It takes a lot to surprise a department store Santa. There hadn’t been a hint of this sort of thing in Santa school. We had, of course, been taught the politically correct manner of perching a small child on the knee, acceptable ways of addressing our diminutive clients and the danger of making unreliable promises. Nothing had prepared us for the bizarre demands of the modern generation.

She was a demure child. I estimated her age to be about six. Blonde curls crowned her little round face. Blue eyes, the colour of a Mediterranean sky gazed serenely into mine as she made her remarkable request. “I want a pistol”.

An old fashioned Santa would have Ho-Ho-Hoed at this and suggested that little girls should confine themselves to dollies and tea sets. But we had be warned about seeming sexist and if a boy should prefer a doll (albeit an Action Man) or a girl a toy gun, we were not to question their choices.

“So, you want a toy gun?” I said understandingly.

“No, Silly! A real gun. A Glock 17, would do. Or a Sig Saur nine millimetre. I think a Smith & Wesson .357 Magnum would be far too heavy, don’t you?”

I was intrigued. It was a very strange request from a child, especially a six-year-old girl. I looked round for her waiting adult.

There were three of them. The man was a tall saturnine individual, black suit, black shirt and a dazzling white tie. He stood slightly apart from the two women as his restless eyes roamed the room.

The younger of the two women was expensively dressed in the type of clothes that have the labels on the outside. She wore an ostentatious diamond necklace and her ring encrusted fingers clasped an expensive crocodile skin purse.

The other woman, though dowdy by comparison, seemed, nevertheless, to dominate the group. She had a hard and masterful demeanour, and the younger woman glanced often at her as though for approval. The elder’s gaze was, however, fixed on me. Her gaze made me feel uncomfortable and I quickly switched my attention back to the child looking up at me with trusting blue eyes.

“We have a bit of a problem,” I said. “Here in Australia, even Santa must obey the law, and the law says that I mustn’t give real pistols to children under eighteen, or to anyone who hasn’t got a police permit or a licence. I’m afraid you will have to go to America, or perhaps Europe and ask me there.”

“Okay.” Said the child quite happily. “I’ll ask my Daddy to take me there. “That’s okay then.” I said. “Just call into any big store when you get there and you will find me. But be sure to remind me, and remember to be a good girl.”

“I will,” she said. And slid off my knee. I gave her the little gift bag, and said ‘Ho! Ho! Ho!’ for good measure.

The waiting Matron gave me a venomous glare as she led the child away, followed by the Bodyguard and the Bimbo.

I went on my lunch break and tried to forget the whole thing. But it makes you think, doesn’t it.

H.St V.Beechey © 2002