by Ainslie Paton
It was the night before we closed for Christmas and all through the cube farm, there was near chaos and threats of bodily harm.
Because despite everything we’d ever been taught, head office had demanded a seasonal report.
They dropped it on us at the last merry moment, when our brains were out the door and our hopes ill-equipped for a festivities postponement.
Instead of drinking egg-nog, and trying to score a nod from the girls at reception, we had our eyes down, tails up and sadly altered perception.
Singing jingle bells one minute and saying bloody hell the next. Bah humbug, I say, to this state of being thoroughly perplexed.
All we could hope for was that accounts got it together and it wasn’t looking good for sunshiny weather.
No one had ever been asked for a seasonal report and it wasn’t something we could ignore as a last resort.
There were rumours that Rudolf wouldn’t stop forehead-slapping and Carol was blitzed that the server kept crashing.
The spreadsheets corrupted and spat out the wrong numbers and all anyone wanted was to nosh till we slumbered.
I sat at my desk, scared to move, concerned to breathe. Best to look busy, while messaging friends as I seethe.
Then suddenly a voice said, “They can’t keep us here like this,” and up popped our heads with a chair swivelling hiss. It was Nicholas from customer service and he wouldn’t be dismissed.
Brave words, bold. There were murmurs of rebellion and it wasn’t only from the back-office hellions.
“What’s a seasonal report got to do with us?” said Blixen from marketing, adding to the fuss.
“I’ve got plans,” said Dasher from product development.
“Special snowflake,” replied Comet, always so eloquent.
“This qualifies as overtime,” said Cupid with a frown. He’d never completely live that nickname down.
“I’m hungry,” said Donner and everyone laughed, looks like we weren’t getting out of here without a patience overdraft.
And then a shout rang out, “Nobody leaves”. That just about brought us all to our knees.
It was Rudolf and his forehead glowed; that had to be against the office health code.
But Nicholas, good old Nick had other notions. He climbed on his desk and made a commotion.
“Let’s see what the union has to say about this.” I despair, not yet Christmas and everyone is harshing my bliss.
They faced off, across desktops and it wasn’t terribly pretty. Tempers were frayed and no one was witty.
No glitter or fairy lights, no tinsel or bows. Just two angry men denied mini plum pudding and a chance to go home.
Until Rudolf with his pulsing red forehead side-eyed us all, Instantly causing a Scrooge-like pall.
“Get back to work, Donna and Dasher and Vixen. Sit down, Comet and Cupid and Blixen.
And you, St Nick,” Rudolf raised his arm and pointed, “My office now, before we’re all disappointed.”
As I drew in my head glad to escape a mention, an ominous sound cut through that horrible tension.
Scrap, thump, drag, click, click. Thump, scrap, drag, flick, snick.
It was Dancer from reception in high heels and fur, a welcome interruption I most certainly concur.
She strained and she grunted and she dragged a big sack. “What?” she said, annoyed, when everyone stared back.
It was time for secret Santa and no one could object, since we’d all drawn names from a hat and it would be criminal neglect not to go through with this ritual of offices worldwide, despite the fact this was Christmas spirit misapplied.
We all stood about as the presents came out. Budget shop items the starring attraction, especially given the low dollar transaction.
There were colouring books and glow in the dark goo, a farting wallet and a smiling plush emoji poo.
There was a giant pencil and a musical straw, a pen that whistled and a keychain rabbit’s paw.
The best gift given was a tiny tea pot, and nothing was more unusual than sparkly unicorn snot.
I gazed at my present unaccountably afraid. How could one little wrapped item be such a grenade?
But last year a secret someone bought me to a rude pair of shorts and now I’m worried I should find a way to abort.
Then I rationalised it could all be so much worse, this awkward gift giving is a seasonal curse.
I tore at the paper and let go a relieved sigh as inside the wrapper was nothing too sly.
Not a toy you could wind or one you could squeeze, nothing too sexy or edging towards sleaze.
Not a whoopee cushion or an inflatable walking stick. Not a dad joke book or a sad conjuring trick.
My present was bright yellow and when you pressed hard, it quacked. Nothing likely to give me an anxiety attack.
Just a small rubber duck to float in my bath, a cheerier version than the one fashioned famously like Darth.
With the presents distributed and Nicholas still missing, there was naught for the rest of us to do except gift-giving dissing.
But I have to admit I’m happy with my duck, if you could see some of the other gifts—who gives a fire truck?
And in the delay there was one tiny blessing, I got to chat with Dancer without fear of messing things up like I might’ve done if we’d all been half-sloshed as she’d have been sure to have suitably squashed any suggestion of a mistletoe kiss, and that would’ve made my end of year truly hit and miss.
Breakthrough happened as we’d combed our social feeds, posted updates and selfies and hashtagged our particular needs (#officehostagesendhelp).
Nicholas and Rudolf returned arm in arm, joking and laughing, the picture of smarm.
The servers were stable, the numbers lined up, the seasonal report was submitted and champagne poured in red plastic cups.
At last it was Christmas and we set our out-of-office messages with glee, in the hope that the holiday would be worry-free.
As we bolted for the exits before head office decided they needed something else, I switched off the lights, the first to confess.
A good break from work was the real seasonal blessing and all the rubber ducks in the world wouldn’t stop me professing,
Happy holiday to all and to all a good night. May your time off be splendid and the start of your new year a rip-roaring delight.