning.
“If I see you inside again today, I’ll be forced to phone the police immediately. Next time you’ll need a permit, okay?”
“I won’t be returning,” he said. “The kids have got their gifts.”
And with that, the mall exploded.
“I reused the bombs from my Osama days.”