"The night before Christmas
I dedicate this story to F... ; a very special kid.
Santa was sitting, as he usually does at this time of the year checking , and making sure for the last time that everything was in order. He was sitting before an enormous fire place with his red and green laptop on his knees, scrolling through his data base, cross referencing, trying to catch and correct as many mistakes as he could afford to. Rudolph the old reindeer, Santa's faithful companion was fooling around hanging all sorts of colored ornaments and light bulbs on his horns.
- 'I have finished! , I give up, I can’t find anything wrong'. said Santa looking through his golden rimmed spectacles at Rudolph, who was in a great mess with all the wires tangled around him.
- You say that every darn year, then somehow we always end up breaking someone's heart. By the way , are you going to Iraq this year? .
Santa's face instantaneously turned red, even redder than his red jumper , for this was a provocative question Rudolph always rubbed into his face, to tease him every now and then.
- Why Iraq ?. You know how I feel about that country. You Rudolph out of all the creatures on earth know my feelings .
- Get over it already, that incident has become a joke long ago.
- Get over it already, that incident has become a joke long ago.
Santa put his laptop on the floor , gazed at the fireplace gloomily and started…
- It was 1985 …
- Oh, boy here we go again , that story is printed in my head. It is an old Iraqi joke, people have heard it so often , they don't even find it funny any more.
- 'I was trying to deliver presents in Al Bataween area' Digressed Santa . 'The war was still raging with Iran. Back then they had this thing called the "people’s army" . All young men from 18 to 40 were drafted , and as if that was not enough the people’s army used to catch older men from 45 to 70 and up, from the streets and cafés and transport them to the front after a stupid inefficient training course.They caught me accidentally, they dressed me in khaki, gave me a rifle and it was of to the north Santa!. I was posted on a mountain for 6 months , six months of shooting and bombing …
- I know it was harsh, but..
- I have not finished yet!.When they let us go "the ones who remained alive that is", cause most of the brigade died, not by enemy fires as you may think , No, many died from diabetes , high blood pressure, heart attacks, Alzheimer … we were all so old you see. When we were finally released . I bought a white Dishdasha to wear, in order to blend with the locals, and as I was wandering in the streets of Baghdad, the security force arrested me . I did not have an ID, so I just played mad, but that was no good for them. They tortured me for about three months for being a conspiring member in an Islamic group, because of my beard you see .
- 'I understand.' nodded Rudolph sympathetically.
- The security transferred me to the secret intelligence, the latter transferred me to the "I don’t know who or what ", at the end they put me in a terrifying mad house, from which I escaped and fled the country through the north, which I knew well by then. I came all the way back here. I arrived as you recall at the beginning of December, thank God, just in time for the next season. So, the answer to your question ; is no Rudolph, I am not going to Iraq this year ! .
- Come on, what about all those children .
- What children?, you know that is another reason for me not to go. After I was released and was trying to make my way back home the children of Baghdad gave me hell of a time. They used to run after me, whenever they caught sight of me, throwing stones at me and cheering, thinking I was a mad man. Which made me move exclusively after the fall of dark. They do not believe in me, they do not need me and that is that!.
- Why should they? You were never there for them, and besides; they seized to be children long ago', said Rudolph pensively .
- Don’t you think I know that?. After the first war came another war, then the embargo, then another war and now all this hullabaloo. Children had to hit the roads and work for survival and get killed paying for the stupidity of adults . I watch them through my magic glass ball selling gas and oil, polishing shoes, begging, being beaten up to half death by street creeps. I know ! .
- 'Where are you Mr. Charles Dickens!' sighed Rudolph .
- No one believes in me there, Papa Noel is dead!, as far as Iraqi kids are concerned .
- Please, let us just give one present to one child of our choice, be adventurous for God's sake.
Then Rudolph took Santa’s laptop and typed a few letters and said :
- 'I don’t recommend Basrah, cause Shia's Militias are ruling over there totally. They may kidnap you and ask for a ransom and since no one answers for you there, and most of the Christians have left town … no, it won't be a good idea at all . All the south is much theirs too . The west , let me see… nop , with your red coat you would be kidnapped and killed in a second, they won't even bother to film you . The north is ok , but it would not be much of a challenge …
Baghdad , Baghdad …hmmm' Rudolph kept scrolling up and down for 5 minutes , then he went over to Santa showing him something on the screen of the laptop.
- There you are , In Al Dora district, in the poor market place lives a little boy. He polishes shoes for a living. Age 7. He attended school for a couple of months last year, then dropped out after his father was killed. His Mom works in a local Kuba factory.
- Fine , why not , get ready , Santa approved finally .
At 10 o’clock PM, the 24th of December, Santa and his reindeers were flying over Baghdad. Rather lower than usual, so that the radars will not be able to detect them. Rudolph checked that out thoroughly .
The land beneath them was completely black; no lights, no decorations, no fire works no sign of Christmas at all. Every now and then they would hear bullets sounds and explosions . Rudolph gave instructions to the others to go a little lower, when they reached the local church. The church was closed; no chanting or bells could be heard, just a well locked mute building. The next second a deafening blast ripped the sky and faster than Santa and his reindeers could realize , they plunged down into a filthy water puddle . They lay there in the dark too shocked to move for a while . The first voice was uttered by Rudolph :
- Santa are you alive ? answer me .
- Arghhhh, ohhhhh, I am ok I think, were we hit ?
- I think so . I read that mortar missiles are in fashion now in Baghdad .
- Ah Rudi, I think the others were hurt.
They helped each other up. Santa got out his torch light and inspected the site , His sleigh was wrecked and the reindeers were lying dead .
- Oh Good Lord, it is a bloody reindeer massacre ! Now what are we going to do? .
- We'll have to Bury them , and get the hell out of here as quick as we can .
- 'Aren’t we going to take them back with us?' wept Santa, pointing to the deceased reindeers .
- 'No, When things normalize we can demand their remains, but now it is to risky for us .' said Rudolph sensibly .
They looked around, it was an empty muddy from rain piece of land. They grabbed a piece of metal from the sleigh's wreckage, and started to dig . Before they managed to dig one square foot, bullets came raining down on them, helicopters were flying above their heads, loud speakers were roaring with all sorts of curses and threats . They were surrounded by men in blue and camouflage .
- 'Rudolph, if this is going to be 1985 all over again, I personally will kill you and stuff you with raisons and nuts and eat you for my last Christmas dinner' , whispered Santa furiously .
- What the hell .. replied Rudolph with his front limps held up in sign of surrender , standing on his hinds .
They were pushed around and kicked everywhere. They could not distinguish much of what was being said , but one word kept recurring; Irhabi .
- What are they saying oh wise deer?, you are the polyglot here, aren't you ? said Santa wiping the blood of his nose.
- Emm,.. they think that we are burying 50 men we kidnapped earlier this morning in Baghdad. And I think they are going to kill us, after they beat the hell out of us of course.
- 'And a very Merry Christmas to you, you ridiculous moose.' Said Santa with his voice shacking .
- 'I am not a moose' grumbled Rudolph.
The men in blue took them away after talking to the men in camouflage .
They put them in some dingy sell . Shortly a man in uniforn came and whispered to them :
- Which group are you from guys, are you with ****** or ****** or ******?
- 'Ah , yes as you say exactly' they replied puzzled .
- Good I’ll get you out in no time, just wait.
He opened the sell door and pushed them in front of him till they reached the road
He shook their hands violently and said:
- Go, you heroes you ! . And don't forget to put a good word in for me to ***** , and be careful the guys at the end of the street are not ours, although the wear the same uniform , if they catch you it is the end .
- 'Now we really must get out of here' Said Santa .
- What about the boy? asked Rudolph
- What ? , how on earth are we going to get there?, and look at you! one of your horns is broken.
- We are in the same area , we just have to run a few blocks and then you can fly back on my back , and oh, your beard is burned .
They went off like crazy; limping, hopping, skipping and even crawling, when they had to avoid being seen .
They finally reached the broke poor area, where the boy lived. It was about twelve thirty Baghdad time. The whole lane was immersed in darkness. So was the house, except for one room, which was lit with a cheap kerosene lantern . Santa peeked from the window and saw a beautiful young woman praying alone. A statue of the virgin marry on a small table in front of her was illuminated by the orange light of a candle. The wooden table at one end of the room had dishes on it with remains of Kuba from the factory , bones of once a malnourished chicken, orange peels and candy paper . A small gaunt Christmas tree was standing at the center of the room with paper ornaments hanging helplessly from it's branches . Santa and Rudolph went to the other side of the house . They peeked from another window. There was a little boy sleeping with a small kerosene heater near his bed to keep him warm. Santa pushed the window open carefully, he and Rudolph managed to squeeze in . Santa lost his sack on the way of course , but he had a spider man toy stuffed in his pocket ,which he had grabbed the last minute before he left the north pole . Rudolph took off the cookie sack , which was hanging around his neck. They put the toy and the sack on the bed near the boy's feet. As they were sneaking out they nearly tripped on a box . Santa looked at it closely , it was the shoe polishing box . The boy must have cleaned it and left it there .
Santa and Rudolph watched the boy sleeping for a while from the window. His mother came in to turn off the heater and went out not noticing the presents on the bed .
- By the way Rudolph, what is the boy’s name? you never told me.
- 'Fadi' said Rudolph.
- Ah , a beautiful name it means "He who sacrifices himself for others ", it is another name of Jesus in Arabic isn’t it?
- Yes .
The mother actually saw them , she was standing paralyzed with fear, where they could not see her. She saw a reindeer with one horn, and a scruffy old man in a red shredded coat with a messy sooty beard, and white hair sticking out in all directions. She saw they did not harm her child . She watched them as they walked away not knowing what to make of all this. Next morning Fadi came screaming with joy into the front room. He kissed his Mom so hard she could hardly breathe, for getting him spider man, who was his hero .
- Mom I’ll go and polish a few shoes in the market, and I’ll come back as fast as I can, to play with him .
He polished shoes whistling, humming and singing for a few hours , and when his friend came with two cigarettes he nicked for them to smoke secretly, as they do everyday , Fadi refused. He just wanted to go home and play with his toy .
As for Santa and Rudolph, they decided to visit other kids in Baghdad next year. For they worked up an appetite for adventure .