Harness bells chimed melodiously on ponies, announcing the traversing sleighs that left a trail of their existence on snow-covered paths. Light snowflakes drifted soundlessly with a steady stream of gale and settled into the long slits that once promised to mark the jangling snow carriers. Silver sound of Church bells filled the air, allying with the aroma of Christmas Pines, roasted goose and cinnamon spiced drinks. Merry makers strode along the streets, bathed in myriad hues of ornate lights, disregarding the jealous moon.
As the joy of Yuletide spread its warmth through every heart, it disconcertingly frosted the heart of Jester. Reeking in the odour of cheap alcohol, he stood underneath the mistletoe, jesting at the carol-singing children. The more he saw the populace partaking in the syrupy revelry, the more he took pride in being the ‘Unbeliever’. With every sip he took of the pungent liquor, he gave a louder laugh that contributed to a greater need to sip on the foul spirit. He would have continued the cycle were it not for the dry bottle dampening his frisk and his empty pockets that denied him aid.
Jester was about to walk off in search of a ‘donor’ whose pocket he could pick next but he was faced by the repulsively sweet greeting of the Priest.
“Merry Christmas Jester my boy. You must join in the celebration of the birth of ‘the messenger of mercy’”, said the Priest benevolently.
Jester looked into his eyes skeptically and when he found nothing to be suspicious of, he laughed. He said in a flippant way, “I don’t believe in all of this old man. I have no reason to. If ‘He’ is so great, why am I here on the eve of Christmas with nothing but an empty bottle of low-priced rum?”
The Priest smiled kindly, shaking his head as he spoke, “come into his home tonight and he will not let you return empty handed. Try it my boy…And if you are disappointed tonight, you may do as you please…”
The ‘Unbeliever’s’ eyes studied the eyes of the ‘Believer’. He had little to disbelieve so he let himself be led into the Church. At the altar, the Priest instructed Jester to light a candle, close his eyes and say his wish out loud. With a discernable air of ridicule, Jester followed the instructions.
After lighting a candle, Jester closed his eyes and said out loud, “if you are so great…the Saviour…the provider of mercy, send unto me your blessings as ten shining shillings…”. As he sent out his prayer, he tried to resist his laughter that tickled him in the throat like a crumb lodged in the windpipe.
Letting out peals of laughter, Jester opened his eyes and looked at the statue of Infant Jesus. He then looked around the hall but failed to find the Priest. Shaking his head woozily, he got up to leave, when he heard the clanking sound of metal that emanated from the altar in front of him. Surprised, he looked at the altar to see coins lying near the candle that he had lit.
Dumbstruck by what had happened, Jester carefully filled his pockets with the twenty shillings in coins that he had found in the ‘Home of God.’ As he merrily skipped away, the Priest appeared from behind the altar, pleased to have altered an ‘Unbeliever’ into a ‘Believer’ by placing more shillings at the stand than Jester had asked for. Glowing in his deed of virtue, the Priest went along for the mid- night mass.
As the midnight bells chimed and hymns of Yule burst the air, Jester bought himself two bottles of inexpensive rum. As he was leaving the shop, the shopkeeper offered his greetings, “Merry Christmas my friend. God seems to have blessed you tonight…”
Jester took a big gulp of the intoxicating spirit and laughed giddily. Picking up the remaining five shillings in change, he spluttered, “God? Really? All of you are idiots…including the Priest…’Believe in the mercy of the messenger’ he says proudly…little does he know…God does not exist…had he existed, he would have answered my prayer correctly…giving me twenty shillings when I asked for ten? Is that a responsible thing to do?”
The shopkeeper stared at Jester in disgust as he faltered, picked himself up, dropped his money, picked it up and finally sauntered away woozily, jesting at the world.