A Crippled Christmas Carol
30th November 2005
"He told me, coming home, that he hoped the people saw him in the church, because he was a cripple, and it might be pleasant to them to remember upon Christmas Day, who made lame beggars walk and blind men see."
From A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
Tim was very small. Very small indeed. Perhaps the smallest boy that ever lived. They talked about that, in the church, the congregation, how their little Tim was so very tiny. Their own little miracle. Never a smaller boy had ever they seen, nor ever would they. Not in their lifetimes. Yes, Tim was such a special little boy, everyone said so. God certainly did work in mysterious ways, that much was true.
Tim shivered and grinned, his tiny dimples pricking his cheeks so sweetly; it was as if the finger of God had touched him personally. Tim felt the gaze of the entire congregation, each person looking upon him and sensing the grace of God at work. He was well pleased. He watched as everyone turned toward the altar and said a prayer. Although silent, Tim knew what they were praying for, as they told him often: they gave thanks for their health and the health of their families, and they prayed for that good boy Tim, wishing that he be kept safe and well against this harsh winter weather. The congregation felt nothing but pity for him.
When the sermon came to an end, the Crachits stood in the doorway, allowing the other church-goers to leave ahead of them. In turn, each person smiled and wished the family a merry Christmas. One or two of them patted Tim on the head as they passed, and wished him good health. Without exception, Tim returned their good wishes. "Merry Christmas," he said, "and God bless us every one." The church-goers strained to hear him, for Tim had but a plaintive little voice.
After the others had left, Bob Crachit lifted his son onto his shoulders and carried him home, through the cobbled streets, which by now were thick with snow. This did not dampen Tim's spirits. Everyone they passed tipped their hats, smiled, and wished them compliments of the season. One or two pressed a small coin into Tiny Tim's palm. Tim enjoyed this. He grinned back, beatific. He was such a good child.
But then the breeze became stronger, and he heard a thud, and he was sure he felt his bed vibrate beneath him. He called for his father, but Tiny Tim's voice was so, well ... tiny ... that the sound came out as nothing more than a whimper. Poor, terrified Tiny Tim! He was too anxious even to pray.
After a few seconds - Tim did not count how many - he heard a voice calling to him, an eerie, horrific voice.
The voice was deep and gravelly, old and a little bit shaky. Tim thought maybe he was going to die and go to heaven, and that this was his grandfather come to meet him. Tim had been expecting to die for some time - everyone thought he was going to. "Oh well," he thought. "Never mind. What a privilege it will be to be in heaven." He smiled to himself, feeling terribly, terribly pleased.
"TIM! OPEN YOUR EYES, FOR GOODNESS SAKE!"
"ABOUT TIME TOO!"
No, this was not Tim's grandfather. Instead, sitting at the end of his bed, staring him directly in the eye, Tim saw an extraordinary vision, the like of which he had never seen before in all his tiny life. There it was, though: all hunched up in a gianormous bathchair, an old man, wrapped in chains. He must have been at least a hundred times larger than Tim himself, and a thousand times older. He was possibly the oldest man Tim had ever seen, even older than Grandad Crachit. The funny thing about this old man was that you could see straight through him, and he was shining brightly, a light emanating from him. "Maybe," thought Tim, but hardly dared say it aloud, "Maybe this is ..."
"For heaven's sake!" grumbled the old man. "Will you please stop gawping! If there's one thing I can't stand, it's jumped-up young boys gawping at me!"
Tim asked the old man if he was God.
He was not. "Honestly, young man!" The vision rattled his chains a bit for added drama. "You have much to learn."
"Oh!" Tim smiled. "I know who you are! You're Father Christmas!"
The ghost sighed heavily. "I am not! Look. I do not have a beard! Don't tell my you've never seen a ghost before?"
Tim pulled his bed sheet up around his chin. A ghost? A real ghost? My goodness gracious me! This was not the Holy Ghost, Tim was sure of that. He was about to ask who this vision was, but found he didn't need to.
"I am the Ghost of the Pathetic Disableds," said the spectre. "These chains I bear" - he rattled them for effect, though Tim was getting a bit bored of that - "These chains I bear, I fashioned for myself in life. When I was alive, I was grateful for the pity that was heaped upon me. You should know that the chains holding you down are five times longer."
Tim did not understand. He hugged his sheets around him and tried to call for his father again.
"Oh, please stop that, boy! Let me explain: you are far too pathetic. You are awful! You are much too grateful for everything. You must realise that if you do not change your ways, the whole of cripple-kind will be doomed for all eternity. Doomed!" The ghost rattled his chains.
"Please stop doing that," said Tim, who didn't like it at all.
"Good!" cackled the ghost, with some delight. "At last, some spunk. Next time, lose the 'please'. But I see you are getting the idea. That's tremendously encouraging. Anyway, when the clock strikes one, I'll be sending along a friend of mine who will be continuing this lesson. He doesn't say much, but you should know that his name is the Ghost of Christmas Future."
Tim was busy trying to explain that he did not have a clock, and so would not hear it strike one, when the Ghost of the Pathetic Disableds evaporated before his eyes with one last irritating rattle of the chains.
Tim was alarmed by this turn of events. He could not bring himself to even try and sleep, but nor did he want to keep his eyes open, for fear of the vision that might greet him. What had the ghost been talking about, that he was pathetic? How ridiculous. For Tiny Tim loved everyone, and everyone loved him. He really did not see what the problem was. See how happy the church-goers had been to gaze upon him at Christmas! He did not understand.
It seemed like it took all night but, as promised, the second ghost eventually appeared. This one glided in rather silently, through the window. It was, by far, the most horrific vision Tim had ever seen, all skeletal and covered in a black cloak, like the Grim Reaper himself. He pulled Tim rather rudely from his bed. Little Tim grabbed at his crutch - he sensed that he was about to go on some ethereal journey, but was not quite sure what form that would take. Since he did not much fancy the prospect of being borne on this creature's shoulders - indeed, he was not sure such a transparent being could take even his own negligible weight - he decided he would take all the mobility aids he could lay his hands on.
It seemed, however, that this was not necessary. Tim felt himself begin to fly, and soon he was floating above the familiar streets of London. From this height, he could see the cobbles, the friendly faces of his fellow church-goers, the butcher preparing the Christmas birds, the boys and girls playing happily in the side streets. Tim felt happy. This sensation did not last long.
Soon, he was gliding through less familiar areas. It looked like London, but not as he knew it. The streets were covered in litter. The people were wearing tight, brightly coloured clothes, and laughing uproariously. They were saying words which Tim had never heard before, but he suspected they were not words of which his parents would approve. Around him, there were large bright posters inviting people to buy alcohol at cheap prices. He could tell that this was most definitely London because he could see all the familiar landmarks: Big Ben, St Paul's Cathedral. But by the river there was a large, shiny wheel type thing he did not recognise. People were attached to it in pods, and it was circling slowly around and around, high above the city - though, of course, not as high as Tim and the ghost. Most odd. Soon, the two of them swerved off down backstreets and side streets, before eventually coming to a standstill.
Tim could see into a big building, where lots and lots of people seemed to be celebrating Christmas. They were having a great party: gobbling down turkey and brightly coloured drinks, and dancing and dancing and dancing to some very odd music.
He heard one of the revellers shout through the window: "Come on in! It's a thumping bassline!"
Tim could see that this was not addressed to him. The partygoers did not even seem aware of his tiny little presence. He tried smiling his cute little smile, the one which normally caused complete strangers to press money into his palm, but this had no effect whatsoever. The only possible explanation: he was invisible. How strange it was for people to not notice Tim Crachit.
But then Tim heard one of the people on the pavement shout back: "I can't come in! There isn't a ramp!"
"Bummer!" shouted back the person who was already at the party. He turned away from the window, beckoned to a pretty girl, and took her to the dancefloor, where Tim saw him begin some rather lurid movements.
Tim looked back to the lad in the chair. Slowly, the boy eased his way to a standing position. When he was just about upright, he stumbled to the edge of the steps. He wobbled when he walked, and swayed from side to side a bit, not unlike Tim himself. "Goodness!" thought Tim, "My goodness! If only he had a kindly father to carry him on his shoulders!" Tim watched the boy struggling to get up the stairs, but it was not to be. He was not going to make it to the party.
"Bummer," said the lad. Tim said "Bummer" too, in unison, for he felt sad that the boy could not get into the party, which did look like tremendous fun.
Suddenly, Tim felt himself zooming away from the building. As he and the Ghost of Christmas Future swooped around the corner, he could just make out the banner across the front of the building. It said: Merry Christmas 2005!
2005? The year 2005? Goodness.
Before he knew it, the ghost was gone, and Tim was back in his tiny little bed in Victorian London. How amazing to have seen the future! The twenty-first century! Though that was not how he thought things would be. He was thinking that he should say a prayer of apology for saying 'bummer'. He did not think it was a very godly world. But then something happened. Tim thought: "No! No! I do not want to apologise for saying 'bummer'. It was really, really awful that the boy could not get into that party. It was a fun party, and I would have liked to have gone to it too ...! It's not fair that the boy didn't go! He was just like me - except he lived in the twenty-first century and had nice clothes."
The next thing he knew, Tim's mother and father were in his bedroom, showering him with kisses and wishing him a Merry Christmas. He had almost forgotten it was Christmas Day! Tim did so love Christmas! He kissed his parents back and leapt into his clothes. Then he raced downstairs to all his brothers and sisters, as fast as his mobility aids could carry him. His parents followed.
"Tim, you look so tired, like you haven't slept at all!" said the eldest sister.
"Bummer!" screamed Tim in response. Her mouth fell open. Something incredible had happened. Not only was their poor, darling brother using nasty words, but he ... he did not sound plaintive anymore. In fact, he sounded positively, well ... rude. This was unprecedented.
"Poor Tiny Tim!" said another sister, cupping her hand to her mouth, thinking that the fever had finally got to his poor, sick brain.
Tim stuck his tongue out at her. She swooned, unable to cope with the horror of it. "Bummer! Bummer! Bummer!" screeched Tim. He flung the front door open and stepped out into the snow, alone, for the first time ever.
"Tim! Your leg irons will get rusty!" called his mother, but he was not listening. He was watching the happy people coming and going, chasing up and down the street, wishing each other the best for the season. Soon, Tim saw a man coming down the street, a rich man he recognised from church.
"Why, hello Tiny Tim!" said the man. "A merry Christmas to you! And here, something for being such a good boy."
Tim felt a coin being pressed into his hand. "Bummer!" he whispered, in his usual whimpering voice. The man did not hear properly, but smiled, waved and turned his back.
"Bummer!" Tim screamed, so loud that the whole of London Town did hear him. He grinned from ear to ear. His father touched his shoulder and began to drag him back into the house. As the door closed behind him, Tiny Tim could be heard to shout: "Merry Christmas to all, and God Bless Us Everyone!"
• All pictures by Simon Cooper.
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