Like every year I’m doing my round in my community as Santa Claus. My driver has just dropped me off at number 95. It is the fourth stop of the evening, with six more to go.
It’s twenty to five - I was booked for five o’clock. But every family had been told that Santa could be 15 minutes earlier or later so that we would have some slack for traffic and previous visits. I put on my bishop’s cap, clamp my “Golden Book” with the good and bad doings of each child under my arm and grab cane and hessian bag. Then I ring the doorbell.
Through the frosted glass of the front door I make out someone approaching with a child on their arm. How careless! I still have to put the presents into my bag which are usually stacked in the doorway. Children are not allowed to watch this, even if they’re still little.
The door opens and I face the family man. I look at him, then the child. The child looks at me and abruptly starts to scream its head off. It’s as if I had just abducted the family cat to turn it into dog food. The father is no longer on top of the situation. “You’re much too early…,” he splutters, his gaze bouncing between his child and me. What should he do? In front of him a Santa Claus who wants to come in but is not allowed yet, on his arm a horror-stricken child and around us the heat of the late afternoon and the latent danger of neighbours or passersby who could be alarmed.
Finally he hurries back into the house and after a while his wife appears. With female intuition she gets the situation under control. She explains briefly that they’re waiting for another child before I can jump into action. Obviously I cannot wait outside. She thinks for a moment, then opens the door to a small toilet right next to the doorway. “I’m terribly sorry, but…,” she tries to explain. Embarrassed she closes the toilet lid and gives it another flush. Then I stand in the tiny space, a fully-equipped Santa Claus, still utterly nonplussed.
Nothing like it has ever happened to me before. I sit down on the only available seat and look around, while listening to the muted sounds from the doorway. From my position I can just see the top end of my cap in the mirror on the opposite wall. “Santa Claus locked in the loo!” What if they got word of it in heaven? I couldn’t imagine. To make sure that any visitors couldn’t put me into even more embarrassing situations, I had locked the door. Now I sit and listen.
Just as I’m studying the soap dispenser I hear noises in the hall. People taking off their shoes, someone bumping against the toilet door. Voices. Finally the mother’s: “Now everyone’s here!”, which is clearly intended for me. I take a few breaths before cautiously opening the door and peeking out. The hall is dark. Singing comes from the lounge room: “Sigh-high-lent night…” Presents have been put on the floor. I put my Golden Book on a stroller and get a brief fright as it starts to sigh. Another small child! Eventually I’ve stashed away all presents into my bag.
I await the end of the song before I give the lounge door a resolute knock and open it. Curious children’s and knowing adults’ eyes greet me. The infant who had earlier screamed at the top of its voice dares a look from the protection of her mother’s arm. They are ready for my work.
As I say my good-byes the mother apologises again. “She’ll be right,” I reply, because I’ve gained new material for stories. As I walk back into the heat of the late afternoon I am determined to report this family back in heaven. I have to warn them they had better not come too early next time. Who knows where they’d be sent until everyone’s assembled?