A Christmas Story for Young Adults who have lived in Africa and have a passing interest in Science Fiction.
The emergence of the visitor was spectacular, quite slowly a point of bright red light unravelled like a ball being inflated, twelve bridled reindeer, a sleigh and a fat man in a red suit unfurled from a point near the chief’s hut.
The villagers reacted in two different ways. The warriors rapidly encircled the intruder and held back awaiting an order or reason to attack, some were dumb struck, mouths and eyes wide open as the sleigh gently touched down with the cry ‘Ho, Ho, Ho!’ emanating from within.
Only one man behaved differently he confidently stepped forward and with a flick of his club the warriors took a step back ‘he speaks our language and wears our colours, this alone is reason enough to invite him to our fire.’ Having said this he led the guest to a short stool where they both sat.
“It is traditional
for a visitor to answer at least one question a day,” said the tribal leader, “this is mine: what brings you to our village
The visitor took a long time to answer.
“I have a responsibility to grant gifts to all good children on the earth. However, I do not know how I manage to judge good from bad so I have come to this place, which is strange to me, to see if I am supposed to deliver presents to you as well. Oh dear, I don’t think I’ve explained myself very well, do you understand my reply? I would be happy to answer many more questions”
As soon as he said this the camp fire gathering erupted with noise, “How do the impala fly?”, “How old are you, elder?”, “What is in that sack?”, “Are you one of the Gods?”, “Where did you come from?”, “Why are you so pale?”
The tribal leader raised his baton and once more the camp fire was silent.
“He was addressing me, I will ask the questions. You were asking questions out of curiosity, we should ask questions that will help our guest. How, may I ask, do you tell who has been good or not? Even one as powerful as you cannot be everywhere all the time.”
“This will be difficult for you to understand, once I accepted the responsibility of this job, I asked my God to give me the ability to be able to tell when someone is good just by looking at them. This makes my job much easier. My God agreed and so I now see the gift that a good child desires as a glowing image behind their head. They might not receive that gift but it is a guideline to what they want. However it seems that my God does not consider your children to be good, because I cannot see an image behind the head of any of your children. That is why I came here.”
The leader relied, “Now my answer may be difficult for you to understand, there are three parts to your proof, no doubt they have been included by your God for good reason but it seems that if only one of these tests are not completed then the child will not receive a gift. The first is goodness, the principle you are here to investigate, the second is that the subject must be a child, and the third is desire, it is this, rather than goodness, that is the part of the test that our children cannot fulfil as they desire nothing more than to become adults.”
The visitor looked deeply perplexed until, after looking around for a while, he saw cattle enclosure and decided to question this further. He often found that asking a few well placed questions shook people’s faith; but the tribe’s leader seemed very confident in his assessment.
“You own cows” he said. “It would be a large gift but could I give them a gift of a cow or a goat?’ he asked with enthusiasm.
‘These are not yours to give; they already belong to the land, as do we.’ A murmur of approval accompanied this statement; even the children nodded their heads.
“What about your magnificent clothes and jewellery, if you did not desire them, why would you be wearing them now?’” said the visitor, confident that he had caught the elder out.
“They are not considered valuable unless you make them yourself, and besides we have plenty of time for making jewellery, would you deny us this enjoyable pastime?”
The visitor stroked his long beard, (his beard was so long that he couldn’t reach the end, but after mastering the art of time travel inventing a ‘comb extender’ wasn’t difficult, and so it wasn’t knotted) and accepted with a smile the warm sweet drink that he was offered. “In all my years I have never met even one child who didn’t want something” he muttered in disbelief before taking a sip.
“After you have finished your sweet milk I hope that you will join us for a meal my new friend. It has come time for me to introduce myself, although you do not have to reciprocate at this time. I am Chief Mulutauli elder of the Atachini Masai tribe. We will resume our conversation later, if you need time to recuperate you are welcome to use my hut. It’s the one near where you dropped out of the sky”. Without acknowledging the absurdity of his last statement Mulutauli got up to leave.
“Wait,” said the visitor “I have many names but you may call me by my favourite; Santa. It is customary for my people to touch palms together to show trust” Santa extended his right hand and Mulutauli shook it.
“I am afraid that you have come to the wrong place if you want to know how your instinct for telling good from bad work. Perhaps no mortal is supposed to know for sure who is considered divinely good. Maybe that is why your God has confused the issue for you in this way.” Said Mulutauli after finishing his meal.
Santa was dejected, “I must say that I never thought that children could slip through the gaps in this system before, I never considered that the method I use could make a ‘mistake’. I thought that I could use my judgement to determine who was considered divinely good but now I see that this is impossible.”
“We have complicated matters for you, how can you now act with certainty in your vocation?”
“I will have to use some old fashioned methods.” said Santa taking a deep breath, “Tell me, what does a child have to do to be considered good in the eyes of a Masai?”
“This is simple, if they follow the instructions of their elders they will survive long enough to see old age, our morality and our rules are governed by our environment, not by some abstract philosophical system.”
“And you have become respected because …?”
“I have survived the longest, so therefore I have the most knowledge to impart.”
“So if a child is alive, they have followed the rules sufficiently well to be considered good”.
“Correct! – why, what is considered to be good in your culture?”
“We are lead by old religious laws, I do not wish to go in to them for fear of undermining your beliefs, but it is fair to say that they are based on mutual respect.”
At this Mulutauli raised his voice, “Do not fear challenging our culture, it has survived thousands of years, it is not so weak to be destroyed by you!”
‘Please, I did not mean to offend you.” Said Santa, holding up a hand, “I am sure that you are confident in your beliefs, however I have not had a chance to explain to the young and impressionable members of your tribe; who are eavesdropping on our conversation; that I am not a God…” hurried footsteps and urgent whispers retreated away from outside the hut. “If I start preaching my beliefs to you then they might begin to copy me and then your days living like this may be numbered.”
Some time passed before Mulutauli spoke. “If they copy you it is because you are aged, not because you are powerful. You are naturally a threat to my position as the leader of this tribe. Perhaps I have been a little belligerent in my responses. I apologise, your beliefs really have been shaken today and I forgot that. Let us put aside these deep conversations for tonight, we should return to the fire, the sun is going down and the tribe will want to ask you all those questions that I didn’t let them ask earlier!”
“Oh gosh! That could take a while; tell me what do you do for entertainment in a Masai village?”
“We are renowned for our story telling abilities.”
“Stories! What kind of stories?” asked Santa suddenly brightening up.
“Stories that remind us of who we are and how to live our lives, stories of impressive hunts; important battles, and after the little ones have gone to bed, great romances! The stories we tell are all we can know about each other, our memories are the fictions of our lives and so a little embellishment never hurts!”
“Ah ha! I now have a solution to my problem! We have worked out that your children are all good. But because stories or even answers to questions have no physical presence I could not see them! Your children do require something: entertainment! I shall tell the children a story that can be re-told every year, after all what is better than a present that can be enjoyed again and again?”
After introducing himself and sending almost all the adults off to bed, Santa gathered the children around the fire. Some of the older children looked very stern and wore black and white face paint and dark clothes. This was going to be a tough crowd, but Santa began telling one of his favourites.
“Once upon a time there was a little rabbit…”
“What is a ‘rabbit’, Mr Santa?” Asked a young girl who looked up at him in a confused way that children often do.
“Oh I see, well it’s a small furry grey animal with big ears. Err, do you have something like that?”
“Err, a Hyrax? But it doesn’t have big ears.” Said the girl uncertainly.
“Does it eat vegetables?” Asked Santa.
“Leaves and branches, I think.”
“Aha! So a carrot would be a treat then!” said Santa settling back into his stride. A glance was passed between the young girl and the boy who was also sitting next to Santa’s feet.
“What is a ‘carrot’”? Asked the boy, he was clearly her brother.
“Well it’s a long thin orange … what do you eat that’s not meat but is better than eating grass?”
“Plantain?’ said the girl, ‘it’s like a banana but it’s not sweet.”
“Thank you. Anyway the, err, Mr Hyrax had just finished his meal of plantain and he realised that he had a whole plantain left. ‘Now who should I share this plantain with?’ he said to himself, ‘I bet that Mr Giraffe would like to eat it, it would make a nice change from all those leaves and thorns’. So Mr Hyrax hopped along to Mr Giraffe’s really really tall house carrying the plantain in his little hands.” Normally a settled hush of humour greets descriptions of the animals’ houses but this crowd was different.
“Mr Santa, sir” an older boy respectfully interrupted, he was one of the ones with the face paint. “Why are you telling us a story about talking animals? I don’t understand, we don’t live like these animals so why should we listen to stories about them? We do not eat vegetables.”
Santa had dealt with this kind of trouble-maker before. “If you pretend that you are like the animals in the story then you will be as happy as they are when the story ends.” Over the years he had become very patient.
This did not satisfy the older boy. “Why would I want to pretend to be like a hyrax when I could pretend to be a lion on a hunt?”
Excited anticipation greeted this suggestion and the boy became more confident, this was perhaps his usual role around the camp fire. “The pride stealthily approached the heard of zebra who were oblivious to the danger they were in.” He was on all fours; shoulders rolling powerfully past his head and approaching some of the other boys who were pretending to be lions or zebra depending on how old they were. “The pride smells the air flexing their claws into the dry earth, the leader whips his tail” “oh can I be the leader?”; “No way, I am”; “I contest the leadership!”
Soon there were three or four snarling boys circling the bemused Santa the girls of the group had stood up and moved away, they were rolling there eyes.
“WAIT! Wait. Maybe I should tell you a story about lions instead.” Santa considered that he was about to infringe on many Disney copyrights but then he realised that the space-time continuum was of greater importance, if he didn’t tell this story now the film probably wouldn’t ever get made in the future anyway.
“How the heck am I going to explain who Elton John is?” thought Santa as he put a rather large slab of dried dung on the fire and began from the beginning.
Who is this ‘Mr Pig
’ I keep hearing about?” Asked Mulutauli as he helped Santa back into his sleigh, “The children seem quite impressed by him; I wish we could have been there as well!”
“Oh I’m afraid that I’m not that skilled a story teller, I didn’t want to be shown up in front of a master like yourself.” Said Santa truthfully.
“You are forever
Santa, the story is set to become an instant favourite.”
“‘Yes, and it’ll do ten sell-out
years on Broadway
too.” Said Santa under his breath.
“I am sorry that we have made your life harder, you came here seeking answers but I think you are leaving with more questions.” Said the Masai leader.
“Do not apologise, you see I have the ability to spend as much time as I want doing my job. Actually there are many different “me’s” wandering around giving out gifts as we speak, and so I can now go back and check that I have given the right gifts to everyone who deserves it and it won’t be any more work for me at all. I have all the time in the world to answer these questions.”
“That doesn’t make any sense, but then not much about your visit does, for example, how did you get here?”
“I’m glad that you have granted yourself that one piece of curiosity because with any luck it will make sense of my last statement as well. Come up here and I will show you.”
Not one to show cowardice
, Mulutauli jumped into the seat next to Santa and the crowd that had gathered saw the sled fold itself away again.
First the sleigh became round then the twelve reindeer sank into one another until there was only one of them left. Then with the sound of a small bell ringing the entire sleigh, reindeer and all shrunk to the size of a snooker ball and disappeared leaving a faint after image where the reindeer’s nose was.
‘That red nosed impala had a very shiny nose.’ a young girl said in astonishment.
“Where . are . we?” said Mulutauli shiver
“Oh I’m sorry the process can be a little chilling, that’s why I’ve put on so much weight over the years, it seems to help. You are in the hub of time, we can go backwards or forwards to any time we wish.’
“I . am . still . con- . conf- . lost”’
“There is a doorway to every year that has ever existed, you see once you travel fast enough you can effect things that haven’t happened yet, and even change the past.”
Mulutauli looked at Santa as though he couldn’t possibly reply. ‘Imagine you throw a spear, no matter how hard you try you cannot throw it to the horizon, imagine now that the spear is weightless until it hits its target, but then it takes on all the properties of a normal spear. Throwing the spear is not the hard part, weightlessness is. We are now, believe it or not, completely inside out.’
Mulutauli just shook his head as Santa continued “Our bodies have been left behind, but all of the things that make us what we are, the hardness or sharpness of the spear, the things that other people can see and test are facing inwards; incapable of escaping. Why do you think you are so clever Mulutauli? I might have not met you before but your behaviour suggests that you have met me.”
Santa got his sack and took out a cup of sweet tea with a tot of brandy. “Here, this should bring you around, now don’t worry about understanding all of this now, I can explain on the way, contrary to popular belief, time travel isn’t instantaneous it takes a long time to go from time zone to time zone. We don’t want to be out of sync now do we? Answering questions before they’re posed tends to tick people off”
Mulutauli shook his head “No, we don’t, want to be, out of ‘sync’.” he said. The brandy was doing him wonders.
“When did you make the biggest mistake of your life?” Santa asked.
“I nearly died the week after my initiation into adulthood. It was my first hunt and a lion took a lump out of my leg, I became very ill and it took me a long time to regain the respect of my peers.”
“Oh dear, that sounds painful”
“Not nearly as painful as the initiation ceremony”
“Ooh, another time for that story perhaps” said Santa wincing.
“I think that I have met you before, but I only get that impression now”.
“Look at your leg.” Said Santa.
“By The Gods! My scar it’s gone!”
“Then I know what I must do, another little boy is going to get a present this year”
“Ah, so the light itself makes us heavy!” Mulutauli exclaimed.
“Yes and it also gives us friction”.
“So by turning yourself inside out the light cannot effect us and so we can travel as fast as we want!”
“Now you are getting it!” Said Santa, it had only taken a week to tell all of this to him and now it was about time to arrive.
“And from my villages point of view I won’t have left for more than a second!”
“Actually if you really want to scare them we can arrive a little while before you set off.”
“Ah so that’s how come there are hundreds of you all over the world all the time!”
“We are nearly there now so tell me more about this hunt that went wrong.”
“This is very shameful, everyone else who knows about it has died of old age and so you will be the only one who knows.”
“I won’t tell a soul I promise.”
“The hunt was unofficial. I was tending to the herd, with two of my friends when I needed to fix my spear. So I took the binding off it and started to hammer the blade straight again and sharpen it, when the lion came my weapon was in pieces and it takes at least three warriors to bring it down.
My friends did there duty and attacked it from the sides but I could not attack the head without my spear and so when it turned to bite my friend I dove forward and stabbed it with my knife in the side of the head. However before it died its jaws locked around my leg and bit it through to the bone.”
Mulutauli hung his head in shame. “If I hadn’t killed the lion I would have been outcast from the tribe. I saved myself from complete failure but my mistake was unacceptable. I was however the first of my age to kill a lion and that helped me become an elder in later years.”
“What would have happened if you killed the lion singe handed?”
“Then I would be a hero no matter how severe my injuries, the disgrace was the danger I could have caused my friends, not my actions or the kill itself.”
“I think a young boy is going to get a present.”
“Hold on, are you going to give my younger self help? You can’t! I was a whole week into adulthood when the incident happened!”
“I can break the rules just this once for an unlucky fourteen year old.’
Santa and Chief Mulutauli touched down with just a faint jingling on the plains near where a younger version of Mulutauli was beginning to fix his spear.
“Hello Mulutauli!” said Santa loudly.
“Stop! Who goes there! How did you know my name!” the young Mulutauli barked as deeply as possible.
“Santa that was cruel! Don’t worry; we are friends of your tribe's from a neighbouring village. We have come with valuable advice for you.”
The young Mulutauli held his wobbly spear ready to throw “At this time of night! You may give your message to my elders in the morning.”
The blade to the spear now fell off and landed point down in the dirt.
“Perhaps we could begin by getting you a new spear?” said Santa.
The two Masai stayed up all night, the younger Mulutauli listening to the elders’ advise about life and decisions he would have to make, the rules he should obey and the people he should avoid. Santa sat quietly and learnt about the life of this Masai leader. When dawn rose he showed him exactly where to stand to have a clear shot at the lion’s chest with his new perfectly crafted, sharp and finely balanced spear.
Santa and Mulutauli then got back into the sleigh and disappeared.
“Why have you done this for me?” Mulutauli asked.
“As I said, I expect my work to take me forever, literally, so even if I take a week off to help out a friend it doesn’t matter. I could see that you are a wise and respected leader, there is no need for you to be limping for the rest of your life is there?”
“I suppose not, however you have made it impossible for me to repay you, how could I ever match this present?”
“If you keep your tradition of story telling strong then I won’t have to pilfer ideas from cartoons every Christmas, perhaps the elder of the village could, as a favour to me, make up a story for the children every year?”
“I would be glad to, Santa; you know where to drop me off!”
“Just before you depart?”
“Well you had your fun by scaring the fourteen year old me.”
“Oh, kids like to be scared.”
“Really? I’ll have to use that for my story next year, maybe I’ll talk about the quest of the great white shaman.”
“Well this is your stop, take this brandy and some mince pies, you haven’t eaten for two weeks, I’ll see you again soon. Goodbye!”
“Don’t forget to say ‘Ho, Ho, Ho!’ or I will not know who you are”.
And with a faint sound of jingling Santa was gone.
I feel as though must give you some background information. Every year at Christmas my brother and I receive a book of Christmas stories. This has continued since we were both born. That's forty four books. It's fair to say that we have exhausted the classics. A few years ago my brother went to Africa for his gap year and lived for a short time with an authentic tribe of Masai. This is a story I wrote while on safari to keep our tradition going. It has been checked over by a Christian Masai for authenticity.