A Christmas Carol #3

A-christmas-carol

Stave III

The Ghost of Christmas Present

Once again, Scrooge woke up mid-slumber, groggy and disoriented. He felt that he woke up at just the right time, although while asleep, it was impossible for him to know that it was nearly one ‘o clock.

With all that he’d been through, Scrooge was definitely prepared for anything and everything, be it an alien invasion or the reversal of the magnetic poles of the Earth.

But Scrooge was definitely not prepared for nothing.

As the clock struck one and nothing appeared, he started quaking violently. Time passed, and nothing arrived. After a while, Scrooge became aware of a ruddy light which streamed upon the bed at the given hour. It terrified him, because he did not know what it meant, but slowly his brain began to defrost.

As it often happens, when one is in a situation, their minds cease to think rationally for a bit, but then they start to work again, and that’s what happened with Ebenezer Scrooge.

He began to think, and concluded that the source of the light must be in the other room. So he opened the door and walked there. And a voice beckoned to him.

It led him into what was unmistakably his own room, but it had been revamped.

The room was green, with wallpaper that depicted berries. The leaves of holly, mistletoe and ivy were hung about everywhere; they were bedazzling, reflecting light all across the room.

On the floor was every kind of Christmassy food you can possibly imagine; meat, turkey, poultry,  sausages, mince-pies, plum cakes and plum puddings, immense cakes, fruits, nuts, and what not. They made a throne of sorts, atop which sat a massive figure, bearing a torch identical in shape to a cornucopia.

“Come in, man!” the ghost exclaimed as its eyes fell on scrooge. “Come on in.”

Scrooge entered quietly, eyeing the ground. He was no longer the obstinate man we knew. The visit to the Past had changed him.

“I am the Ghost of the Christmas Present,” the spirit declared. “Dude look at me. It’s not nice talking to someone who doesn’t meet my eyes.”

And indeed, though the spirit’s eyes were clear and kind, Scrooge was afraid to meet them.

He looked up with veneration, and took in the sight of a man clad in nothing but a long green trench coat, worn unbuttoned. He wore no socks or shoes or shirt or pants. Round its waist was an empty gun holster but and as an exceptional peculiarity, an ancient rusted shield. It wore a holly wreath atop its dark, flowing curls, embedded with icicles for clips. He was cheery and friendly and spread a joyful air.

Scrooge looked at him, amazed and amused.

“You have never seen the likes of me before!” the spirit exclaimed.

“Never,” Scrooge agreed.

“You haven’t ever met any of my eighteen hundred elder brothers either,” he stated. “They’re not old, but young and I am very young.”

“I’m sorry, spirit, but I haven’t,” said Scrooge. Hesitantly, he added, for he did not want to offend the spirit, “Sir, I mean no offense, but…what are you doing with a gun holster?” He bit back a chuckle. “Shouldn’t there be a sword or something, considering that even the youngest of the young spirits were born in times older than these?”

The spirit scowled for the first time. “Pfft. As times change, spirits do too. For your sake, I’ll change to a scabbard.”

And he did.

“Satisfied?” he asked.

“I’m so sorry, I meant no offense,” said Scrooge sincerely. “I was merely curious.”

Abruptly, all traces of anger vanished from the spirit’s face. “Ah, it’s alright. Don’t worry, man. I guess it is rather funny,” he said, and he began to laugh.

Oh, what laughter it was! The very epitome of merry. The sound came from the depths of his belly, uproarious laughter, contagious and hearty. It even caused Scrooge to smile in his depressed state.

“Spirit, take me where you will. Last night I learnt some lessons, and now I want to learn what you have to teach me.” The statement was uncharacteristic of Scrooge, but he said it.

“Hang on to my coat,” was the spirit’s simple reply.

As he did so, everything disappeared, only to be replaced by the streets of the city on Christmas morning.

The weather was severe, harsh and cold, but the people could not be more contrasting. They were jubilant and jolly as the cleared away the snow, making music not unpleasant to hear.

The houses seemed black, contrasting with the sparkling white snow. Cars moved down the road. The sky was gloomy, and there was a horrible choking mist hanging in the air. There was nothing merry about the climate or the town, and yet the people were merry as could be.

For as they cleared their driveways they indulged in the occasional good-natured snowball fights. The poultry shops were open, as were the fruit shops, boasting mouth-watering displays of the juiciest pears and apples and oranges you ever saw. The grocers’ had the whitest almonds you ever saw, and the best smelling chocolate and the longest cinnamon sticks…I could go on and on, but my stomach begs me to stop.

Of course, with shops laden with such delicious goods, enthused customers scuttled here and there and everywhere, absent-minded of their purchases sometimes, but honest shopkeepers with twinkling eyes made sure they called them back to pick their goods.

But soon, they went off to church with their best clothes and smiles on, ready to devote some time to religion and Christ. As they passed by, there were poor people who milled about on the streets, and the spirit paid most attention to them. He would sprinkle a bit of water on them, and their moods would lift up, and quarrels of any sorts would stop, for Christmas is too nice a day to fight.

Now, as the duo travelled into the suburbs of the town, Scrooge pondered upon how remarkable it was that the giant spirit, despite being elephantine in size, could fit under the lowest of roofs with as much grace and ease as if it were the highest of ceilings.

And perhaps it was his affinity for the poor or his desire to show-off his powers, but Scrooge found himself led to Bob Cratchit’s home.

Bob Cratchit, known to us as Scrooge’s clerk.

He had a job, but the spirit still blessed him, for he was a good man, and he suffered through his poverty, but he did not let it affect him. Then, up rose Mrs. Cratchit, dressed in a second-hand dress – her best clothes – and she laid the table along with the second of her daughters, Belinda, also dressed similarly.

Peter Cratchit and two of the other younger Cratchits played about and exalted their elder brother to the skies, complimenting him on how dashing he looked in his hand-me-down of a linen shirt.

“Where is your dad?” Mrs. Cratchit wondered out loud. “And your brother, Tiny Tim. And Martha! It isn’t like Martha to get so late.”

And at last Martha came down. No doubt, she was smothered with hugs and kisses, and then told to hide, for Bob and Tiny Tim were on their way. On first disappointing and subsequently surprising Mr. Cratchit (for he believed his daughter had not come home on Christmas day), the family was complete, and they traded stories.

Bob told them about how Tiny Tim behaved in the politest of manners, and how, when he was all quiet he became the most thoughtful of creatures. He gave the example of when, while coming home, their child told him that people probably looked at him in Church for he was a cripple, and it might be pleasant for them to remember upon Christmas Day, who made lame beggars walk, and blind men see.

His voice quivered as he said this, and became more tremulous when he said that Tim was growing strong and hearty. The sound of a crutch pounding upon the floor was heard, and in came Tim, escorted by his brother and sister to his stool right besides the tiny oil radiator. While Mr. Cratchit created a hot mixture of gin and lemon and put it on the stove, there was hustle bustle in the house. Everyone contributed to cooking a goose, which was treated, in that house, as the rarest of rare treasures.

Then the goose was cooked, and they all ate it, marvelling at the flavour, the size and the cheapness. Eked out by apple sauce and mashed potatoes, it was a sufficient dinner for the whole family (though you and I would be shocked at the tiny size of the portions), and  a delicious one at that.

And then, in came the pudding! Mrs. Cratchit had a hundred thousand things to be nervous about, for she worried about her pudding, but her husband assured her that it was the greatest success achieved by her ever since their marriage.

Finally, the meal was over and the room tidied up. The family sat around in half a circle, each holding a mug of the hot stuff Bob had prepared earlier on.

“A merry Christmas to us all! God bless us,” he proposed, and everyone echoed the same.

“God bless each and every one of us,” said Tiny Tim, last of all.

I wonder if you’ve noticed how close together father and son sat. From Bob’s demeanour and the way he held his child’s withered little hand in his own, I’ve come to believe that Bob was afraid to lose his son.

It seems Scrooge agrees with me. “Spirit,” said he, with an interest in someone else’s life that he had never felt. “Will Tiny Tim live?”

“Man,” the spirit sighed sadly. “I see an empty seat where the child sits, and a crutch without an owned. If the shadow remains unaltered in the future, the child will die.”

“Oh, God no,” Scrooge whispered. Surprisingly, he was saddened by the thought.

“But that is the truth. And what do you care? If he be like to die, he had better do it, and decrease the surplus population,” said the ghost sardonically, quoting Scrooge’s own words, the very words he had said to the two men who visited him, asking him to support the poor.

Scrooge hung his head in shame and grief to hear those nasty words which he himself had previously uttered. And the ghost’s reprimand added to the shame; after all, who was he to decided who should live and who should die? For all he knew, God thought his life worthless as compared to that of many other children such as Tiny Tim.

The man bent lower, but his head snapped up when he heard his name.

“Mr Scrooge,” said Bob. “I’ll give you Mr. Scrooge, the Founder of the Feast!”

Despite how stingy his employer was, Bob forced himself and his family to feel gratitude for the man; after all, whatever money they had, they had because of him.

But his sentiments were not shared by all.

“The Founder of the Feast indeed,” cried his wife, turning crimson with anger. “If I had him here, I’d give him a piece of my mind to feast upon.”

“Sweetheart, the children. Christmas day.” That was Bob’s mild reply.

“Only on Christmas Day, I am sure,” said she, could one drink to the health of such an odious, stingy, hard, unfeeling man as Mr Scrooge. You know he is, Robert. Nobody knows it better than you do, poor fellow.”

“The children. Christmas day.”

“I’ll drink to his health for your sake, and the Day’s. Not his. Long life to him. A merry Christmas, and a happy new year. He’ll be very merry and very happy, no doubt,” she scoffed.

The children drank the toast after her. For the first time, their proceedings had no heartiness. His name cast a dark shadow on the party, and it took awhile for it to pass.

But when it did, there was more merriment all around. They sang songs and talked more, and were just cheerful.

There was nothing highbrow about the family. They were poor, they were not good looking, they didn’t have much.

But whatever they had, they made do with. And most of all, they understood the importance of having each other. They were happy, they were grateful and they were close.

Finally, it was time for the spirit and Scrooge to leave. As they parted, the latter’s eyes just lingered upon Tim.

After this encounter, the spirit showed his companion many more sights. He saw Christmas for travellers who were alone, Christmas for miners, and Christmas at sea. They all were happy, even if they were alone or away from their families, for the Christmas spirit is contagious, and only the hardest of hearts can resist it.

At sea. It struck Scrooge how dreary it would be to be in the middle of nothingness, not knowing whether you’d live or die on a voyage. So, it came as a strange surprise to him when he heard hearty laughter coming from a ship.

It was even stranger to recognize it to be the laughter of his own nephew. It was a laugh that rivalled even the giant spirit’s, and I doubt there are very many people who could laugh harder.

The laughter was so contagious that Scrooge’s niece by marriage – his nephew’s wife – laughed along with him, as did all the others at the gathering.

“He said that Christmas was a bitch,” cried Scrooge’s nephew. “And he believed it too!”

“Shame on him, Fred,” said Scrooge’s niece indignantly. She was a pretty little creature. A very pretty one.

“He’s a really funny dude via his actions,” said Fred, “even though he isn’t pleasant. However, his offences carry their own punishments, and I have nothing against him.”

“He’s damn rich, isn’t he?” his wife hinted.

“That’s useless for him. He does nothing with it, for himself or for anyone else,” the nephew said, laughing.

“I have no patience with him,” said the niece strongly. All her sisters agreed.

“Oh, I have,” her husband replied. “I feel sorry for him. I can’t get mad at him even if I try. He suffers from his own ill whims, and he takes it into his head to dislike us, and he won’t come dine with us. Anyway, who cares?”

There was a round of agreement, and then Fred noticed something.

“Hey, Topper!” he called out.

Topper was clearly eyeing one of Scrooge’s niece’s sisters, for his reaction was to look around suddenly with a guilty expression. Everyone laughed and the plump sister – the object of his affections – blushed.

“I was going to say,” said Scrooge’s nephew, “that the consequence of him taking a dislike to us is that he loses a few pleasant moments which would do no harm to him. I’m sure he couldn’t find pleasanter companions in his head or office. I’m going to go up to him and invite him every year, whether he likes it or not, for I feel sorry for him. Maybe, if I go, year after year, he might just change just a bit. Maybe I’ll put him in the vein to give his poor clerk a few pounds, and that would be more than enough. I think I shook him yesterday.”

At the mention of Scrooge being shaken, there was laughter all around. The good-natured nephew didn’t mind, for he wanted his companions to just have an excuse to laugh.

After tea, there was music, and it was all very delightful. They played tunes familiar to the child who fetched young Scrooge from boarding school – Fred’s mother – and the melody haunted Scrooge. With all that ghosts had shown him, he had softened more and more, and realized that had he listened to this melody more often before, he might have been a kind and happy man.

But music didn’t dominate the entire evening; after that they played childish games (for it is good to be a child sometimes) and thoroughly enjoyed forfeits and blind man’s buff, during which Topper deliberately kept catching the plump sister of Scrooge’s niece, and finally alone with her, had a good time being ever so confidential with her behind the curtains.

They played other games where Fred’s wife excelled, making him glad, for these games required a sharp mind, and his wife was proven the sharpest of them all. And Scrooge played along, shouting answers which were often right, forgetting that nobody could see him or hear him.

The ghost was gladdened to see him in such a mood, but they had to leave.

“Oh, please no!” Scrooge begged, just like a little boy. “They’ve started a new game. Just half an hour more.”

They were playing twenty questions now, and it was everyone’s turn to guess what Scrooge’s nephew was thinking. Their questions had told him that he was thinking of an animal, a live animal, a rather disagreeable animal, a savage animal, an animal that growled and grunted sometimes, talked sometimes, lived in London, walked about the streets, wasn’t made a show of, wasn’t led by anybody, didn’t live in a menagerie, was never killed in a market, and was not a horse, or a donkey, or a cow, or a bull, or a tiger, or a dog, or a pig, or a cat, or a bear.

It was so hard to guess that they went beyond their limit of twenty ‘yes’ or ‘no’ questions, and every new question sent the nephew into a roar of laughter.

I wonder if you’ve guessed, for I have.

And so has the plump sister Topper had his eyes on. “Oh, I know! It’s your Uncle Scrooge!”

Of course, she was right. Everyone laughed for a long time, till Fred said, “He has given us plenty of reasons to laugh, and it would be ungrateful to not drink to his health. So let us toast to him. Uncle Scrooge!”

As he cried that, he downed his glass of mulled wine, and everyone followed suit.

“A Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year to him, wherever he is,” said Scrooge’s nephew. “Let him get what he needs, even if he doesn’t want it.”

Uncle Scrooge had become so unlike himself during the whole dinner that he would have thanked them and wished them the same had he been audible and had the ghost let him, but as Fred uttered his last word, the spirit whisked him away and they completed their travels.

Wherever they went, there was happiness. The sick, the poor, the struggling…all of them had the Christmas cheer. Even in places which were the centres of misery such as jails and almshouses, there was a sense of it being Christmastime. The spirit blessed all these places and taught Scrooge his perception.

It was a long night, but it didn’t feel like one, because so much had happened. It was strange too, that while Scrooge’s physical form had not aged, the spirit was much older. Even his hair had greyed. Scrooge had noticed, but not said anything till they left a children’s party.

“Are spirit’s lives so short?” he asked.

“Mine ends tonight,” was the brief reply.

“Tonight!”

“Tonight at midnight. The time comes nearer.”

There were minutes to midnight. Only fifteen.

Suddenly, Scrooge noticed something under the trench coat. “I mean no offense, but is that a foot or a claw under your coat? It doesn’t belong to you.”

“It might as well be a claw for how skinny the foot is,” said the spirit sorrowfully. “Look.”

From his coat, he brought out two children, a little boy and girl. They were abject, horrifying, ugly and miserable. They knelt at the feet of the spirit and yanked at its coat.

Their limbs were shrivelled, and they had a sense of evil about them.

“Are they your children?!” asked Scrooge, horrified.

“They are man’s. The girl is Want. The boy is Ignorance. Beware them both, especially the boy, for he has Doom written on his forehead. Deny it. Deny Want. Dispel Ignorance. Save yourselves!”

“But these children! Have they no refuge or resource?” cried Scrooge.

Once again, the spirit quoted Scrooge’s own words. The bitter words uttered through a bitter mouth, when two men approached him and asked for his help for the needy.

“Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?”

And then it was twelve o’ clock.

The spirit disappeared. He suddenly remembered the prediction of the Ghost of Jacob Marley, and looked about for the final spirit.

And there it was, a solemn phantom, draped and hooded, almost like a Dementor out of Harry Potter, coming, like mist along the ground, towards him.

Sanya Sharma

Image Source [http://media-cache0.pinterest.com/upload/92957179778248171_QnisB9PD_c.jpg]