Waiting. The distant sounds of nuns singing and strumming guitars. Children laughing and playing. Reading “Cows Can’t Jump” and waiting. Sweating in a fuzzy red uniform. The signal. Tucking in my shirt pulled out from too large a belly. Cinching the belt and straightening my mustache as I stride out from behind the corner of the building, shouting “HO HO HO!”
Where are the kids? Here are a few, cowering. One or two shake my hand. “HO HO HO HO HO,” I try again, moonwalking. An older boy comes forward, accuses me of fraud, pokes my belly, pulls my beard, somehow determines both are real. “Ho Ho Ho! Feliz Navidad!” and the children warm to me. Two climb into my arms. One leads me by the hand. The rest of the kids are eating soup. I try some through the cotton beard. “Mmmm, rico!” I am compelled to take a sample from each bowl. I am dragged from room to room to see the babies, the workers, the babies again, back to the kitchen, exclaiming “Ho Ho Ho!” to avoid answering prying questions from the older kids, and inability to answer the adults. A trio of nervous visitors giggles each time I pass through the lobby, being pulled by the robe, the beard, both hands. Workers demand dulces and regales, but I have none, even for the kids. I whisper in Kelsey’s ear that Rudolph is waiting and try to make my escape. I’m followed out the door, and return, submitting to their lead once again. Eventually, I dart out the door, make a change as quick as Clark Kent, and toss the red suit into the rosebushes. I walk back in, breathless, saying I just saw Papa Noel fly away. One boy points to the the window and says “Su ropa,” pointing at the rose bushes.
Waiting again. For an hour this time, in the suit, in a locked room. Doing stretches, making sure my sneakers are properly tied. Another day, another fiesta. Backed against the wall because the windows open on the courtyard where the kids wait too.
Finally, a knock, a turn of the lock, and running to the back entrance. “Ho Ho HO!” again. A hundred times in a parade around the yard. This time ringing a bell in time with the music. Confetti getting in my beard. More waiting, more sweating. I get to hand out bags of treats this time. Where’s the bell? I don’t know. Finally it’s time for a puppet show. I make my exit, my quick change, and then change back for a photo. More waiting. Then a parade. I shook Joseph and Mary’s hand. And several shepherds, and a wiseman, and two angels.
Yep, waiting. In a darkened room. Knowing my shoes will give me away this time. Calls for Papa Noel, an entrance, more “Ho Ho Ho’s!” Applause this time. A big bag of treats over my shoulder. Passing them out. Running out, being warned not to run out. Parents and alleged parents begging for my last two treats. Surrendering them bag and all to a responsible looking young woman with chubby cheeks. Pictures with the kids. No dancing or jumping this time. A quick change, because there’s food at the end of the rainbow this time for me. Chicken and salad (have you ever seen a bottom refrigerator drawer full of salad?) and smoked rice, and fresa soda and gravy. And a spill on the floor, help clean it up, and get to the business of eating. Another spill, leave it.
It’s a wonderful life. Only now I have to return the suit, beard and all.