An alternative christmas story
Keffie shifted gum from one side of her hamster cheeks to the other and squinted doubtfully at the lumpy pile of metal lying in the alley. It wasn’t unusual to find detritus decorating the few yards surrounding her council flat and Keffie wasn’t too proud to make use of some of it, like the grey and slightly smelly duvet someone had ditched recently. Great, that had been, and the damp stink had soon disappeared after she’d hung it over her balcony in the weak sunshine. Still, you’d have to be bleedin’ desperate to give a home to a lump of tin, she thought scornfully. Even she wasn’t that hard up. She kicked it with her cracked trainer and waddled back to her scarred back door, splashing through shallow puddles of brown half melted snow. Christmas on the Eastside estate was looking pretty grim.
Keffie’s real name – the one her waste-of-space mother had landed her with – was Kefalonia, would you believe. Named after a holiday her mum had taken 18 years ago with some bloke she’d met. It didn’t last of course, none of them did, but the holiday had made such an impression on her mum that when she returned and found that yet again she was expecting, she swore she’d give the kid a name to remember. “Bloody good job she didn’t go to Beirut!” chortled her mate Shaz - though she had no idea where Beirut was, only that it was a funny word. Keffie only muttered that if she caught anyone – anyone at all – calling her by her full name, they’d get battered. She also thought, but only to herself, that Beirut, wherever it was, couldn’t be much less dire than where she’d ended up.
Despite the glamorous holiday, the Mediterranean sun, the toned and glistening bodies of Kefalonian sunbathers, none of it had rubbed off on its namesake. Keffie at 19 was an overweight, pasty skinned teenager with the jowly face of a middle aged dowager addicted to junk food and vino plonko. She worked part time in a bar round the corner from her spartan flat, had given up hope of ever dating anyone off X Factor and spent most evenings on her shiny faux leather sofa balancing a plate of chips on her soft dome of a stomach, watching soaps.
The following morning the tin still lay there on the path as Keffie made her way down the alley to the bins. She bent with difficulty to give it a closer look and realised it was some sort of container and less mangled than she’d thought. She picked it up curiously and, in the spirit of recycling that was second nature to her, brought it into her tiny kitchen. It seemed to glow despite its patina of grime. Keffie thought it would look quite smart on her TV with a few artificial flowers in it, and dug out an old tea towel to give it a shine. The blinding flash that filled the room gave her such a turn she thought the place had exploded, and from a crouching position on the floor she looked fearfully up to see what she could only describe later as “a bleedin’ angel, innit?” The Being in question undoubtedly preferred a more elegant title but was too polite to say as much.
“Turns out” recounted Shaz the following week to some of her mates down the Labour Exchange “This ‘ere angel or whatever it was, he only wanted to give Keffie the wish of her life! Lucky sod …” Her audience of the usual suspects, Big Eddy, Dee-Dee, the bloke who never spoke except to the counter clerk, and Cokey who everyone suspected only came in out of the cold, gawped, chewed and whistled their responses to the unlikely tale. It took a lot to impress this crowd, and weirdos leaping out of tin cans wasn’t going to do it, even if the tale did make a change from which skips had the least manky food.
Shaz wasn’t wrong – or at least she was partly right, having heard the story second hand from Keffie whose grasp of language was limited to ordering pizza and heckling coppers.
The creature that Keffie had released after her rare housewifely polish had perched quite casually on the edge of her greasy cooker, unfazed by the layers of caked-on lard. It smiled gently down on the plump and trembling girl with the lank hair, ill fitting tee shirt and too short skirt. Keffie’s hands with their bitten down chipped nails were clamped firmly over her eyes, and even from on top of the cooker, the creature could clearly hear what sounded like whimpering. “Be calm, child” It murmured in a voice like warm treacle. “Uncover your eyes and look at me, please. Am I not pleasing?” One of Keffie’s extravagant false eyelashes had come adrift and stuck out alarmingly like an escaping tarantula – which was one creature the angel really didn’t have Christian charity for – but nevertheless it appreciated being released from its container and felt an obligation to return the favour. Keffie peered up at her cooker and couldn’t help wondering whether she’d left the burner on, and if she should mention it. “Er, yeah, you’re allright, you are. Dunno ‘ow you got ‘ere but I think there’s some biscuits somewhere if you fancy ….” Patiently, the creature explained the great gift It was bestowing on her, the chance to have any dream fulfilled – a one and only offer of a lifetime as it were. It being the festive season and all.
Keffie, never one to pass up an opportunity of something for nothing, screwed up her face in concentration. She wasn’t used to complex thought processes, and this wasn’t to be rushed. The creature waited with infinite patience, still resting on the cooker, one pale glowing arm draped across the hood and obscuring a magnet that read “thin girls are sick in the head.”
“Got it!” she yelled. “You ain’t gonna welsh on the deal, are you? Not with you being ET an’ all.” This puzzled the creature momentarily but it waited expectantly. “There’s somewhere I wanna go. I’ve never ‘ad a holiday abroad an’ well, it’s summat I need, see? Get me outta this ‘ole and into the sun for a bit..”
“Not a problem, fair one” replied the being, for whom all humans looked the same. “Name the place.”
“Beirut! I wanna go to Beirut!”