I check my watch, 21.43. My pace quickens, the train within reach. Santa and Rudolph lurch toward the carriage ahead of me with arms linked and cases of dark fruits lodged between their free arms. I opt to avoid their particular brand of festivity and nip into the next carriage.
The train doors bleep and a whistle tears through the jovial atmosphere the carriage is wrapped in. The Just before the doors close a mother and son bounce inside. They celebrate their victory with high fives, each sharp inhale followed by a giggle. The train jolts to a start. As they collect themselves they approach me.
“Is it alright if we sit here?”
“Of course!” I answer, moving my briefcase from the table. Unlike any the rest of the year, I don’t grudge them.
I look out the window, catching their reflection against the darkened backdrop, Christmas lights dwindling as we depart the city. My eyes are drawn to the Christmas tree lodged in the boy’s jumper as he tries to rid himself of it, half revealing a Stormtrooper t-shirt underneath. His mum hauls it back down.
“It’s too cold.” She says. The boy crosses his arms.
I recall the battles I had with mum, trying to rid myself of each Christmas jumper. First it was too itchy, then I feigned an allergy. None of the excuses ever successful. Teachers have heard them all. I should have embraced it back then.
Christmas traditions. Every family has them, good and bad. Mostly bad. I still remember rare moments of unity with my sister, bemoaning our mum’s compulsory photoshoot at the top of the stairs with the two of us holding our stockings. It’s fun to look back and see how progressively worse the hangovers got over the years. Although we were ready to declare all-out war when she insisted on videoing us opening presents in our twenties, resisting became part of the theatre of the day. We might have hated it but fighting the camcorder became a fun tradition in itself.
I like to think Mum felt the same about me trying to sneak downstairs to open the presents every twenty minutes from two in the morning onwards. She must have preferred that to me stoating in at two with presents still to wrap. I swear that’s what killed me during the family quiz that my sister started after Christmas dinner. I dread and miss those games.
The carriage slowly empties as we pass each stop, each departure diluting the cheer until it’s time for the last stop. The remnants trickle up to the train door behind me. I resist the urge to assure them of my love for Christmas. My suit doesn’t fit with the dress code of Santa hats, antlers and Christmas jumpers.
After we filter out of the train I pass the boy and his mother as she zips his jacket over his jumper. I smile at the boy.
“Merry Christmas,” he says.
“Merry Christmas,” I reply, “Make the most of it.”
I meander up the winding road to my apartment block, wrestling the key into the lock before it finally turns. My footsteps echo up the staircase, it’s especially cold here. I enter into my apartment, neglecting the big light, opting instead for the lights which strangle the tree hiding in the corner of the room which extend around my window. I check the answer machine as I do every year for a message that doesn’t come. One of my three Christmas traditions. I fetch my Christmas jumper and change into it, making sure to flick the switch that makes the lights attached glow. I open my briefcase and remove the pack of six mince pies. I stick three of them in the microwave and heat them.
Mum used to usher me out the door round to old Mrs Fisher’s house to deliver banana loaf she’d cooked, my reward was taking the brunt of an hour long conversation. It’s the one tradition I can preserve. The microwave dings and I stick them on a plate. There’s no response at the first two doors on my floor, so I leave the pies sitting at the doorstep. They’re probably still out. I can hear Christmas songs from the last door. I knock the door and linger. They probably can’t hear me over the music, so I knock louder. There’s no response. I think I can hear muffled voices as I motion to knock again but I stop. I place the pie at the door.
“Maybe next year”, I say.