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Lucky Elves

Man in red and green elf suit

Santa’s Grotto was set up, as usual, by the escalator across from the Nedbank. Kids queued patiently, wearing Ben 10, Paw Patrol and Frozen 2branded facemasks, cartoon candy cane vinyl stickers marking out their prescribed distance from each other. One by one they took their turn to sanitize their hands, climb up onto Santa’s lap and hear the muffled, “And what would you like for Christmas?” The event company had come up with an ingenious way to solve the mask-beard contradiction. The false beard was worn over the mask, which came as a blow to the professional Santas that always grew their own beards for the season.

Kyle was the elf responsible for squirting two squirts of sharp-smelling sanitizer into each little palm. It was the first steady work he’d managed to find outside his house, and even though it wasn’t exactly exciting, it felt good to not be staring directly into a screen for eight hours a day. He wore a name tag that read, “HELLO! MY NAME IS... JOLLY JIM!” The name was printed in a faux-handwriting that did not resemble his own in the least.

“That’s not your real name,” said at least three children a day.

“Shut up,” he invariably replied. He did this mostly to get a rise out of Maggie, or as she was professionally known – “MERRY MAGGIE!” She was the elf that helped the smaller kids get up to the great red lap.

After lunch, they stood outside in the dumpster area. The smell was awful, but it was better than the mocking looks from teenagers. Maggie was finishing her Coke Zero, a straw tucked under her mask. Kyle took out a pack of cigarettes. The box was shabbily branded Remingson Xtra, smuggled in from God knows where, to be sold for a tidy profit on the South African black market.

“Hey, don’t take your mask off!”

“There’s no-one here. How else am I going to smoke?”

“You really shouldn’t.”

“Yup,” he said and lit up. The sun warmed his back. A small but valuable comfort that he held on to for a few puffs. He glanced at Maggie. “I’ve been meaning to ask you – why did you get to keep your real name?”

“What, you don’t like Jolly Jim?”

“Is it because they couldn’t find anything to alliterate with my name?”

“I guess,” she shrugged. “You could have been... Candy Cane Kyle, or... I don’t know. Christmas Kyle?” She furrowed her brow. He imagined that she was wrinkling her nose, but could not know for sure.

“Jolly Jim it is then.” He flicked the coal off his cigarette and put it away carefully. “That’s me, mister Jolly.”

“You ready?” she asked. He took another three seconds to feel the sun on his face before turning to the door.

“Just be glad that they didn’t name you Jimmy.”

“Christ,” he mumbled as they walked back down the fluorescent concrete corridor, “another thing to put in my gratitude journal.”



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