It really was one hell of a shitty day.
Sarah didn’t know which way to turn. Her big mouth had landed her in trouble once more and this time the ditch she had dug her self was far too deep to crawl out off. Who would have known that an innocuous little comment from her asshole of a boss would start a firestorm that had ended up getting her fired.
She should have kept her mouth closed; Sarah lambasted herself for the thousandth time. She had dealt with Andrew's disregard for personal space many times before. Gritted her teeth and got on with it for a whole year. But something had snapped that morning. The irony was that this time his comment wasn’t even that bad to begin with. All he had said was,
“Hey honey, how is my best little worker doing?”
Granted there was that all familiar undercurrent of lechery to his every word, the seemingly innocent brush of his sweaty hand on her back, his hot breath too close to her ear, but that wasn’t something out of the ordinary, hadn’t she been dealing with similar advances from him and every other idiot for months. Hell, she had even employed her thus far successful method of counting to ten before giving him a short professional little greeting.
But somehow that wasn’t what she had done, not this time, too much work, too little pay, and a landlord champing at the bit for rent had already debilitated the camel. All she needed was a straw to break her back, that final straw came in the form of one simple little sentence.
Sarah had let rip, and how.
If she had had a skewer at that moment she would have hooked the randy little porker and set him on fire. She couldn’t even remember what she had said to him, all she remembered was standing at one end of the office with her boss in a corner of the room staring at her with fear in his beady little eyes, tiny droplets of sweat on his leathery forehead, and a telephone receiver clutched in his hand.
Next thing she knew she was being escorted none too gently from his office by two burly security guards kicking and screaming all the way down from the seventeenth floor to the front door.
Only when she stood on the cold pavement outside on a frosty London December afternoon did she blink and shut up. Standing there with the lunch hour crush of office workers milling around her like busy bees Sarah finally grasped the fact that she had just gotten herself fired right before Christmas. No pay meant No money for rent which equalled spending Christmas Eve on the street where all the homeless ended up. Unfortunately this prospective hobo had an aversion to the cold and a penchant for cleanliness, her industriously starched white shirt and meticulously clean attire were a testament to those facts.
As if on cue she saw a grubby old man sitting on cardboard next to a dog that looked much cleaner than the owner, a little plastic cup lying in front of them. Looking at the pair Sarah cringed inside, she almost ran back to her office to beg Andrew for forgiveness but something stopped her.
A mysterious stiffness in her back wouldn't let her budge; it seemed she had finally developed a backbone. That this momentous event had not occurred when she had had her head dunked in the toilet at school or when the girls all laughed at her for being ginger, fat and boy-friendless at seventeen was definitely ironic. She had always dreamed of being able to stand up for herself, it seemed that some genius in heaven had finally decided to grant her wish. The only problem was that it had come at the worst possible moment.
Her rent was up, University loan payments were due and she had to pay three hundred quid on her latest credit card bill just to cover the minimum. Added to all that was the fact that her mother would be coming for dinner tonight and all she had at home was a half bottle of Tesco quality wine sitting forlornly in her "wine cabinet" just waiting to be served with a can of tuna and some crackers.
It was enough to do her head in, she could just imagine what her mother would say, a pencil thin eyebrow arched high on her forehead and a look of condescension on her angular face. A look that only Catherine Douglas was capable of bestowing and one that made her only daughter want to strangle herself.
Catherine was her only family and she meant the world to Sarah. There was just one little niggling issue which marred their perfect relationship and was the root of all those irritating late night lectures. Catherine wanted a stable life for her daughter which according to her meant being in a committed relationship. It was the hot topic of discussion whenever Sarah talked to her mother and lately Catherine’s attempts to bully her into connubial bliss were becoming exceedingly aggravating.
Today was definitely not a day when Sarah wanted to hear the same old arguments about her relationship status. She was twenty-two, single and definitely not ready to mingle but she couldn't get that fact through her mother’s thick head. Being financially independent served as scant armour against a badgering mother who could give Stalin a run for his money in the frozen stare department. And as of today Sarah didn’t even have that card to flash in her mothers face.
On days like today Sarah wished her mother still had a job; at least that way she would have less time to concentrate on her only daughter and more to bully her co-workers. But Catherine had only recently retired from her job as a PA and it seemed her newest mission in life was to sort out her hapless daughter.
A loud bark stopped Sarah’s dejected crawl through the crowd towards the tube station. It was a miracle it had been able to snap her out of her dazed misery. She looked back to see the brown dog and the hobo staring intently at her. Something made her walk back and jerk to a stop right in front of them.
"Here," she said, quickly rummaging in her little black purse for some money, ending up with a few assorted coins which she tossed into the plastic cup. Sarah murmured a glum little “Merry Christmas” and began to walk off again.
"What's the matter love? You look awfully sad for such a pretty little thing."
Like any woman with an ugly duckling syndrome, Sarah perked up instantly. Never before had she been called a pretty little anything, at five eight and a healthy size ten Sarah had seldom been referred to as "little". In fact she practically towered over the majority of women especially in three inch heels like the ones she was currently wearing.
She gave him a jaunty smile, not caring in the slightest that the compliment had come from a man with a bushy white beard who smelled like beer and pee. So eager was she to grasp at the tiniest of straws that she failed to notice that it was more than a little strange for a homeless man to be sitting in front of office buildings in the middle of Canary wharf during business hours. She also failed to comprehend that the man had quite a smooth and cultured accent for a hobo sitting on a street corner and that the teeth he flashed her way in an answering smile were far too straight and white for the majority of the British public.
She quickly came back down to earth however when she realized that she was standing there smiling joyously at a fat old man who had impossibly blue eyes, eyes that were both inquisitive and intense. There was something strange about that all knowing smile, it made her slightly breathless so she looked at his dog instead. It was a short-haired dog of no discernible breed, with a bright red nose.
Yes, a bright red nose, for a second Sarah thought it looked suspiciously like some kind of deer especially with that pointy snout but then she rubbished that ludicrous thought, she wasn't really in a good frame of mind today and would probably mistake a cockroach for a cow.
"Anything you want for Christmas love?" asked the old man with that dreamy baritone Ala Gerard Butler.
"A job, some money and a Christmas roast would be a good start." She shot back under her breath, laughing a little at her self for this weird conversation she was having with a homeless man. So mired was she in her own problems that she didn't notice the stares people who walked past her were sending her way.
Some just looked, a few murmured to one another and others simply ignored her, walking on and instantly forgetting the tall, smartly dressed red-haired woman who was busy talking to a deserted stretch of sidewalk. After all this was the recession and one was bound to run into a few cooks now and again.
"Come now child you can do better than that. If you could have one wish in the entire world, just one thing that you desire above all others what would it be?"
A normal person would have smiled vaguely, said a crisp goodbye and walked off at this point. A normal person would not have stood there actually considering her answer to the ridiculous question. But Sarah wasn't feeling very normal today, she had just lost her job, would be having a miserable Christmas dinner with her blatantly judgmental mother and would probably end up right next to this guy on Christmas day counting pennies in a cup.
So no, she didn't walk off, neither did she laugh off the question. Instead she stood there and blurted out the silliest, most immature teenage fantasy that popped into her head,
"I want my very own castle; I want tons of servants and men throwing themselves at my feet. I want to be pampered and rich; I want my own bloody fairytale."
Belatedly realizing that she had actually said all that out loud Sarah pulled back her head and laughed expecting the old man to join in but she didn't hear a peep from either the man or his dog. Surprised she looked down only to be confronted with kind blue eyes and a very serious expression.
"Is that truly all you want child?" he asked earnestly, "Are you sure all that will make you happy?"
A chill ran down her spine, a weird premonition sneaked its way into her head for a moment. Something told her not to answer, something inside urged her to walk away while the going was still good. But then her troubles cascaded back into her head like an angry torrent of water and washed away all her trepidation. She looked straight into the old man's deep blue eyes and answered;
"Yes, that is all I want"
For a moment he just looked at her saying nothing and then he closed his eyes. Everything froze, the very earth seemed to stop turning and Sarah felt like she was standing on the edge of some kind of precipice all alone, both ready and willing to jump off into the unknown. Something had just changed, something monumental had just occurred, something magical and wonderful, something Sarah couldn't quite put her finger on.
Suddenly everything was back to normal and she was standing on the pavement again looking down at the hobo and his pet.
"Go home child, go home and go to sleep. Everything will be alright in the morning."
Those words finally registered and a shocked Sarah realized that the crowds around her had thinned considerably. It wasn't afternoon anymore in fact it looked like night time was fast approaching. Stunned Sarah glanced at her wrist watch, it was five thirty p.m. How long had she been standing there? She was stuck feeling both confused and uneasy. Sarah opened her mouth to speak but the words simply wouldn't come out.
The air around her seemed to be buzzing with energy. A strange feeling of weightlessness assailed her along with a desperate and overwhelming need to sleep.
"Remember girl, the heavens will you give you one opportunity to repent. Just one chance to reverse the fate you have chosen for your self. When that day comes you must decide." the man said intensely, but his words barely registered on her, his voice seemed like a distant echo and unfortunately Sarah was far too woozy to comprehend what he was on about.
Her eyelids were becoming heavy and she was beginning to feel pretty good, carefree and happy like a jolly drunk roaming about the streets after an England football win.
Shaking her head Sarah looked disorientated towards the old man, who now seemed to be wearing a pristine Santa outfit complete with expensive-looking white fur. "What a day!" Sarah thought giggling weakly. First her boss, then a hobo and his dog and now Santa with Rudolph standing majestically at his side. Nothing would ever surprise her again.
"Well Santa you really need to get on Atkins, looking kind of pudgy mate." She laughed, too emotionally and physically drained to even comprehend her situation anymore.
The make believe Santa simply smiled back "Go now child." and just like that, Sarah walked off, leaving a cheery merry Christmas in her wake, much too tired to realize that she had just sealed her fate and inadvertently changed her life forever.
"They never learn" Santa said, shaking his head as he watched the young woman walk away, unconsciously running a gloved hand down his round belly, "Maybe I should keep off the Christmas cookies for a few days." he said to Rudolph who looked up at him with a baleful stare, the deer equivalent of rolling ones eyes.
With an affronted "Hmfff..." Santa turned his nose at his friend and promptly disappeared into the December night sky.
To me constructive criticism is much more important than wholesome praise.