This is a work of fiction. A short story, in 990 words.
Derek reached for the remote, and switched off the TV. It was starting earlier every year; the advertising for toys, Christmas food, special offers, and must-have gifts. Even the few stations that didn’t carry advertising still had countless previews of Christmas special programmes that were sure to entertain families over the long festive season. He decided to feed Henry instead, and slid the seed hopper out of the budgerigar’s cage. Henry signaled his excitement by banging the mirror with his beak, and cheeped loudly as the food appeared.
Up early as usual, Derek took his daily walk along the local High Street. The huge tree hadn’t been put up yet, but there was a sign advertising the switch on of the lights, in two week’s time. Despite that, the shops were already festooned with decorations, and all of them had the usual Christmas tat placed prominently on display. Some of the staff were even wearing Santa hats, and tired Christmas pop songs played on loops around the stores. He walked around the aisles, selecting what he would eat that night, and picking up things before putting them back down. Anything to make his time outside the house last longer. At the checkout, he was asked what he was doing for Christmas. Always polite, he smiled at the young woman. “Oh, just the usual”.
But it would not be the usual of course, he knew that. Ever since Mum had died, it never seemed the same. No point putting up the decorations, or the small white artificial tree. Nobody to buy a present for, or to watch those not so special TV specials with. And as for cooking a turkey, it hardly seemed worth it for one person. Even when Mum was around, the meat from it had been too much. Cold turkey and chips on Boxing Day, turkey sandwiches for lunch until the 29th, then turkey soup made from the carcass, always on New Year’s Eve. Until she died in 1990, Aunt Alice would join them for the Christmas meal. Derek had to go and pick her up in his car, and she insisted on going home straight after the mince pies had been served. By the time he got back, Mum would be asleep in her recliner chair, and he would roll up his sleeves, and face the mountain of washing up in the kitchen.
Not that he minded that of course. He had never known his Dad, and never met a girl who liked him enough to accept his offer of a date. Life with Mum was easy, and even easier to stay with, as he grew into old age himself. When he got a computer, Mum thought it was a waste of money. Maybe she was right, as he didn’t need it for work, and soon became bored with surfing the net. But then he heard about online dating, using clubs where people like him met. He set up a profile, and used a photo taken on his ancient mobile phone. The phone that had never once received a text message, or been used to make a call. It still had the same twenty-pounds of credit that he had put on it when he bought it. Derek had paid his membership fee, and been pleasantly surprised by how many women of similar age and interests had been on the site. He admired the photos of many of them, and sent contact requests to the six that he liked the best. But nothing happened. None of them ever replied, or even gave a thumbs up to his profile picture. When his annual contract expired, he didn’t bother to renew it. A few weeks later, he cancelled the broadband contract, boxed up the computer, and put it in the loft. As Mum watched him walking up the ladder, she grinned. “Best place for it. Stupid thing”.
Christmas Eve was hectic on the High Street, as usual. People barged into him as they tried to navigate the crowded pavements clutching bulging bags containing food or last-minute gifts. Derek’s bag was empty, by comparison. It contained a DVD of a western film, something to watch tomorrow, instead of all the rubbish that would be on TV. And a shepherd’s pie that could be microwaved, which would do him for dinner. He had also bought a strip of millet to push through the bars of Henry’s cage. The only nod to the festive season that surrounded him at every turn. A new cuttlefish bone had also been picked up in the Pet Shop. But the one already in the cage wasn’t that old, so he had put that back on the shelf.
On the morning of the 25th, Derek rose early, and got ready to go out. He always loved that quiet walk along the High Street, on the only day that all the shops were closed. Wandering along deserted pavements, enjoying the strange freedom of no crowds, he could see that not all the shops were shut up that day. Mr Ali’s newsagent’s was open as usual, and the Turkish Barber had his sign out. Looking through the window, he spotted Mustapha lounging in one of his own barber chairs, reading a foreign newspaper. Maybe he knew he was getting customers later. Or perhaps he had never worked out that nobody ever got their hair cut on Christmas Day. At the end of the shopping street, he turned for home, and nodded to the man opening up the door of the Chinese Takeaway. Could be he also knew something Derek didn’t, that some customers would still want a Chinese meal, even on that day.
Hanging up his coat, he put the pie in the fridge, and opened the packet of millet. Walking to the cage with a smile, he mumbled, “Here you go, Henry. Happy Christmas”.
But the bright blue bird was at the bottom of its cage, legs in the air.