Wednesday, December 21, 2011

An Expat's Christmas

So, I wrote this little story for The Royal Gazette's Christmas Story contest back in 1997 -- I did not win, did not even get an honorable mention - why? well, first off, they probably threw it away the moment they saw it was written by an Expat, and secondly? It's subject was probably a bit too political and dark for them. But nonetheless, here it is, here it is, warts and all:


An Expat's Christmas


    It was Christmas Eve in Bermuda. Night was falling and a northeaster had begun to blow. Hamilton sent her workers early and fast to their bright warm festive homes with their heads filled with thoughts of Christmas hams, time with their families, and a bit of rum to warm their hearts. The streets were deserted and filled with driving rain. Boats in the harbor rose and fell on the grey cold sea. The Christmas lights that lined the streets were twinkling and shivering in the storm. The palms at the Foot of the Lane leaned hard into the sea faring winds that had come from somewhere deep in the snowbound heartland of the America to Bermuda to wish all a Merry Cold Christmas.

    Yet one tiny window overlooking the harbor still remained lit. This was the office of Henry Hall. Henry was desperately trying to repair a line of computer programming code that had crashed his company’s system earlier that day. The problem was which line of code? He would need most of the night to ferret the code out of hiding. The office had gone silent except for the buzz of the overhead lights and the computers.

He heard his boss’ words from earlier that day over and over in his mind, “Henry, do you ever watch nature shows on the tv?”

“Sometimes.” Henry answered as he stared in disbelief at the network that lay dying on the screen before him.

“Well, did you ever notice the way lions rip into the flesh of their prey? And the way there is always another animal waiting out in the wings for that lion to give up?” Henry’s boss was leaning into his ear now.

    “I don’t follow you, sir.” Henry kept staring as his computer screen continued to announce the terrible news; his network was completely trashed. His coworkers were in their offices pulling at their ties and their hair, because they couldn’t get the information they needed. Outside the wind was singing an eerie Christmas carol against Henry’s window.

    Henry’s boss continued, “Well Henry, my man, its very simple. If you don’t get this network back up by Boxing Day, the Hyenas will have their chance, finally, or even worse, the vultures. Oh, look at the time. I need to shove off before this storm gets too bad, what with last minute presents to buy for the family. Merry Christmas, Henry.” Henry’s boss whirled out of the room and minutes later he announced that everyone could go home early, “Its Christmas, you know.” All except Henry dashed for the doors. Henry was used to being left behind, sometimes it was necessary to work on the systems when no one was about.

One person did stop to wish Henry a good Christmas and that was Clarence DeSousa.. Clarence was the young and only Bermudian who worked in Henry’s office. Clarence was the mail clerk who recently had applied for the Assistant Network Technician position and Henry would be his boss if he managed to get the job. Henry knew deep down that Clarence didn’t have the background to get the job and the company would probably bring another expat in to do the job. “Thank you for the interview last week Henry. I really hope you guys give me the chance. See you next week.” Henry waved without turning Clarence’s way. “Fool.” Henry thought, “He’ll never get past the mail room in this place.”

    The hyenas. The vultures. He understood what his boss was driving at and it frightened him enough to stay and work all night. Even on Christmas Eve. He began to work so frantically that he forgot to call his wife to tell her he wouldn’t be coming home. He became so immersed in the code scrolling by on his monitor that he didn’t see the torrent of rain washing down the streets below. He didn’t see the boats in the harbor being tossed about in the black churning waters. He went into a state of oneness with the network that he had worked so closely with for the last year and a half; such a state that he forgot there was a world outside. He forgot that he was on a tiny island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean that was presently besieged by what would be remembered as one of the worst northeasters to hit in over a century. He forgot that it was Christmas.

    Henry became so frenzied that he began to get very tired. He had been working for hours now. The sun had set and the street lights reflected in a wild collidiscopic burst through the rain. Henry had not eaten and most importantly he had not had any coffee. The lack of large amounts of caffeine and sugar had drained him. Henry fought the awful tired feeling that was wrapping him up. He shifted in his seat. He turned up the music on his cd rom. But nothing was going to save him. The code was just within reach, he could taste it. Alas, poor Henry fell asleep.

    He slipped from his chair and curled beneath his desk. His head rested upon that day’s edition of The Royal Gazette which contained another letter condemning expats and their apparent greed; these letters always made Henry so frustrated. From this position, colored Christmas lights that had been strung across his door blinked and shown down on his sleep ridden face. His skin turned the colors of a terrible Christmas card. On and off. On and Off. On and Off.

****

    “Henry? Henry wake up!” Henry could hear a voice. A familiar voice. “Henry wake up right now man.” The voice was closer now and Henry opened his eyes. He was in his office. The sun was shining and a figure was standing over him as he lay on the floor. “Man, you got the nerve fallin’ asleep on the job. You’re lucky its me and not the boss finding you. C’mon get up, it’s a gorgeous Bermuda day, I got something fascinatin’ to show you.” Now Henry knew. It was Premier Gordon. She was dressed in a bright pink suit and shiny patent sandals. Her smile was wide and she held out her hand to Henry to help him up.

    “Ms. Gordon. I mean Premier. I’m sorry you found me asleep on the job. I know how important it is for expats to set a good example for Bermudians. But I was just so tired.”

    “Never mind that now Henry. I must show you something of the greatest importance to you’re future in Bermuda.” She seized his arm and helped him up. Henry was surprised by the strength of this tiny woman who had come to visit him.

    The Premier led Henry through his office door and to his great surprise they entered his old living room in his old house back in the States. They stopped behind the sofa and Henry looked down to see himself and his sweet wife sitting and watching the television.  “You remember this night Henry. It’s the sixth game of the World Series. Its October of last year and it’s the night they called to ask you if you would like to work in Bermuda. You remember Henry?” The Premier was squeezing Henry’s arm just enough to remind him of a kindergarten teacher he once knew.

    “Yes, yes! How could I forget?” With that the phone rang and Henry on the couch let out a huge growl as he got up to answer it. “Who could that be? Its ten o’clock!” His wife was equally annoyed at the interruption. Henry watched as his self left the living room hanging on to the phone. He would be on that phone for an hour and then would return to ask his wife if she had ever thought about living in Bermuda.

    “You know the rest Henry.” The Premier said as she started to turn Henry around and around. Henry became dizzy and then the Premier stopped him. “Look Henry, its Christmas.” Henry rubbed his eyes and before him he saw his living room packed with boxes and his self and his sweet frazzled looking wife were knee deep in newspapers.

    “Can you believe this? Everyone we know is relaxing and drinking eggnog and we’re packing up to move to a rock in the middle of the ocean? I’m tired and I want to sleep.” Henry’s self sat in a pile of paper’s.

    “You can’t stop now. You can sleep on the plane tomorrow. What was your family thinking when they gave us presents?! We’re just going to put them in storage. Henry are we going to survive this?” His sweet tired wife sat down in the paper with him.

    “We’re going to more than survive this. We’re going to make more money than we ever thought we could. We’re going to finally get ahead and out of debt and to top it off we’re going to be living on a tropical island.” Henry kissed his wife.

    “That’s sub-tropical.” The Premier interjects. “C’mon Henry. You’ve seen enough. It’s time for you to go back to your office. Henry is softly weeping. “Premier, ghost. Whoever you are. Why have you shown me this happy past? I was so hopeful then that Bermuda would be the answer to all our dreams.”

    “Now, Henry don’t go mushy on me. Get back to work. You have a lot to do. Merry Christmas.” Henry was now back in his office. He sat down at this computer and started to work, but it was no use, once again he fell asleep.

****

    “Hey mate! Wake up, we got to get you home for Christmas.” Henry was once again woken by a familiar voice. He raised his head from his desk and turned to see his company taxi driver, Cecil Butterfield. “Its too damn windy outside for you to be ridin’ a bike. I’ll give you a lift.” Henry sleepily rose to his feet and followed Cecil out of his office and suddenly he was sitting in Cecil’s warm clean taxi and Cecil began to sing. “Oh de weather outside is frightful, but de…”

    “Cecil, how did you know I was still in the office?” Henry was rubbing his eyes.

    “I have my ways, mate.” Cecil was driving fast through the empty streets, the taxi seemed to have a mind of its own as the winds and rain blew all around them. “El Nino is causin’ dis storm. Dat’s what dey are sayin’ on de radio.”
    “Yeah, well maybe that’s what killed my network today, Cecil.” Henry was staring out the window.

    “Dat all you think about, man? Work? Hey we’re here.” Cecil slammed on the brakes and Henry fell forward off his seat. He crawled back up on his seat and looked out to see that they were not at his house, but at a little pink house somewhere in Somerset. There were bright Christmas lights all over the windows and there was a warm glow in the window. “Henry, I want you to see dis.” Henry followed Cecil out into the rain and cold and they walked up to the glowing warm window and peered in. “You recognize that family? That’s Clarence DeSousa and his sweet wife and their wee one. Dey ain’t got much, but dey are hopin’ de New Year brings dem some luck. You catch my drift, Henry?”

    “Yeah, I’m beginning to see the light. Can we please get back in the taxi and go home? I’m freezing!”

    “Yessir!” Within moments they were at the end of Henry’s driveway and Henry saw that all the lights were off. “Cecil, do think my wife is mad?”

    “Yep. She went to bed two or three hours ago after calling family back home. She ate a frozen dinner and cried a while. Yep. She’s had enough with you and Bermuda, Henry.”

    “Cecil, take me back to my office. I don’t want to wake her up.”

    “Whatever you say, mate.” Cecil turned the taxi around and they sped back into town, but at the Foot of the Lane, the taxi cut out. “Sorry Henry, I seem to be out of gas, you’ll have to walk from here.” Henry got out into the wind and rain and began the long walk up Front Street to his office. He was cold and lonelier than ever.

****

    Through the curtain of the storm, Henry spotted a horse and carriage approaching him. The driver was bent against the rain and the horse stepped lively despite the river that now replaced the road. The horse and carriage stopped in front on Henry and the driver waived Henry up in the seat beside him. Henry peered under the driver’s black hood, but he couldn’t see a face.

    Without warning, the rain stopped, but the clouds and light wind remained. They were driving along the South Shore and Henry looked out to see a suspended highway that surrounded the island, with huge arching bridges crossing the parishes. There was a smell of gasoline in the air and the houses were now high rises. There was garbage washing in with the tide and Henry saw people sleeping along the roadside. They turned back toward town and though it was morning, Johnny Barnes was not there to wave and welcome everyone to town.

    “Oh ghost, what has happened?”

    “The island was abandoned by the foreign companies and workers. They left an over-developed island with natives unable to keep her going.”

    “Ghost, must it be this way?” The unearthly voice remained silent as they drove down an unrecognizable Front Street to come to a stop below the huge dark building that had replaced Henry’s company.

****

    Henry awoke with a start to find himself under his desk. The storm had passed, but the power was out making the island seem eerily quiet. “Have I missed Christmas?” Henry got to his feet and ran out of his building to get on his bike. He sped home and passed a couple walking on Middle Road, he stopped and asked them, “Is it still Christmas?” They nodded yes nervously. He continued to speed home.

    Henry burst into his house and hugged his sweet wife. “ I am so sorry for missing Christmas Eve. But we will have a wonderful day.” She smiled up at him and kissed him. “But first I have to call my boss. I want him to hire Clarence DeSousa as my new tech assistant.”

    “Are you sure? He’ll need so much training.” His wife looked puzzled in her flannel bathrobe.

    “I have never been more sure in my life, mate.”


MERRY CHRISTMAS!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

That Henry sure has one sweet wife!