‘Nothing,’ she replied, as tears came into her eyes.
‘Nothing?’ I said. ‘I know that you’ve been a good girl for the past year, so I’m sure that Father Christmas will have plenty of presents for you. What makes you think you won’t get any?’
‘Grandpa, haven’t you been following things on Facebook? All my friends are talking about it. The big story is that Father Christmas won’t be bringing any presents this year.’
‘What?’ I laughed. ‘He looks after all the little children. But if you don’t believe in him anymore, then he will be very hurt, and perhaps then he won’t bring you any presents. You do believe in Father Christmas don’t you?’
‘Not anymore,’ she replied.
‘What!’ So what do you believe in?’
‘Rats,’ she replied calmly.
‘Ah ha!’ I laughed. Now I see you’ve been reading silly stories on Facebook. You’ve been reading all about Pilato’s new song Koswe Mumpoto, and you think it’s all true. That song was just a story about some naughty rats in Mfuwe that invaded the palace of King Cobra, threw him off his throne, and are now terrorizing the elephants and infecting them with bubonic plague.’
‘But why is Pilato singing such a song?’ Nawiti demanded.
‘Well I dunno,’ I said, scratching my head, ‘Probably some health message from the Ministry of Sickness and Death, warning us not to go anywhere near hospitals that have been invaded by rats. And they would be right: if you want to remain healthy you should never go near a hospital.’
‘Grandpa,’ said Nawiti seriously, ‘I worry about you. Sometimes I hear Mummy saying that you just sit on your little veranda in Chainda drinking cheap brandy, and you are getting very old and out of touch with the world.’
‘Really Nawiti,’ I laughed, ‘I know that your mother would never say such a thing. It’s brandy that has made me the man I am.’
‘That may be the problem.’
‘Can you stop talking like your mother and get back to Father Christmas. What is the connection between rats and Father Christmas?’
‘The problem,’ explained Nawiti, ‘all started earlier this year in Lapland. Old Father Christmas, who was hundreds of years old, unexpectedly died. So everybody in Lapland had to elect a new Father Christmas. There were only two candidates: lovely cuddly Father Polar Bear from the Frozen Glacier and greedy King Rat from the Eastern Forest.’
‘Don’t tell me that King Rat won!’
‘Of course not. Everybody except the rats voted for Polar Bear.’
‘So Polar Bear won?’
‘No. The crafty rats ate up all the votes for Polar Bear and declared King Rat as the winner. Then they dressed up King Rat as Father Christmas, who fired all the reindeer and then gave the job of pulling the sleigh to the rats.’
‘But even so, you may not like the new Father Christmas, but he still has the job of bringing presents to all the children of the world. I’m sure these rats are really nice furry little animals, and they have our best interests at heart. You know that Father Christmas is the Father of All Children and has always protected and looked after his little children. You shouldn’t lose faith just because of silly rumours.
‘You really don’t get it, do you Grandpa? These rats are not very nice animals. The next thing they did was to go to Father Christmas’ old castle and throw out all the nice little elves who have always made the toys for us children, and took over the castle for themselves.
‘That certainly was a mistake,’ I laughed, ‘now where are they going to find toys for their own children?’
‘That’s why the rats have come here,’ explained Nawiti. ‘Instead of bringing presents for children at Christmas, they have come here to steal our toys and give them to their own children. They are even stealing our food and money. They have turned the FRA into the Feed the Rat Authority, and they are using the ZRA for Zealous Rat Accumulation, to steal our taxes and build huge mansions all over Lapland.’
‘You’ve been reading Fake News on Facebook. Next thing you’ll be telling me that people are turning into rats.’
‘Grandpa,’ said Nawiti, as she edged towards the door, ‘why have you got such a long nose and whiskers?’