Updated: Jan 12
His steps echoed against the barren walls; every heel click reverberating down the hall. He quickened his pace—bringing a hand up to glance at his watch. Light reflected off the face of the watch, the dial’s arms ticking with every step he took. The time showed: 11:56. Letting out a quiet, sigh of relief, he took a deep breath—shoulders relaxing as the comforting scent of newly-printed paper filled his nose. Okay, he still had time, he’d make it. His heartbeat thrummed in his head as he ran past countless closed doors—eyes focused on the bright light at the end of the hall. Oh, how he waited for this very day—spent countless days lying awake at night; all for this very moment. He’d spent so much time trapped inside the crushing atmosphere of the orphanage he was forced to call ‘home’. He’d never really developed a close bond with the other children; he felt distanced, dissociated from them. They’d make fun of him, cast him disgusted glares as if he didn’t notice them. The mothers of the establishment didn’t do much help either, when it came down to it. His eye twitched; thinking about it made him irritated.
So, when one day an old man came through those mahogany doors asking for him, he was ecstatic. The man offered him a place; a job that needed his mind and decisions, a place where he’d belong; to work with the great Saint Nick. It was an opportunity to finally leave that wretched place. Without hesitation, he grabbed that opportunity by the neck. “You’re late.” A gruff voice stated matter-of-factly. Before him stood an older man, dressed in a thick winter coat. His icy blue eyes stared cold and sharp; it was as if one would freeze on the spot if he glared at them. On his chest lay a golden name tag, ‘Dolion’ read out in bold letters under the title, ‘supervisor’. The man raises an eyebrow, drawling out, “We’re on a tight schedule here, so I’d appreciate if you didn’t just loiter around.” “Yes sir.” “Alright, make sure you’re not late next time.” He warned.
Slowly bending down on his knees, he placed both hands on Bari’s shoulders. “Son, I have a special job for you at my workshop”, Old Nick chimed. “It’s a job that requires wit, honesty, determination”, he places his fist against his chest, “and your heart.” He tilts his head, making direct eye contact with him. “Are you up for this job, my boy?”
Distracted, he continues walking. “No, not there, you’re going to be meeting with the boss.” Dolion chided, gesturing to the looming mahogany door beside him. Bari shuffles over to the door, shifting his weight from side to side in anticipation. Dolion slowly turns to the door, and he promptly knocks on the door seven times. The doors creak open and Dolion gestures him to proceed inside.
Upon entering, he was greeted by the chill air of the room, moistened by the heat of the extravagant brick fireplace. Mahogany shelves lined the room’s brick walls, filled to the brim with various books and papers. At the center of the room, was a wooly bear rug, fitted snugly in between two big arm chairs. In front lie a massive oak desk, engraved with golden markings, of which many different toys and gift boxes were scattered. The chair behind the desk swiftly swiveled around to reveal the man himself, ‘Ol Saint Nick. With a wide grin, he tugged at the tips of his snow-white beard. He rose to his full height, arms stretched open wide, “Welcome my boy. I have been waiting for quite some time.”
He made his way around the table, showing off his thick woolen coat, lined with black velvet and fur. His shoes clicked with every step he took, stopping right in front of Bari. Clasping Bari’s shoulder, he shakes him slightly before saying, “Now, I have a job for you.” Saint Nick motions for him to sit down; he then turns his attention to the shelf, from which he plucks a thick hard cover book. He flips open the pages before stopping at an empty page. He begins, “As you know, we in the workshop pride ourselves in gift-giving. As such, we must make sure that the right gifts go to the right people”. He paused, before heaving a sigh, “My boy, there are people out there who are… undeserving of such gifts.” He casts a mournful look. “I hate to admit it, but there are those out there who are willing to commit heinous acts, and many get away scot-free.” Memories flip through Bari’s mind as he shoves them further down to the back of his head. Oh, he knew. He understood it well. “This book, is what we call, ‘The Naughty and Nice List’. It includes and separates those who choose to do good in this world and those who freely border on criminal.” Saint Nick stops in his tracks, glancing around as if to see if anyone would hear him. He turns to fully face Bari. “You know why I chose you, my boy? Out of everyone else at the orphanage? It’s because I saw promise in you, I saw that you had the mind to make the right decisions. You didn’t fit in with them. They all thought you weren’t something, but I knew you were special.” Bari can’t help but beam at the praise, it’s not something he’s used to.
Saint Nick kneels in front of Bari—like he did on that faithful day—and gently taking Bari’s hand, he asks with pleading eyes, “Can you do this for me, my boy?” Listening to Saint Nick was a whole different experience. He’s able to draw you in with his charisma and wording, stringing together tales from far out and sucking you into the narrative. The way he vividly describes things makes the story feel even more alive. Bari couldn’t say no to the person who saved his life, his only friend. He nods resolutely, with a determined smile on his face. “I won’t let you down sir.” An ear-splitting grin spreads across Saint Nick’s face, and he stands up. “Clever boy, make me proud.”
From that day on, Bari did his utmost-best to do what Saint Nick had wanted him to. He had a purpose, and he was going to do his best to fulfill it. Day in and day out, he worked—listing the names of those who were ‘naughty’ and those who were ‘nice’. He never bothered looking ‘too into’ the cases of the people he listed, it was blatantly easy to see who was black and who was white. He followed the rulebook he was given. Stealing? Bad. Sharing with others? Good. He wanted to give justice to those who had done good in the world; and rebuke and punish those who were evil. It was as clear as day.
One day, a loud and blaring ring filled his ears; alarmed, he emerged from his quarters to go and see. Squeezing himself to the very front of the crowd, he sees two security guards roughly gripping the frame of a little girl—she didn’t look a day older than 7—as she struggled against their grip. Stepping forward, he turns to one of the guards for confirmation. “What seems to be the problem?” He asks, glancing down at the girl, whose face was hidden—shadowed by her long blonde hair. “We caught her sneaking into the facility”, the guard reported, “She tried stealing some of the gifts and food.” The girl struggles slightly against the man’s grip, but soon gives up. “We’ll be escorting her out now.”
Pivoting on his heel, the guard makes way to leave. “Wait”, the guards pause, turning around to face Bari once again. “Let me escort her out. We’ll soon be out of your hair.” Shifting his eyes to the girl, He offered a small smile, and through long strands of hair he could see two glossy eyes peering at him. The guards look at each other before shrugging; tossing the girl forward. The crowd that had formed around them during the commotion began diffusing seeing as the situation was under control.
Leading the girl to a quiet, more secluded area, he bent down in front of her. Maybe he could get her name and put her in the list. The ‘Naughty List’ unfortunately, but that’s how things are; she chose to steal, after all. It was really, nothing personal. “Hey”, he said in a soft voice, “what’s your name?” After what seemed to be a few seconds of comfortable silence, she whispered, “…Agatha.” Usually he’d leave it at that, but something in her had piqued his interest. Tilting his head to the side, he continued. “May I ask why you stole?” The little girl fumbled with the ends of her dress before looking up at him with teary eyes. With a shaky breath, she began, “I’m sorry…We don’t have much money, so mommy works extra hard to get more.” She looked up at him, with tears in her eyes, “I wanted her and my siblings to have something nice for Christmas, so I stole. I’m sorry… I don’t mind if I’m on the naughty list this year but please give them good gifts.”
Bari’s smile faltered slightly, caught off-guard by her honesty. A heavy sense of guilt fell upon him, pangs of regret shot through him as he remembered what he had thought of her before. His mouth opened and closed a few times, at a loss as to what to say next. The moment was short-lived, however, as the girl turned tail to leave; he accompanied her to the exit in silence.
“I don’t mind if I’m on the naughty list this year, but please give them good gifts.” This one phrase engulfed his thoughts—no matter what he did, it stayed plastered on the front of his mind. Feelings of guilt, doubt, and regret all shot through him. He gave it a second-thought, it compelled him to reconsider and look over the previous names in the book. Maybe he had gotten them wrong…? Though his eyes grew tired and weary—the dark bags under his eyes deepening even more so—he stayed up; looking into each of the names he had listed before.
Little by little, he began crossing out names; rewriting them under the “Nice List” category. Days passed by, and little by little, he began to uncover more and more of these wronged cases. The more he looked into each case, he realized how dire some of their situations had been. They didn’t do these things because they wanted to; they did these things because they had no choice.
Vince, Isabelle, Casey, Tommy, Isaac, Matthew, Simon, and so many more kids, they really did deserve this one thing.
Dolion burst into his room, panting heavily. Sweat dripped down his forehead, his clothes were crumpled, and his hair was a mess—locks of hair were matted to his forehead. “The boss wants to see you”, he blurts out, “He’s not happy.” He felt his stomach plummet as a sense of dread and nervous anticipation aroused in him.
Stepping into the room, the cold wind whistled past him as the doors creak closed. “My boy.” A low tone whispered from behind him. Bari tenses in surprise. He feels a hand fall onto his shoulder, its grip tightening as the voice draws right beside Bari’s ear. “You’ve been changing the list”, he begins, “Why? The verdict has already been decided, they’re undeserving of our gifts.” “That’s not true, sir.” Bari says, glancing over to the fireplace, outstretching his hand to feel its warmth. “I’ve looked into the cases. Their situations are more complex than I reali—” “You are disrupting the order of things. You can’t expect me to give everyone that passes a gift! It’s a waste of money.” Saint Nick hisses, taking Bari aback; his lips tremble as he falls silent.
“It’s that girl, isn’t it?” He mutters, eyes flicking over to one of the toys on the table. The fireplace grows dim, chilling the room. “It’s simple, my boy, what don’t you understand? The line dividing the good and evil is blatantly obvious, she’s nothing but a thief—it was her intention to do harm.” Saint Nick lowered his gaze, “You shouldn’t be so easily swayed by the testimony of a criminal.” Saint Nick turned and looked him dead in the eye. The uncomfortable silence stretched across the room, as Saint Nick’s deadly gaze penetrated through the chill winter air. “Fortunately, I am a forgiving person. I’ll extend the deadline and let you rewrite all the names as to where they were before. Follow the rulebook this time—it’ll help you set your moral paths straight.” Saint Nick then smiles, as if testing him, “You wouldn’t want to let me down, would you? After everything I’ve done for you—”
“She is not a criminal.” He grinds out, hands trembling. Yet, he didn’t waver. “She’s only a little girl! She had no choice! She did what she could do in her situation and I praise her for that; with all due respect sir, I stand by what I said.” Saint Nick rises from his seat, calmly glaring down at Bari. “I saw promise in you, Bari. I really did.” The doors burst open, the gust of wind blowing out what remained of the great fire that once burned brightly in the fireplace. Guards restrain Bari by both sides; he struggles against them.
Saint Nick walks closer to Bari, raising a hand to his face, tilting Bari’s chin upwards as he leaned in closer. “I guess I was mistaken.” He laughs, “I have no purpose for him, dispose of him quickly.” Bari’s eyes widen and his face shifts into a crazed expression, feelings of guilt, betrayal, hurt, anger, sadness, and so much more swirl within him. He’s pulled away in shock, left with no time to process the dismissal.
As the guards drag him out the door, Dolion passes him by with a disappointed expression. Beside him, walks a young boy, much like Bari once was when he entered the workshop. As the doors began to close behind him, he whipped his head around in desperation as he caught the fleeting glimpses of the man he once looked up to. With cold, calculating eyes, Saint Nick stares at him dead in the eye through the closing gap, as he smirks and begins to the young boy in front of him,
“Welcome, my boy. I have been waiting for you.” He slyly grins as he pats the boy’s back, “I have a special job for you.”