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Compliments of the Season

The shop rose up from the pavement, its Portland stone walls towering over the busy street. Every green canopied window sparkled with hundreds of tiny lights. Icicle lights hung from the rafters high above the street and the green double doors were picked out with rope lights and red velvet bows. Above them on the porch canopy sat a moving model of Father Christmas and his sleigh. The shop glowed, an irresistible lure to the passing shoppers.

A small boy, encased in a thick down jacket with a red bobble hat rammed onto his head, stood before one of the windows, his wide eyes reflecting the colourful display. He leaned in closer, touching the window with his mittened hands, nose pressed to the glass.

He watched, entranced, as a parade of snowmen trundled down a snow covered mountain. They wore skis and scarves and were towing a sleigh filled with toys. The boy stared as they skied passed, then turned his attention to the sleigh. He gazed longingly at a shining black remote controlled car nestled amongst the cuddly toys, train sets and dolls.

'They sell all that stuff inside,' said the older boy next to him.

Both boys contemplated that thought with great reverence, stepping back slightly to look at the vast shop.

'Three floors of the best toys money can buy,' continued the older boy in an awed tone.

'How much do you think that car costs?'

The older boy scoffed. 'More than you've seen all year, I reckon.' He looked down at his young companion and his expression softened. 'They've got smaller ones that are a bit cheaper. Not as good as that one of course, but still.'

The small boy gazed through the green doors. He looked back at the window as the snowmen disappeared through a white cotton curtain on the other side of the display. His feet were frozen and he sniffed hard. The shop looked warm.

'Are you allowed to play with anything?'

The older boy smiled. 'One or two things. Dad reckons they allow it so the kids fall in love with the toys and their parents have to buy them.'

The small boy looked up at the older boy. They grinned. Then, as one, they marched to the door and pushed inside. And stood stock still.

If the exterior of the shop had been exciting it was nothing compared to the interior. A giant toy bear wearing a concierge uniform and cap stood right by the door, bowing to all the customers and waving them inside. Leaning close, the small boy could hear servos whining as they moved the bear's arms.

Overhead flew model planes, kites and reindeer. The broad staircase leading to the higher floors was bedecked with bows and swags and golden lights dripped from every inch of the ceiling. The great halls of the toy store rang to the sounds of Christmas music, and robots, and trains, and talking dolls, and cars, and computer games, and, above all else, the ringing of the tills.

The older boy inhaled deeply and smiled. 'You know what that is?'

The small boy looked up, frowning. 'What?'

'That smell, little bro. That smell is the smell of money.'

The small boy wrinkled his nose. He had no idea what money smelled of. Nor was he especially interested. What he wanted most right now was to find the model cars. The older boy was still thinking about the money.

'I shouldn't mind just one hour's takings, from just one of those tills. Can you imagine? What you couldn't buy with that kind of money.'

The small boy shook his head and ran for the stairs. The older boy followed slowly, gazing around at the packed shelves, the hordes of people, the constant hurrying to and fro of staff carrying bag loads of toys for their wealthier customers. It was as though they had stepped into a whole other world.

His young friend was already investigating the remote controlled cars when the older boy reached the top of the stairs. He was being watched by a member of staff who was making every effort to appear jolly whilst maintaining a careful guard of the more expensive items on sale.

Suddenly a bell rang out and a large man dressed as a town crier appeared on the ground floor, calling out in a loud voice that threatened to deafen any shopper incautious enough to be standing nearby.

'Oh yay! Oh yay! Hear ye, hear ye! On this day, the twenty-first day of December, in this the Olde Toye Shoppe of Tinbly Town, it hath occurred that the one millionth customer hath walked through these doors. The owner of the Olde Toye Shoppe of Tinbly Town hath decreed that the one millionth customer shall be granted a sixty second spree of the store and that any items they pick up within that time shall be theirs to keep!'

There was a chorus of cheers and 'oohs' from the shoppers. The two boys stared at each other, wide eyed, hardly daring to hope.

'You don't suppose …' said the smaller.

'Nah. It won't be the likes of us, will it?'

The bell rang out again and all attention returned to the crier. 'It hath been determined, by means of a clever computer monitoring system,' the waiting crowd chuckled, 'that the one millionth customer walked through these doors just moments ago.'

The boys looked slowly at each other. 'We just walked through the doors!' said the small boy, hardly able to contain himself.

'Along with about a dozen other people,' said the older boy, feeling it was his responsibility to keep a level head.

'Hear ye! The computerised system hath issued a photograph of the one millionth person to the owner of the Olde Toye Shoppe of Tinbly Town. His staff are now searching for the lucky winner of the sixty second shopping spree. I ask that you all remain still for the next few seconds while they locate the lucky winner.'

The crowd fell silent and every person present tried to catch the eye of the searching staff. The two boys stood close together, barely breathing, watching as the members of staff slowly made their way through the crowds towards them.

'They're coming this way,' whispered the small boy.

The older boy rested a hand on his shoulder. 'Calm down, little bro. It won't be us.'

But as he watched the members of staff appeared to look their way, consult a picture, then head towards them purposefully. The boys froze in place. The older boy's grip on the small boy's shoulder tightened. And then …

The shop workers walked past the boys and bent down before a little girl just behind them. They studied her face while her hopeful parents stood beside her. Then one of the members of staff took her hand and called out to the shop in general.

'We've found her!'

The boys sagged against each other, watching despondently as the little girl was led to the stairs, followed by her beaming parents.

'Hear ye! We have found our lucky winner!' bellowed the crier, quite terrifying the little girl.

The small boy blinked back tears and looked down at the remote controlled car sadly. 'I thought for a minute …'

The older boy patted him on the back. 'I know. Never mind, eh. It was a nice dream.'

The staff made a clearing for the little girl, where the rules of the prize were explained to her and her parents. The little girl's mother knelt beside her and they whispered to each other, nodding their heads excitedly. Then the crier rang his bell again. The little girl looked up at her mother, who winked back conspiratorially.

'Hear ye! Our one millionth customer is one Miss Allie Grisham. Her sixty second shopping spree will begin … Now!'

The little girl giggled and raced off to the display of dolls, grabbing a life-size doll with curly blonde hair and an assortment of outfits. The attentive staff quickly relieved her of them. The girl then raced to the book stall and snatched a selection, practically throwing them at the staff as she warmed to the game.

Then she sprinted up the stairs and made a beeline for the large doll's house in the corner. She looked back at her mother, her eyebrows raised. Her mother gave a barely perceptible shake of her head and flicked her eyes at a slightly smaller, but more elaborate one. Two sisters standing beside it watched sadly as it was carried away by the staff. The bell rang out downstairs.

'Thirty seconds gone!' called the crier.

The little girl sped up, wriggling through the other shoppers to emerge seconds later with armfuls of dressing-up clothes, and board games, and a train set. The boys stepped aside as she rushed towards the remote controlled cars and snatched up the very car the small boy had been admiring. By now the following staff were clutching armfuls of toys, struggling to keep up with the girl. Her parents were laughing, enjoying their daughter's success.

The small boy watched the car disappear and sighed. The older boy looked down at him and smiled understandingly. 'Come on, little bro. Let's go and get some roast chestnuts from Bill. He's bound to let us have a bag cheap.'

The boys walked down the stairs, listening to the cheers of the crowd as the crier counted down the last few seconds. By the time the bell rang for the end of the spree, the boys were pushing back through the door to the cold street.

They turned and walked towards the chestnut stall, heartened by the sight of their old friend and his roaring fire. He saw them coming and started filling a paper bag with hot chestnuts. He handed it to the older boy as they walked up.

'There y'are lads. Warm yourselves up with these. Nah, put your money away, son. Business has been good today,' he said, as the older boy delved in his pocket for some coins.

'Thanks Bill. That's right good of you.'

Bill pointed back down at the toy shop. 'Hear there's been some excitement down there.'

The small boy looked back sadly. 'The one millionth customer won a shopping spree. It wasn't us though.'

The older boy nudged him, holding the bag open. 'Never mind that. Have a chestnut.'

The small boy pulled one from the bag, biting it open and smiling shyly at Bill. 'Thanks Bill. I'd rather have chestnuts anyway.'

Bill laughed heartily and batted the bobble on his hat. 'That's the spirit, lad!'

He watched as the boys walked away, sharing the nuts and speculating on what they would have picked had they won. He shook his head and went back to serving his customers. For the next few minutes he was kept busy. Business was, indeed, brisk today. This close to Christmas people seemed to be a little freer with their money.

'I say! Excuse me?' Bill looked up in surprise as a well dressed man leaned past the queue, waving to get his attention. 'Sorry to barge in, but you haven't seen two young lads have you? One wearing a red bobble hat?'

Bill rocked back on his heels and regarded the man carefully. 'Possibly. Who wants to know?'

The man smiled awkwardly. 'My daughter, actually,' he said, putting an arm around a small girl's shoulders. She was clutching a large bag to her chest and looking around anxiously. 'She has a gift for them.'

Bill looked down at her, deciding she represented no trouble for his young friends. 'They went that way, towards the park.'

'Much obliged, sir. Merry Christmas to you!' said the man, as he and his daughter hurried away towards the park.

'That's the lass who won the spree,' said a woman from the end of the queue. 'She won a whole load of toys. And do you know? She gave every one away! Every last one! There were some happy kids in that shop, let me tell you!'

Bill stared at the woman, then gazed after the little girl as she and her father trotted through the gates to the park. 'What's she got in the bag then?'

'That was the last bag packed. It was a computer game and a remote controlled car. She was so upset when she couldn't find those two boys. She and her mum had seen the little one playing with the car. She was desperate for him to have it.'

The waiting customers all began talking at once, inspired by such an extraordinary display of generosity. Bill looked down at his money bag, swollen from the day's takings, and grinned. For the rest of that day, his customers found themselves walking away from his stall with an extra large bag of chestnuts, free of charge, compliments of the season.


© 2012 Kay Lawrence.


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