Visitors to Rolbos are rare; but always a reason to flock to Boggel’s Place to find out what’s going on. Not that the townsfolk need any excuse to visit the establishment; but it does at least create the impression that they are there out of curiosity and not because they need a drink. So, when the ancient Kombi rattles to a stop in Voortrekker Weg, They all pat down whatever sparse hair remain, search for decent clothes and amble (very nonchalantly) down the main street. Seemingly surprised at the vehicle parked in front of Boggel’s, they trickle into the establishment in one’s and two’s.
“That is one neat Kombi you got there. I had one like that as well, many years ago. It’s a ’66 model, isn’t it?” Vetfaan orders a beer while he tries not to stare at the strange couple at the counter.
One may forgive Vetfaan for wanting to stare. The couple – an old lady and an even older man – are midgets. They are dressed like the hippies of a bygone era with matching green shirts; both have earrings and the woman sports a string of flowers around her neck.
“Oh yes,” she replies, “a wonderful vehicle. Much better than we are used to. It has a fridge, a small stove and ample sleeping space.”
“Sooo…you’re simply travelling from here to there, enjoying the scenery and the people along the way?” Gertruida can’t stand it any more – she has to know what they are about.
“Oh no!” The little lady seems horrified at the idea. “We’re updating data, you see. Like a census. It’s very important.”
“But the government had a census last year. Or did they botch that one up as well?”
The two dwarves exchange looks, as if contemplating something. It’s the man who answers. “No, not for the government. You can never trust them, and they ask the wrong questions, anyway. Too much politics, if you ask me. No, this is a … private … affair.”
“Well, you can tell us what data you want to update; we’ll be only too happy to help you out.”
“Well, let me start by introducing the two of us. I am Gryla and this is Leppaludi.” The little lady smiles benignly. “And you are…?”
“But that’s … Finnish? Or Norwegian? Or Russian?” Gertruida tries to place the names as something tugs at her memory.
“Indeed, my dear lady. On the border of Finland and Russia. We live near the Korvatonturi Mountains, where it is very cold and we have lots of snow. Nothing like you have here – that’s why we put an air-conditioner in the Kombi, as well.”
Gertruida introduces the strangers to the townsfolk while Boggel serves the beer. The two dwarves solemnly shake hands with all the customers, before the woman takes out a leather-bound book.
“We collect this information for a man called Joulupukki, a rather reclusive hermit that keeps track of population changes world-wide. He uses it for marketing, see? Although his products are common in most households, he prefers to remain anonymous.” Leppaludi watches his audience. They have no idea what he’s talking about.
“Is he into manufacturing?” Gertruida still isn’t sure about the two characters. She has to know more.
“Oh no, Joulupukki is an important man. People work for him, see? They do the manufacturing and stuff like that. He simply sees to the distribution. That’s why he needs this information?”
Gryla opens the big book, riffles through the pages, and takes out a pencil. “Now let’s see…this is Rolbos, right?” They all nod together. “Now…” she hesitates, “how many children live in this town?”
“None in town, but little Nelson stays on Kleinpiet’s farm, he’s only a baby..” Vetfaan, like the rest of them, is intrigued
“Kleinpiet, you say? Ah, here he is. O-n-e c-h-i-l-d. B-a-b-y N-e-l-s-o-n.” She spells out loud as she writes it down. “Good. Nobody else?”
“No, the rest are adults. Basically, that’s us.”
“Good.” Leppaludi seems satisfied. “One more question, then we’re through. Who amongst of you still believe in fables?”
The question catches them off guard. Fables? Like in political promises? Or stories of an economic recovery? Or that the government is trying to do something about corruption? Petrol price coming down? No, thank you, they stopped believing in fables a long time ago.
“That’s more or less what we hear everywhere in your country.” Leppaludi’s voice is heavy with disappointment as the woman closes the book. “Well that’s it. We still have a long way to go. Thank you and goodbye.”
As the Kombi rattles out of town, a stunned silence settles in Boggel’s Place.
“What. In. Heaven’s. Name. Was. That?” Boggel forces the words out, one at a time. Rolbos has never seen anything like that.
For once, even Gertruida is completely flummoxed. “There’s something about that mountain they mentioned. And that name: Joulupukki. It rings a bell somewhere.” She stares at her beer for a long time before shaking her head. “No, I’ll have to go and look it up. Wait for me, I’ll be back.”
The group is still discussing the two dwarves when she returns an hour later. When she tells them about Joulupukki who lives in a secret village in the Korvatonturi Mountains, they collapse in helpless laughter. They never though Gertruida could lie so glibly. But when she started naming the inhabitants of the village, they fall silent.
“You mean to tell us Gryla and Leppaludi are …?” The idea is so preposterous that Precilla can’t finish the sentence.“…And that’s why they wanted to know about children. And about fables?”
Gertruida can only nod.
On the dusty road to Grootdrink, Gryla wipes the sweat from her brow.
“It sure is hot in this country! We’ll be glad to be back in our village, won’t we?”
“Yes dear.” Leppaludi smiles in anticipation. “We only have Grootdrink to do, then we can return. Joulupukki will be disappointed at the adults in this country. Nobody believes in fables anymore. Well, at least we’ve updated the Christmas Present List for Children – we don’t want to miss out anybody, do we?”
“Yes, Joulupukki will be happy with that.” Gryla is silent for a while. “I wonder why they call him Father Christmas over here? Nobody seems to know his real name any more.”
“Oh, you know how it is, Gryla. People have become too civilised. Reality killed imagination, and now they want an explanation for everything. It’s not our fault if they stopped believing; and remember … people only get the Christmas they deserve.”