‘Miser! Scrooge! Skinflint!', the shouts
were accompanied by the sound of closed fists
banging on the door. And loud laughter. Lots
of it. Bernard swore under his breath as he
leapt to his feet, almost knocking the kitchen
chair he'd been sitting on over in his attempt
to catch the perpetrators of this nightly
aggravation. He dashed through the hall, threw
open his front door for the third time in
the past hour but the little blighters had
scarpered. He could hear the sound of their
feet, clacketty clacking as they tore down
the concrete steps and into the road. The
child from the next door flat was sitting
on the landing, completely unaffected by all
the rumpus, her tongue sticking out of the
corner of her mouth as she gave all her concentration
to crayoning in a picture book. She looked
up at Bernard and smiled, but he ignored her.
She was just another kid, and he hated kids.
Kids meant Trouble, with a capital T. 'Little
devils', he snarled, going back inside his
flat and slamming the door hard. He'd catch
them one day, or his name wasn't Bernard Falvey.
was the same old ding dong every evening.
Kids yelling through his letter box and banging
on his door as they hurled themselves down
the steps of the high rise block of flats.
He was sick of it.
Still cursing, he sat back at the kitchen
table and resumed eating his meagre supper
of beans on toast. Beans were cheap. You could
get four tins for a euro, special offer. And
they were good for you...or so he'd read somewhere.
The bread was half price, on account of it
being stale, but stale bread made better toast.
At least Bernard thought it did. The beans
were cold now. That meant reheating them on
the gas. He clicked his teeth with annoyance
as he thought of the waste of money having
to relight the stove again. While he was waiting
he poured boiling water over a teabag let
it stand for a few minutes then lifted the
teabag into another mug so he could use it
again. That way he could make a small packet
of teabags last for two weeks. Longer sometimes.
Winifred Falvey was not at all pleased when,
at the age of forty three, she discovered
she was pregnant. For that matter her husband
Paddy wasn't exactly over the moon either.
For the first ten years of their marriage
Winifred had prayed daily for a child. When
one didn't arrive, she and Paddy settled into
a comfortable sort of life and forgot all
about wanting a family. In Winifred's book
God was playing some little joke on her by
answering her prayers all those years later,
and she was not amused. Actually neither she
nor Paddy had much of a sense of humour in
Bernard was a puny baby who n.ever stopped
crying for the first six months of his life.
He was still puny when he started school and
was the butt of bullying on account of his
weedy physique and the fact that his parents
were a great deal older that the parents of
all the other kids. 'That yer gran?', they
taunted when Winifred collected Bernard from
school., always standing slightly apart from
all the other mothers. Bernard also was always
on his own. At sixteen, Bernard left school
and got a job as a junior clerk in An Post.
The lonely schoolboy had grown into a lonely
young man. He stayed living with his parents
and when they died, within six months of one
another, he took over their flat. He was now
thirty eight, and had lived on his own for
ten years. He had no friends, or relatives,
had never had a girlfriend or been outside
Dublin. His one interest in life was to save
as much money as he could. Not because he
wanted to buy a car, or go on a continental
holiday but simply because he liked seeing
the amount of money in his post office savings
book go up week by week. It made him feel
secure. The less money he spent on himself
every week the more he liked it.
Two weeks before Christmas, Bernard was annoyed
to find that the lifts of the flats was out
of order when he came home from work. He always
walked home, not wanting to waste money on
bus fares and didn't relish the long, tedious
climb up the steps to his flat which was on
the thirteenth floor. By the time he reached
it he was out of breath, and overheated from
the heavy coat he was wearing against the
bitter December weather. The coat had been
a real bargain...three euros in a charity
shop and hardly worn. Two young girls lay
stretched out on the landing outside his flat
playing some sort of board game and having
an animated discussion on the existence of
Santa Claus. Bernard recognised one of the
girls as being Alice, the daughter of his
next door neighbour. Not that he had ever
spoken to the child but he knew her name was
Alice because he had heard her mother calling
her in for meals. 'You're really thick Alice
O'Brien', the other girl said scornfully,
if you think there's such a person as Santa
Claus. How d 'ya think he can get into these
flats for starters when there's no chimneys?
You're a right dumbo and no mistake. Everyone
knows it's yer dad what creeps in when you're
asleep and puts presents at the bottom of
your bed or under the Christmas tree.' Alice's
bottom lip quivered slightly and for a few
seconds it seemed as if she was going to burst
into tears, then she looked up, suddenly aware
for the first time of Bernard's presence.
'Do YOU believe in Santy?',
she asked him solemnly. Bernard stared down
at the small, perfect, oval face framed by
a mass of tight, blonde, corkscrew curls.
Her large, brown eyes fixed on him with almost
frightening intensity. He felt a lump in his
throat and for the first time in his life
he experienced compassion. He felt so sorry
for the poor little thing for he knew that
no dad would come creeping into Alice's bedroom
with presents. There was no dad in Alice's
life. Her mother was a single parent. The
other girl was also waiting for his reply
only her face was hard, and full of derision.
Suddenly it became very important to Bernard
that Alice's belief in Santa Claus remained
intact. Slightly nervously, for he wasn't
used to talking to children, he cleared his
throat and said, 'Yes, I do believe in him
as it happens.' Alice's face lit up with delight.
'See Marion Daly, I told you so!'. 'Go on
mister. Prove it then', the impudent Miss
Daly challenged, her chin jutting out aggressively.
Bernard did some quick thinking (something
else he wasn't used to doing!). 'Alright then
Alice, you write a letter to Santa Claus telling
him what you want him to bring you, then give
it to me and I'll post it to him. I know where
he lives you see.' 'Oh my Gawd!', the streetwise
Marion Daly exclaimed, slapping her forehead
with the palm of her hand in mock disbelief
at such nonsense 'What a load of old rubbish!''
Bernard saw Alice on the landing the following
day she very shyly handed him an envelope
addressed to Santa Claus. He was surprised
when he opened the letter later in his flat
by the modesty of the little girl's request.
He had expected a whole list of things. A
bike maybe, or a doll's pram. Perhaps even
a computer for he knew that even children
as young as Alice were into computers these
days, but all she asked Santa to bring her
was a Barbie doll. Bernard was even more surprised
by his own excitement and pleasure at going
round the shops in search of a Barbie doll.
He had never bought a present before and he
chose the most colourful, expensive paper
he could find to wrap the box containing the
doll in. When the assistant asked if he wanted
some outfits to go with the doll, he bought
two. A horse-riding one and a party one. As
far as Bernard was concerned the most difficult
part of the whole operation was going to be
presenting the wrapped up present to Alice's
mother. He had only spoken to her once, and
then very sharply when she had knocked on
his front door and asked if she could borrow
a cup of sugar. He had nipped that in the
bud straight away, thinking that if he gave
her half a chance she'd be banging on his
door morning, noon and night wanting to borrow
something or other. Now he wished he hadn't
been so curt.
He waited until it was past nine o'clock
when Alice would probably be in bed and then,
with the parcel under his arm, he rather nervously
rang his neighbour's door bell. Hesitantly,
and with a certain amount of embarrassment
he explained in a whisper why he had bought
the present and emphasised that Alice must
never know it was from him. Alice's mother
was an older version of Alice. Same tight,
blonde curls. Same large, brown eyes. Her
face broke into a warm smile when Bernard
handed over the parcel. 'Why, thank you so
much', she said 'that's the nicest thing that's'
happened since my husband died. You're a very
kind man. Very kind indeed.' Back inside his
flat Bernard was filled with a warm glow.
No one had ever called him a kind man before
and why, he wondered, had he always assumed
his neighbour was an unmarried mother? Maybe
he'd been wrong about a lot of things...
On Christmas morning, Bernard got out the
goodies he had bought for the festive season.
One chicken portion, a bottle of cheap wine
which had been knocked down in price, a bag
of nuts and a packet of chocolate biscuits
which had thirty three per cent extra free.
He put everything out on the table, scratched
his head, and wondered if he hadn't gone a
bit over the top. He was trying to decide
which was the most economical way to cook
the chicken portion when there was a faint
tap on his front door. It was Alice, resplendent
in a bright red dress, with a Barbie doll
dressed up in party clothes cradled in her
arms and a smile on her face which stretched
from one ear to the other. She looked the
essence of happiness. 'You were quite right
about Santy', she told him. 'He got my letter
you sent him and guess what. I only asked
him for a Barbie doll and he brought me two
outfits as well. Do you think he did that
because I've been good? I have been trying
to be extra good.' Bernard gave a nod, entranced
by this little angel. 'I can't wait to tell
that bossy Marion Daly that she got it all
wrong', Alice continued, 'oh yes and I nearly
forgot, mammy says would you like to come
and share our Christmas dinner. There's plenty
for all three of us she said and I'd like
you to come too.'
Share, Bernard thought to himself? It wasn't
a word he'd used that much in his life but
he rather liked the sound of it. It had a
nice ring to it. 'Why I would love to have
Christmas dinner with you and your mother,
Alice', he replied smiling, and gathering
up the wine, biscuits and nuts he followed
the little girl into the next door flat with
a whole new way of looking at life.