This is for this writing exercise: http://sbutki.newsvine.com/_news/2008/11/23/2142095-your-next-writing-exercise-write-from-the-point-of-view-of-a-mall-santa
(With thanks to Sandie Seward for the new title :))
I jumped and dropped the masking tape as the Grotto manager-yes, the "Grotto Manager"-turned round in the Grotto doorway abruptly to say, "Kate, hurry up, we open at 9, remember?" "Yes Jill," I said through gritted teeth. I had been Santa in this poxy edge-of-town shopping centre for two whole weeks, I knew exactly when the Grotto opened, when I was Santa and when I wasn't. "just carry on being lookout and I'll get ready as quickly as I can." Jill swerved back round again, fatuously oblivious to the venom in my voice. Why they couldn't just get a lock for that shed, I'll never know. Not that it looked like a shed of course. No, from the outside it looked like a proper Santa's grotto, adorned with blue, pink and white tinsel, fairy lights the shape of mini-Christmas trees and spray snow on the roof on which soft reindeer toys and a papier mache snowman also sat. Inside, a cosy Christmassy atmosphere had been achieved through wrapping paper being used as wallpaper, fake snow and pine cones on the floor and a Christmas tree laden with fake holly, red and gold baubles, multi-coloured fairy lights, black velvet bows, candy canes and a treetop angel. Empty cardboard boxes wrapped in wrapping paper and ribbons masqueraded as presents either side of my "throne". Of course, the real presents, the little gift-wrapped trinkets I gave to each of my little visitors, were well out of the way of tiny, chubby hands. They were in a sack, pushed away from sight, underneath my throne. All I had to do at the end of each kid's visit was let him or her off my lap, push my hand under the throne and hey presto! I'd have a gift in my hand ready to present to the astonished child as if by magic. OK, it was hardly David Blaine territory, but work with me here-the five year olds loved it.
Yes, the Grotto looked cosy enough-if only it was actually warm. After making faces at Jill's back for several seconds, I remembered I was stood there shivering in my bra, a pair of red tracksuit bottoms trimmed with white faux fur and a pair of heavy black boots. I retrieved the masking tape from the heap of fake snow if had fallen into and finished taping my boobs down. I had no idea why they had chosen me to be the mall's first female Santa when all they were going to do was make me pretend I was a guy. Maybe it was because I'd begged the mall recruitment officer for a job. I mean literally begged on my knees in his office. The price of food and fuel had been creeping up all year without me noticing and before I knew it, my social security wasn't enough to live on anymore, even though it was just tiny me in a tiny flat with a tiny Fiat. I mean, I had a man in my life-Phil-but he was more like a "special friend" than a steady boyfriend, if you get my meaning. So it would have been weird/demeaning to ask him to help me pay my bills, especially since he wasn't living with me. He didn't even visit my place that often. I'd usually stay over at his-it had better heating and more food in the fridge. Not that he was rich-he himself was a cleaner at the shopping centre. At worst I'd been hoping for a job as a cleaner too, but no, the recruitment officer took one look at me, on my knees on his floor and thought, "Santa!" Yes, 22 year old me with my long,straight, black hair, my pale, anemic, miserable face and my underweight body with disproportionately big boobs. Yeah, I'm the spitting image of rosy-cheeked, jolly, plump, elderly, MALE Santa Claus, me. Maybe I just cost less than "professional" Santas, if there are such things.
Having once again successfully made my boobs look like man boobs at the very worst, I put on the T-shirt that went underneath the jacket and then the jacket itself. Well, it wasn't so much a jacket as a flannel dressing gown with the bottom cut off, trimmed with the same white faux fur they stuck onto the cheapo trackie bottoms. I mean, they were too cheapskate to even provide me with any padding. I must have been the the skinniest Santa alive-male or female. I put on my curly white beard, stuffed my mass of hair underneath my wig cap, slid on my curly white wig and crowned it all with my "Santa hat" (a red woollen beanie hat with cotton wool stuck on top). 9 am hit and Jill removed herself from the doorway. There was already an orderly queue of about 5 kids accompanied their by parents outside the Grotto. You'd think adults and children alike would want a lie-in on Saturdays, but apparently not. And there was no booking system here, oh no. It wasn't exactly Harrods, after all. It was first come, first served. I held my breath as Jill ushered in the first child, a pretty blonde little girl. She looked relatively old, around 9. Would she guess that not only was I not Santa, I wasn't even a man? To be honest, for the past 2 weeks I'd been astounded that, just by talking in a deep voice and by wearing this ridiculous excuse for a costume, I had managed to convince scores of children that I was a guy, let alone the big S himself. But this child looked like my oldest yet. She would be my toughest challenge...
The girl leapt on my lap without invitation. I winced and looked up at Jill, giving her a pained wink as she went back outside to take the fee off the girl's parents, manage the queue and tell the waiting kids and parents bad jokes. "Ho ho ho, I'm Santa Claus. What's your name, little girl?" I said, trying to sound more manly than ever. "Kate" she said. Hey snap! That's my name! What a shame I couldn't tell her. "Kate. What a lovely name. And how old are you Kate?" "9." Wow, I was getting too good as this guessing ages thing. "And what would you like for Christmas, Kate?" I said, buoyed by the fact that she still hadn't guessed my deep, dark secret. But as she started listing what she wanted...and kept on listing...and kept on listing...and kept on listing...it became clear that this girl was so self-absorbed that I could have been Naomi Campbell in an orange bikini and she still wouldn't have noticed. If she wanted me to be Santa, then I was Santa. She finally ended the list. "Well, I'll see what I can do Kate." Said I, feeling sorry for whichever parent would have to comfort her when Santa didn't bring her a pony, a DVD player, a bike, Belgian chocolates, a real fur coat...I slid her off my lap and ducked down to produce a gift from under the throne. Handing it to her, I uncharitably thought, "I hope it's the cheapest one". Oh well, at least she hadn't blown my cover.
The rest of the morning was straightforward enough. Much younger kids recited much shorter lists and still no one guessed I was really a girl. Lunch break came and as Jill cordoned off the Grotto and told inquisitive passing kids to come back at 2, I headed to Starbucks for a white chocolate mocha (grande) and a sandwich (BLT). A few customers gazed curiously at this skinny, badly-dressed Santa coming in for coffee and carbs, but I was used to it. I'd been going there for lunch for the past two weeks, after all. The baristas were used to it too. They'd all served me at one point or another and were always happy (amused) to see me. Apparently my presence alone kept the punters entertained. I would talk to the baristas in my normal voice, but they would still call me Sir. Maybe they just thought my voice hadn't broken yet.
After I'd finished in there, I wandered outside, via one of the side exits, for the obligatory lunchtime cigarette. Now, my "special friend" Phil knew I smoked, knew when my lunch break was and knew where I smoked but had never come to see me. I'd always assumed it was because his cleaning job at the centre was part-time and he was gone by lunch, but this particular day he decided to pop up before I'd even enjoyed my first heavenly drag. "Kate!" he screeched. "Alright, keep your voice down." I whispered gesturing to my costume. "I'm Santa between 9 and 6, remember?" "You're the sexiest Santa I've ever seen" persisted Phil, albeit in quieter tones. He captured me in a bear hug, causing my lit ciggie to fall to the ground. I pushed him away, startling fellow smokers and outside loiterers before subconsciously stamping out the unsmoked cancer stick. "Aw babe, don't be like that. Give us a kiss." grinned Phil, moving in again. I had to admit, he looked even more beautiful than usual, even in his cleaning uniform, which looked suspiciously like a pair of khaki green pyjamas. The colour actually brought out the green of his eyes, which were as pretty as his annoyingly perfect skin, his electric smile and the chin length wavy black hair that framed that cheeky, knowing face. So I resisted for all of 3 nanoseconds before letting him take me in his arms again. He moved in for a kiss and like a fool I tilted my head up and adjusted my beard to make it easier for him. So there we were, kissing in broad daylight and of course I'd forgotten who I was dressed as. "Muuuuuuuuuum! Muuuuuuuuuuuuuuuum! Santa's kissing a man! Santa's a Gay!" I broke away from Phil, quickly readjusted my beard and turned round to see the mortified face of a little boy and the even more mortified face of his mother, dragging him away towards the car park. "I'm sure they're just good friends" she hissed.
Unfortunately all the other smokers and outside loiterers were still around and thought the idea of "Gay Santa" was absolutely hilarious. Out of the howls, screams and laughs surrounding Phil and I like smog, I could only pick out a few articulate words. "Arrrgh, a Gay Santa!" "Who knew?" "You sure he's not a she?" "A she Santa?" "Yeah, look how scrawny she is. That's no bloke!" "Yeah right! No way would they have a girl as Santa!" "Now now," said Phil, stepping in front of me as if to protect me from a pack of wild dogs, "nothing to see here. Leave her alone." "Arrrgh, he said 'her'. It's a girl!" And before Phil could stop him, a burly guy had ducked behind him and was standing right next to me. My mouth opened and closed like that of a goldfish as the man whipped off my hat, wig and wig cap in one go, letting my hair flow down like some kind of black waterfall. That was it. I'd never been so embarrassed-or shocked-in all my life. I could hear Phil making noise, but I was incapable of listening to his actual words. All I knew was that I had to run. So I ran. Across the paved area, across the car park, down the slope leading from the car park to street level and along the street. Adults and kids alike cheered and sneered as this skinny She Santa with long black hair and a fake white beard dashed past them down several streets, lanes and alley ways.
By the time I got home I was exhausted. I just clambered into my cold bed fully dressed-beard, boots and all-and slept until Phil came round with my "real clothes". Laughing, he said I'd overreacted and that when he'd identified Jill and told her what happened, she'd (uncharacteristically) seen the funny side and wanted me back the next day, for the Sunday rush. Her plan was to "out" me as "a She Santa" at 9 o'clock sharp, in front of everyone at the Grotto and then play on the novelty for the rest of my contract. But there was nooooo way I was going back there. No way, no how. I mean, I was just beyond embarrassed. I told Phil so and sent him home when he kept arguing with me. But we're OK now. In fact, *I'm* OK now. Because I've got a new job. In a much swankier mall. In a much warmer grotto. In a much smarter costume. As Santa's little helper. Best thing about it? I'm allowed to be a *female* little helper and all the kids love it.