The warden mouths the words on the front page of The Upington Post, sips his coffe and glances over to the single cell behind the little office.
“You’re famous,” he tells the two dwarves behind the bars. “It says here you are delusional and most probably paedophiles.” He laughs out loud. “Picking your own size, hey?”
It’s been over the radio, and even the Cape Argus ran an article of the two who claim to be elves:
“Ja, the two of you are in big trouble. So far no lawyer is prepared to take your case, and I hear they’re considering sending you for psychiatric evaluation.”
Friday nights are boring if you have to sit and watch two midgets in a cell. Kerneels Kotze doesn’t read books, can’t concentrate long enough to play Patience, and the little transistor radio’s batteries are flat. With nothing else to do, he’s passing the time by taunting the two dwarves, who seem to be quite miserable.
“Look,” the woman who calls herself Gryla wipes away a tear, “we have to get back to Finland. It’s important. If we don’t, the children in that book won’t get presents. Can’t you let us out? Please?” Despite the soothing sounds her husband makes, she starts crying openly.
Kerneels, of course, finds this hugely amusing. “Look here – I may not be the sharpest pencil in the box and Captain says my wheel is still turning but my hamster died a long time ago – but you can’t expect me to believe that story. I’m a bit dof, but I’m not stupid. Father Christmas is a fake. A fraud. There is no such person. So why don’t you just shut up – I haven’t read the sports page yet.”
“You’re not nice.” Leppaludi is angry now. “We’ve been slaving away our lives to make children happy, and you lock us up.” He is silent for a while, trying to work out a way to get past the policeman. “Look, you can come with us. We’ll take you to our village in the mountains. You’ll see it’s real and you can tell the magistrate it’s all a mistake. And if you like it there, you can join us. I’m sure the other elves will be happy to build you a house and make clothes that’ll fit you. And, I may add – not everybody is small like us. There are nice girls there, too. They do the dolls and the little cooking sets kids like so much.”
This time Kerneels’ laughter is genuine. He clutches his sides and almost falls from his chair. Wiping the tears from his eyes, he points finger at the elves while he gasps for air.
“You…hahaha…are soo … funny…haa!!!!!”
The shadow falling across his desk yanks him back to reality. His eyes can’t see properly through the tears – he can only make out the rather large outline of somebody standing there. The Captain! Checking on him? He tries to jump to attention, upsets his chair and stumbles across the room to regain his balance. It’s only after he wipes the moisture from his eyes that he starts to understand – and very slowly, at that.
Confronting him is a large man in a red suit, a funny hat and wool-lined boots.
“Ho ho ho,”the man says. “Where are my elves?”
Now, to really understand what must flash through the confused mind of Kerneels Kotze at this moment, one will have to spend a long time analysing the process that takes the brain from disbelief to comprehension. His initial reaction was total rejection – this isn’t true. It can’t be happening. I’m dreaming. Impossible. But no – the man is here, he’s talking. And the elves suddenly seem extremely happy. Is it? Can it be? Kerneels crawls towards the man to stretch out a hesitant hand – yes, I can feel him. He’s human. He’s real. Oh my word… And then the man speaks to him…
“Kerneels Kotze! I know you. You grew up in a home where Father Christmas was a forbidden subject, didn’t you? Your father didn’t like the idea. In fact, he told the whole district there is no Father Christmas, no Tooth Fairy and definitely no Easter Bunny. Very outspoken, he was. I remember it well. And that’s why you never got any Christmas presents, you poor boy. I feel sorry you have to learn the truth like this.”
“Y-y-y-you are F-f-father Christmas?”
“If you can’t believe in me, I can’t be here. But – on the other hand…” He lets out a few ho-ho-ho’s before continuing. “Now, let’s get down to business. I need those two elves. You have to let them out – and hand over the big book they had with them. Of course, the offer Leppaludi made, stands: you can always accompany us. We’re always glad to get help. There are so many children in the world… Oh, and that will prevent you having to explain what happened to your prisoners. I mean, If you come with us.”
Kerneels trembles as he opens the cabinet where the keys are kept. Father Christmas is real…
“Good. Now unlock their cell, give them the book, and go with them. I have another visit to make, so I’ll join you later. It’s a rather urgent matter with some parents in Grootdrink who also refuse to allow their children the joy of Christmas. I think you’ll understand that I have to fix that, don’t you?”
Kerneels can only nod. He remembers those Christmas mornings when all the other children were so excited about their presents – and he was kept indoors.
They watch as the old Kombi makes it’s way out of town.
“Do you really think they’re taking him to Finland? And that he’ll stay there?”
“Yes, Gertruida, I do. Now help me out of this silly suit, will you?” Vetfaan struggles out of the red jacket. “I only hope they make it out of the country.”
Suddenly, a shooting star streaks across the Kalahari night sky. Kleinpiet will later say it’s the brightest one he’s ever seen. Precilla will say it’s funny, but it headed due north. Gertruida will tell Boggel that a strange feeling of joy filled her at that moment.
But not one of them will ever admit that they distinctly heard a familiar sound as the light disappeared towards the horison. It’s a sound all children are familiar with. It went: “Ho ho ho…”