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THE IMPOSSIBLE QUEST OF HAILING A TAXI ON CHRISTMAS EVE
"Marley was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that," he read out loud from the first page and then shut the book closed. He exhaled, a puff of frozen breath forming in front of his mouth and said, "And this is supposed to be a fairy tale? How morbid."
He held the book in his hands, a real, physical print of "A Christmas Carol" by Charles Dickens. It was only a mass-produced cheap copy but it was vintage enough in this time and age. His late partner had left it on his desk, with a handwritten dedication for him. Scrooge never figured out why.
His name wasn't really Scrooge of course. He was John.
People just called him like that, and the nickname stuck. It was just that every Christmas Eve since his business partner's death on the exact same day, he was reminded of the man. Scrooge didn't have any pictures or anything, just the worn old book in his drawer. He never got to read the thing, it was too dour. He just held it in his hands, feeling the paper, thinking. There's something about the texture of books that appeals to people. The shiny, glossy surfaces of the reading devices nowadays just evoke nothing similar.
Across the freezing office was his assistant, Clara. She was a single mother of one, in her late thirties and needed a new dye of blonde hair. She could have been attractive, if she had managed to get some sleep, enough money to pay her bills and a miracle to lift the worry off her shoulders. She was an accountant, the only employee to Scrooge, and she ended up juggling every single job, manning the phones, doing the accounts, fixing technical issues with the techs, keeping the office livable with a couple of plants.
She was currently rolled up in a blanket like a gyro wrap, shaking and sniffing her nose. The frigid office was dark, illuminated only by the lights outside, some colourful ones from the Christmas decorations, others simply street signs and lamp-posts, and also by the computer monitors on their desks. She was wearing knit colourful gloves and was tapping away on her phone, constantly stopping to check out something on her monitor by pressing a button, sighing, and then turning back to her phone. It was doing gling sounds all the time, filled with incoming and outgoing Christmas wishes to old friends and faraway family. The glove tips wouldn't normally work on the touchscreen, but she had those popular touchscreen gloves with capacitive elements sewn in the fingers. It was a small comfort in the cold office.
"Mr. Tsifoutis, it's still not working," she nagged to no one in particular.
"The server works half the time, so it's good enough. How many hours do you need to input a few accounts woman?" Scrooge grunted, his eyes not lifting towards her.
"But I'm waiting for over an hour to finish this up and go home. The IT isn't responding, they must have left the office for Christmas Eve." She sniffed her nose. In the beginning, she was trying to do it quietly, discreet like a lady should, but after years and years of enduring a winter office, she had just given up and pretty much blew her nose like a loud trumpet.
"Bah! Customer service they call it! It's the same thing every Christmas, you just can't get any work done anywhere," Scrooge spat out, his face turning sour.
"People just want to go home to their families Mr. Tsifoutis," she explained softly.
He got the hint. "Days off with pay... In my day, you could work 14 hours a day 7 days a week and not get paid till four months later," he said shaking his finger.
She waited calmly for him to finish his rant, pulling up the blanket in a futile quest to make herself warm.
"Christmas! Bah! Nothing but a marketing ploy, I tell you. Selling Christmas ornaments and Christmas gifts two full months before the holiday itself. And the waste of it all! The city lights, paid with my taxes. Stupid snow frosting on buildings, requiring money to put on and then money to clean off! A waste. They slap a Christmas packaging on products and mark-up the price by 30%!"
"Thirty percent," she nodded patiently.
He still had more coming, but he suddenly felt tired, so he sagged back into his chair. The back was worn and some screws were poking out of the lower back, making it really uncomfortable. He didn't spare any cash to get new office chairs of course. They were fine and sturdy, they still had at least 10 years of good use. "Anyway, go home. I'll finish up here and upload it in a while. You're gonna drain my account anyway, you can have the day off tomorrow."
She stood up and smiled, putting her stuff in her bag, arranging her desk, pulling down the blinds.
Scrooge grunted at her, "But I want you here the next day half an hour earlier!"
"Yes mister," she said, and watered the plants, cleaned up her cup of tea, picked up his cup and put a new cup of water in the boiler. She left it boiling, cleaned up the tiny little kitchen, went to turn off the Christmas lights she had brought to decorate the office, remembered Mr. Scrooge had already demanded her to stop wasting power and turned it off, went back to her desk and sent the accounts of the day to her boss, went to his desk, threw away the trash, dusted off his hanging coat, leaned to his computer, pulled up the accounts so he could update them as soon as the server was running again, went back to the kitchen, poured hot tea, brought it to his desk savouring its warmth for a second too long, stood in front of his desk ready to leave and then said good night.
"Good night Clara," Scrooge said with the tone a boss has when he allows his employee to leave.
"Maybe we should do the upgrade Mr. Tsifoutis," she said hesitantly. "Our service depends on it, it's been years. I've shown you the cost, it's not that high and..."
Scrooge raised his hand interrupting her, "I know. I'll think about it."
She was referring to their service, which was their object of trade really. Scrooge was running an accounting internet service for small businesses. Despite that their platform hadn't been updated in, pretty much forever, they were still competitive due to their low prices. The cost was kept down of course, by skimping on things like proper furniture, internet hosting, required employees and worst of all for Clara during this season, office heating.
"Merry Christmas sir," she said cordially and turned to the door.
"Bah. A marketing ploy I tell you. Don't you listen to anything I say woman?"
"Of course I do, but Merry Christmas anyways," she said, and she meant it.