Christmas Carol 2020
by Kavitha Murali
Ebe’s Nokia phone buzzed. One more fundraiser campaign, this time, a donation to some school.
Thank heavens he didn’t own one of those new-fangled smart phones. Else, he would have been subjected to photographs as well, draining his internet bandwidth. Not that any number of heart-wrenching pictures could drain his wallet. Tattered though it was (who replaced a wallet within 25 years anyway?), it had its purpose. Holding his debit card, tightly and in secret.
As he turned off the phone (to conserve battery) and got into bed, he heard a rustle near the window. Was it a thief? Ebe pushed his wallet to the far corner of his trousers’ pocket and picked up his walking cane. Jake appeared in front of him. Jake, his dead partner.
Who is this cracking a sick joke on me, wondered Ebe. The apparition said, “It’s me. Jake. Well, Jake’s spirit. Rather, ghost, as people say.”
It’s been a long day, my eyes are playing tricks on me, thought Ebe. “No, no tricks here Ebe. It really is me.” said Jake.
Ebe looked at Jake again, a mix of curiosity and incredulity writ large on his face. “Ebe, we need to talk. But, before that, are you well? How did the vaccination go?” asked Jake.
“Hey Jake. Or whoever it is. Yes, indeed. I got my vaccine shot. I am eligible for it. I am old enough, ain’t I? And it’s free. So why not get it?” retorted Ebe, an epitome of uncharitable aggression.
“Come, let me show you something Ebe. From the past.”
“I am not coming anywhere!” retorted Ebe.
But before he could finish, Jake had touched his papery hand and they seemed to float away somewhere. Younger, happier, fleshier versions of Jake and Ebe were handing over a wad of bank notes to the Mother Superior at St Anne’s orphanage.
“Did you see that, Ebe? That’s us thirty years ago supporting little Sophie to continue her education.We used to set aside a percentage of our profits every year for social causes,” said Jake.
“Bah humbug! What a waste of money. We should have ploughed it right back into business, it would have grown even bigger than it is today,” said Ebe.
Jake continued, as if there had been no interruption.
“Have you ever wondered what happened to little Sophie? She’s one of the 5 people responsible for bringing this vaccine to market today. And you had the good fortune of getting your dose well before the rest of the world. See how our little good deed made such a big difference!”
Ebe opened his mouth, ready to pounce on Jake, but Jake was a step ahead of him – as usual.
“Wait, Ebe. Hold your horses for some time. I need to show you something important.”
Again, Jake held Ebe’s shaky hands in his translucent hands, and they floated. This time to the ICU of a hospital. Inside was a young man wired up with tubes.
“This is today, Ebe. Right now. The guy you see there is Herman. Herman Miller. Construction worker you met 3 days back to give precise instructions. Were you wearing your mask, Ebe? You weren’t.”
Ebe frowned, trying to recall the meeting.
“You were an asymptomatic carrier of the virus and passed it on to Herman. Look where he is now. And by the way, you just fired him yesterday, for not showing up at work.”
Ebe was spellbound. He made a feeble attempt to speak but thought better of the idea and stopped.
Jake held Ebe once again. This time they ended up at a cemetery.
“This is the future. Did you see that grave? That’s where your body rests. Uneasily so. No one visits you. No flowers, no prayers.”
Just then, two people scurried past, shivering as they spoke about the lonely grave of Ebe. That miser who died alone and friendless, despite all the money he had.
“Did you know that they found his body a good 3 days after he kicked the bucket?” said one of them, shuddering at the thought.
Ebe looked sad but pulled himself together as he said, “Well that’s how the world is. I live alone and I will die alone. It doesn’t bother me.”
Jake tugged him once more and they were back at Ebe’s quarters. Ebe asked, “Jake, why did you really visit me?”
Jake said, “The afterlife is good, Ebe. All the other spirits love me. But if you die and hang out with me…. ”
The temperature in the room had dropped, Ebe was freezing now.
“And start wearing a mask, okay! Be a little less selfish. It will do you good. ”
Whoosh. With a snap of the fingers, Jake left.
Ebenezer Scrooge rubbed his eyes, wondering whether he had dreamt up the whole thing. He couldn’t really understand why he started scrolling through his contact lists looking for the construction manager at the site he had visited 3 days ago.
Fine, let me send him a cake and some flowers. Happy now, Jake?
At St Pius Hospital, a little girl was visiting her father, who lay in bed with tubes hanging overhead, on Xmas day. A nurse entered the room, carrying a package.
“Oh! Daddy!! See this nice uncle has sent us a lovely cake,” she jumped up and down with happiness.
“God bless his soul,” said her mother, a young woman with a straight back and sad eyes.
At that very moment, Ebenezer Scrooge felt a warm feeling envelop his body. Like a giant, loving hug. He looked up and said to no one in particular, “Yo ho ho… it’s a merry, merry Xmas.”
High in the sky, a star twinkled a little more brightly.
All I want for Xmas is a kinder, gentler world.
This story was written in response to the Christmas Writing Challenge. It was edited by Rashmi Bansal.