A Christmas Carol #2

A-christmas-carol

Stave II

Ghost of the Christmas Past

Scrooge woke up at midnight to complete blackness. He was disoriented at first; but a quick glance at the clock told him the time. Initially he thought his clock was malfunctioning. But when he checked his phone, it agreed with the clock.

It wasn’t an eclipse, and Apophis hadn’t swallowed the sun either; it really was midnight.

Scrooge had been so tired after the ordeal with Marley’s ghost,  that he’d crashed almost immediately and woken up several hours later.

He sat in bed and thought. And thought. And thought and thought and thought, but he could not make head or tail of the encounter. And as it happens with thoughts we want to avoid, the more we try to ignore them, the more we think about them.

He was trying to decide whether the meeting had been reality or a dream, and it suddenly struck him that the ghost had warned him that he’d meet another spirit at one o’clock.

Well, he decided he might as well stay awake till the hour arrived, for he had nothing better to do anyway. There was no way he could fall asleep.

Fifteen long minutes stretched on forever. They had never seemed longer. A quarter past. Then a half hour. Then there was a quarter to. And then, the hour itself.

But nothing doing.

Actually, it would be not very accurate to say that it was the hour itself. There was still a minute left, and Scrooge’s triumph was immediately cut off when a spirit materialised before him.

The ghost was a very peculiar little creature. He was like an old man, but with the body proportioned as a child’s. His hair was long and white, but his skin was smooth and not wrinkled. His arms and legs were long and well-muscled. All in all, it was a very disproportionate figure.

He wore a pure, dazzling white suit and it held a branch of fresh, green holly in its hand. The one thing that contradicted his obviously wintry experience was his flower-patterned Hawaiian shirt, which in no way, shape or form complimented his white suit.

It would be fitting to call him “torch man”, for his forehead gave rise to a jet of light which illuminated the room. He had a hat tucked under his arm, probably meant to act as an extinguisher.

Yet, this was not the strangest thing about it. As his belt sparkled and glowed in one part, and then in another, one thing became light for an instant, and then it became dark. With this effect, the ghost kept blending into the darkness, so sometimes it had only one arm, or no head, then no torso or legs, and so on and so forth. And amidst this, it would become itself as well.

“Who are you?” Scrooge demanded.

“I am the Ghost of Christmas Past,” the spirit replied.

“Long past?”

“Your past.”

“My past?”

Your past.”

The ghost had a soft and distant voice. He seemed gentle, but Scrooge had this strange and inexplicable urge to see the ghost with his light extinguished, and he made his thoughts vocal.

“What?!” exclaimed the ghost indignantly. “Why would you want me to stop giving out light? Isn’t it bad enough that your passion is a contributing factor which makes me wear this hat low upon my forehead as I take people through years and years of their lives?”

Scrooge apologised profusely and inquired what business brought the ghost there.

“Your welfare.”

“Thank you, thank you.” But wouldn’t I have been better off if I could just have a peaceful night’s sleep?

As if he heard his thoughts, the ghost said, “Come. Let’s not waste time. Your reclamation.”

He clasped him gently by the arm.

“Follow me.”

Though he grumbled inwardly about leaving his cosy bed, he followed. The ghost’s touch was gentle, but firm. As they approached the window, Scrooge reminded the ghost that he was mortal and he’d die if he fell from the window. In response, the ghost touched Scrooge’s heart and they sailed through the walls, the two of them.

And the city vanished. They stood in the countryside, where there was snow upon the ground. It was a clear, cold winter day.

“Hey! I grew up here!” Scrooge exclaimed.

The spirit looked at him mildly. “Your lip is trembling, and there’s something on your cheek,” he pointed out.

“Just a pimple,” Scrooge said gruffly. “Happen all the time. You know zits. Come on, take me where you want.”

“You remember the way?”

“Do I remember the way? Hello! I grew up here. I could walk it with my eyes closed.”

“It’s strange then, that you forgot it all these years,” the ghost observed. “Let’s go.”

They walked down that road, and Scrooge recognized every fence, every tree, every house from his boyhood days. A little market-town appeared in the distance, complete with its church and bridge and winding river. Boys cycled around in fields, shouting to each other merrily. The atmosphere was vibrant.

“These are shadows of the past, of things that have been. They can’t sense us,” the ghost told Scrooge.

Travellers travelled here and there, and it filled Scrooge with joy to see them, even when they wished each other a merry Christmas. Ironically, what was merry Christmas to Scrooge? What did it matter to him?

“The school isn’t empty yet,” the spirit told Scrooge. “There’s a lonely kid there. He’s been isolated by his friends.”

“I know it.”

And he began to sob. As they entered the school and the gloomy room his past self was reading in, he cried with pity for himself as a child. There was no sound, except for that of Scrooge’s tears. And then abruptly he got lost in exclaiming his opinions on the stories he used to listen to as a child, of geniies and lamps and princes and princesses…his face was aglow with excitement and his voice was somewhere between crying and laughing. His current demeanor would definitely come as a surprise to those who new Ebenezer Scrooge as the avaricious pig he’d become.

Abruptly, he lost control again and burst into tears. These sudden mood swings were very unlike his regular self. To see himself lonely like that and to remember his empty childhood made him regret his gestures.

“What?” the spirit asked.

“Nothing.”

“Tell me.”

“It’s just…” he hesitated. “It’s too late now, but I turned away this boy who was singing carols at my doorstep. I just wish I could give him something.”

The ghost smiled. He was thoughtful. “Let’s go visit another Christmas.”

Ebenezer Scrooge nodded. He did not know how it happened, but he knew that everything he saw was accurate. There was he, as a little boy, forgotten, all alone, when all the other boys had gone home for the holidays, and only he remained.

At the spirit’s words, he saw himself grow larger. The room changed; it became dustier and darker. It was a room where plaster fell out and the windows needed maintenance.

For the sake of convenience, we will call the Scrooge reflected in the spirit’s images ‘shadow Scrooge’, and our very own grown man Scrooge simply Scrooge. Shadow Scrooge paced about in the room as he often did when he was stressed.

Scrooge turned to the ghost mournfully. He knew what he was revisiting. He turned to the door anxiously, and in bounded a little girl.

She hugged him and kissed him and called him her brother.

“Let’s go home, brother,” she said, clapping her tiny little hands joyously.

“Home, little Fan,” shadow Scrooge echoed, smiling.

“Home, home, home,” she said, jubilantly. “Home at last. Forever and ever and ever. Father’s much kinder now; he let you come home. And we’ll have a great time! A fine Christmas!”

“Well, well, you’re quite the woman, Fan,” her brother exclaimed.

“Fan” clapped and laughed, and as is characteristic of little children, she dragged him impatiently to the door. He followed.

While his stuff was loaded into the boot of the taxi, he and his sister had some cake in front of shadow Scrooge’s condescending headmaster’s eyes. After that, they were off. Off to home. “Forever and ever and ever.”

The spirit smiled. “Always a delicate creature, who might’ve died young. But she had a large heart.”

“That she did. Oh, no. I don’t want to hear it!” Scrooge exclaimed.

“She died a woman, and had children, I believe.”

“One child.”

“Your nephew.”

Hesitation. “Yes.”

Although they had just left the school, they now entered a city. It could be easily identified by the hustle bustle of cars and the purpose which the pedestrians there walked with. They stopped at a warehouse.

“Do you know this warehouse?” the Ghost of Christmas Past asked.

“Know it?” Scrooge scoffed. “My first job was here.”

As they entered, they saw an old man in a Welsh wig.

“Fezziwig!” Scrooge cried in excitement. “Alive and kicking!”

Old Fezziwig put his pen down and glanced at the time: 7 o’ clock. He adjusted his enormous jacket and called out, “Yo, Ebenezer! Dick!”

Shadow Scrooge entered, now a grown man, accompanied by the man Scrooge was talking about.

“Dick Wilkinson!” Scrooge said fondly. “So attached to me, he was,” he grinned.

“Yo, boys. No more work tonight. It’s Christmas eve. Let’s have the doors all locked faster than I-”

You wouldn’t believe it, but before his sentence was complete, all the doors were well and truly locked. And with the same energy and note of challenge to his voice, he asked his boys to clean up the room and make space. Efficiently and speedily, the task was complete. The room was turned into a warm, cosy and comfortable place, spotless and sparkling clean, perfect for a ballroom on a winter night.

Music began to play, and Mrs. Fezziwig came in, as did her three Ms. Fezziwigs and the boys who acted like lovesick puppies about them. All the employees came in, as did the housemaid, the milkman, the cook, the baker, and stray boys and girls on the street who were treated cruelly, or had nowhere to go. Some were shy and some were bold, some felt awkward while others were comfortable, and then the dancing began. Couples danced and groups danced, boys and girls whisked each other about, swirling and twirling and spinning around.

There was cake, and there was Jack Daniels and Absolut and Budweiser and there were lavish pizzas and pastas and pies. The food was great, as was the atmosphere, and it was a party where the rich and poor, both were treated as equals, and they both enjoyed.

Mr. and Mrs. Fezziwig were quite the hosts, and they let everyone have a great time. When the party broke up at eleven, they bade warm goodbyes to everyone at the doors, wishing them a Merry Christmas. When everyone had left, the wished their two apprentices the same, and then the boys retired to bed.

All the while, Scrooge had been totally into the party, reliving his past. He relished every moment with his heart and soul, but he also felt a strange sort of perturbation. Only when shadow Scrooge and Dick turned away from them did he realize he was with the ghost.

“It’s a small matter to make all those silly fools full of gratitude,” the ghost said matter-of-factly, but it stung like needles for Scrooge.

“Small,” he echoed.

They listened to Ebenezer and Dick’s praise for their employer.

“Why are they so thrilled? Does he seriously deserve all this praise just because he spent a little money on them?” the ghost pretend to scoff.

Scrooge flared up. For a moment, he sounded like the man he used to be. “It’s not about that! It’s more about how he could make us happy or sad, glad or miserable. He has the power to make our work a pleasure or pain. It’s his actions and gestures that give us happiness, and that happiness is worth a fortune.”

Consider the irony of these words. It makes me laugh.

Scrooge stopped as he felt the spirit’s glance.

“What’s the matter?”

“Nothing.”

“There’s something.”

“Nothing. I just wish I could say a few nice words to my clerk.”

The ghost noticed a change in the atmosphere. “My time grows short. Quick!”

And then there was another shadow Scrooge. He was older, a man now. But his childhood carelessness was gone. You could see the hunger and greed on his face, in his eyes. Success. Power. Money.

The all-consuming goals.

And next to him sat a beautiful girl in a mourning dress, her eyes sparkling with tears.

“You don’t care. It doesn’t matter to you. You’ve replaced me. But if it can bring you contentment and happiness as I would’ve tried to, then I guess I have no justified reason to grieve,” she said.

“What have I replaced you with?” he questioned.

“Oh, I don’t know,” she said, voice bitingly sarcastic. “Maybe green bits of paper?”

“That’s how the world runs, babe. It’s not as hard on anyone as it is on the poor.”

“You fear the world too much,” said she gently. “All your other hopes have merged into the hope of being successful and respectable. All your nobler aspirations have given away to the greed of profit.”

“So what?” he retorted. “I grew smarter. But I haven’t changed towards you.”

She simply shook her head.

“Am I?” shadow Scrooge asked.

“Our relationship is an old one. When we got into it, we were both poor, but content. We decided to slowly and steadily earn money, but it wasn’t our ultimate goal. You’re a different guy now.”

“I was a boy.”

And so on the lovers bickered, for Ebenezer’s monetary aspirations got in way of their relationship. Ultimately, they broke up.

But it was torture for Scrooge, because somewhere inside, he still loved her.

“Spirit! Show me no more. Just take me home. Quit torturing me.”

“One more! Just one more shadow,” the spirit argued.

“No more. Please. I don’t want to watch anymore.”

But the ghost pinned his arms behind him and forced him to witness the scene in front of him.

It was a comfortable room, not too luxurious or large, but homely. And there she sat.

Rather, she was the splitting image of her. Because she, Ebenezer’s ex-girlfriend, sat opposite her daughter. Married now. A mother. The room was noisy, the shrieks and laughter of children larking about and running and playing filling every nook and corner.

And then the doorbell rang and the father came home, laden with Christmas presents and toys.

That could’ve been Scrooge. That should’ve been Scrooge.

The children climbed on him and jumped about, each trying to grab his attention. He listened to the stories, laughing along, till he walked over to his wife and daughter.

And Scrooge stared on in jealousy.

That should be me.

“Belle,” said the father. “I saw one of your old friends today.”

“Who was it?”

“Guess.”

“How can I not know?” she said sarcastically, laughing. “Mr. Scrooge.”

“Mr. Scrooge,” he agreed, laughing along. “I passed his office window; and as it was not shut up, and he had a light inside, I could scarcely help seeing him. His partner lies upon the point of death, I hear; and there he sat alone. Quite alone in the world, I do believe.”

“Just stop it!” Scrooge said brokenly. “I can’t bear it anymore.”

“I told you, these are shadows of things past. Don’t blame me,” the ghost chided.

“Remove me!” he yelled. “I can’t stand it.”

Strangely enough, the ghost’s face seemed to be a blend of all the faces he’d been shown. In the spur of the moment, Scrooge made the connection between the bright light and the influence of the spirit over him, so he threw the extinguisher hat on his head and pressed down with all his might.

The lights didn’t go away; they flowed out from beneath, spreading around in all directions. But he landed up in his bedroom. He was conscious of being exhausted and drowsy. He gave the cap a last squeeze, dragged himself into bed and instantaneously slept like a dead man.

Sanya Sharma

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