Santa-- A Christmas Tale

(Dedicated to Paavo, Jul and Fiona."Yuna" is modelled after Fiona.)
Snow flakes were gently falling outside the glass panels. “It would be Christmas soon,” thought Yuna delightfully, “Two more days and I can fulfill my childhood dream of meeting Santa!” Her heart skipped a beat. She knew that this was going to be the best birthday present to herself, ever.

She would be turning 25 on Christmas Day. She would be heading for Helsinki in 15 minutes. The decision to head to Finland was made on a whim. Two days ago, her mother back in Singapore announced to her extended family that she would be match-made straightaway after her 25th birthday. She protested-- “Ma, how can you trust my entire future to a random guy of your choice?”

“It's worrying that a girl like you hasn't even had a serious relationship yet”, her mother retorted, with the rehearsed expression of weariness. “You will be turning into an expired Christmas cake-- nobody buys them after the 25th!” Yuna then tried to explain to her mother that remaining single is an informed choice--one should celebrate singlehood and the freedom it brings, and travel while one is still young.

The frown lines on her mother's forehead just deepened over the years. They have been fighting over this issue since she was twenty, but the recent matchmaking decision was the last straw. Yuna bought the air tickets. She wanted to celebrate the first quarter of her life by living life on her terms.

“But damn, it's going to be a long way home.”--she suddenly realized--“Thirteen hours in total, excluding transit time.”
***
Yuna was first introduced to “Finland” when she did a one-year student exchange in Waseda University, Tokyo. Her best friends somehow turned out to be Finns-- she loved their directness, their silent disapproval of small talk, and how fiercely protective they are of their privacy and loved ones.

“Sisu—or persistence,” proclaimed Paavo Santamäki, “is characteristic of all Finns. We protect fiercely.” And that was probably the lengthiest comment Santamäki ever made about the Finns. Finns on the other hand, love Yuna because of her independence, her quirky character, and the fact that she turns red after one shot of Tequila. Santamäki drank by the jug. 

Regrettably though, she had lost contact with Santamäki after the cherished year in Japan, because Yuna had always taken for granted that there is always Facebook. One day, Santamäki suddenly deleted his. She yearned to meet Santamäki again, but knew deep down that it was probably easier to meet Santa Claus than this Santa, since he made up his mind to disappear-- and that was what she set out to do with this trip.
***
The Finnish baby had clear, sky-blue eyes.
Yuna offered him a Mentos. He looked at her suspiciously at first, but eventually reached for it and was happy.
“His name's Niko.”
“He's really cute!” Yuna grinned from ear to ear.
Mother chuckled, and the baby Niko followed. He seemed amused by this Asian sister with jet-black hair. Yuna patted its head, full of blonde streaks, so blonde that they seemed white. 

“The train's coming in five minutes, let's get ready?”
“Ohno. Where are my tickets?”
Mother Frowned.
“I might have dropped it on the way here. This is terrible. The next train is in 5 hours.”
“Shall I search for you? You might have missed it somewhere?”
“It's not possible, my bag is rather organised. It's gone.” Mother sighed.
“Are you in a rush home?”
Joo, Christmas time is extremely private for us. All shops are closed and we stay home. The earlier we are back, the more relieved everyone would be.”
“Here”, Yuna pushed her ticket into Mother's palm, “Take my ticket.”
Mother was stunned.
“I'd take the next train. Don't worry about me, I have a thick novel I can read.”
Silence.
“But how could I cause delay to your schedule--??”
“It's a long way home. Take it.”
Mother –too overwhelmed and grateful by the kindness of a stranger-- stashed fifty Euros into Yuna's palm. “Kiitos.” She fished a pen out of her tote and wrote on a piece of serviette her name and contact number.

The train arrived. Yuna sent both Mother and Niko onto the carriage.
Moi Moi!” She waved widely, happily.
She seemed to have exclaimed that a little too loudly. Around her, eyebrows were raised, as though it was unbecoming for an adult to behave as such. “Perhaps this lady drank too much,” an old man mumbled to his wife. Yuna, oblivious to all these, continued waving. Then she felt a tap on her shoulder.

“Yuna?”

She gasped at the familiarity of the husky voice. She turned around briskly and saw, to her utmost surprise...
…..Paavo Santamäki.
Santa smiled.

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