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The dank cobble-stoned alley opened beyond a gentle curve of brick onto Trafalgar Square, his ears objecting to the sudden severing of silence, replaced by the steady current of car engines, horns, laughter and natter that matched the busy throng around him, the sickly tang of polluted air becoming as quickly undetectable to the nostril as it had so suddenly arisen. Cutting a dark corner between unmemorable Dickensian streets, his senses piqued at the rich whiff of a recently savoured spliff or two which always lingered in that exact spot regardless as to time or day or season or density of crowd. Oslo’s annually bestowed spruce towered as high as a dozen men, still a centum below Nelson’s final crow’s nest, and carollers and revellers alike gathered at stony base and branches, a rousing chorus of famed Christmas tunes rising through the fog, while shopping lists and busy schedules raced behind blank eyes of hurried city folk, laden with duties and chores and the day’s purchases. Passing the gallery, its walls to his left shoulder, he glanced up to Nelson and the grey spectral mist that seemed to perpetually dance around his ankles from November through ‘til May. A man called out to him, and the smell of roasted chestnuts clung to the hairs of his nostrils like the limpets that had tried in vain each hazy summer long past to tear flesh from kneecaps. He did not pause to put a face to the voice before brushing the stranger aside, darting around a scattering of mute, statuesque artistes as the entertained the night’s final tourists with the masks and illusions.
But for the chestnut vendors and the nameless with their rattling tins, no one had a word to say to him, so busy were they all in their own thoughts, their own festive plans to put in place. Every expression was matched in its emptiness, but for the faint line-strewn panic of deadlines casting a grey haze to each brow, and it was clear to him, as he perched himself on the curved lip of the squares’ eastern fountain, that the same thoughts were no doubt being shared a thousand times by a thousand souls; thoughts of plummeting bank balances in exchange rising gift-wrapped piles beneath each tinsel-clad tree, of over-laden Christmas schedules and inevitable quarrels come the turkey feast with so many gathered around one table. The reek of consumerism snowballed from autumn until the unwrapping of gifts and resulted in, depending on an individual’s personal resolve, heavy debt or a heavy heart of witnessing a child’s tantrum, or, if better tempered, quiet disappointment.
It was a time of year too burdened by all manner of imperfections; greed, envy, gluttony, pride, all fuelled by that which feeds life itself; love. A love-fueled desire to bring happiness, while a love-sick blindness convinces many who witness the materialistic festive portrayals of joy that only by recreating the scenes presented to us can we and those we love achieve true happiness. There is no true cure to this ailment once planted seed begins to sprout, for there is nothing in this world for us to do but love. It is, undoubtedly, our greatest instinct, and our greatest, sweetest flaw. A Christmas without love is a Scrooge’s Christmas, full of the ghosts and ghouls of hefty minds and nothing but the realisation of one’s own insignificant torment.