The Secret Santa

It was December and the office was in full swing with the Christmas decor and the Christmas party discussions. It was Charan’s first Christmas at the office or in any official environment. This was his first job and he was a busy intern.

“All the interns need to be part of the Christmas party planning” the HR was announcing. It was a small company of around 50 people, most of them were young programmers and they had a small marketing and finance team. There were a few interns in each team, fresh out of college newbies.

Charan had played Secret Santa in college so it was not a big deal. The way Secret Santa worked was you get to know things about the person you get through their friends, and then you buy them a gift you think they will like. He looked forward to getting to know someone new in the company.

The interns got busy looking for caterers and choosing the alcohol when Charan bumped into Rumi. “Dude did you know even the Heads of the departments are in the Secret Santa list?” “They are?!” “Yeah, Head Of Marketing, IT Head and the Head Of Finance, 3 dick heads with us in the same gift pool”. Charan was worried now, he didn’t want to get any of these people.

When it was time to pick the chits, Charan said a silent prayer before he picked his. “It’s not a lottery ticket dude, pick one quickly” the overworked intern suggested. He opened it and it was Mansi Gupta. She was the Head Of Marketing, a talkative, sharp woman in her late 30s who sported bright red nails and blazers all year round. “Dear God, why?!” Charan said aloud. Rumi found out who he got and comforted him with some banana cake and chai.

Why must an intern never get the Head Of Department’s name? Because their taste is expensive and giving them something cheap wont cut it when it’s especially gift unboxing in front of the entire company on the day of the party.

“I found out some info for you. I heard she’s really into wine, fancy red wine from Grover” Rumi informed him one morning. “Only expensive wines are worth gifting, she would throw it away if I have her a bottle of Port Wine or something local” “Don’t worry, nobody is going to notice which brand you give and Google the price, just give her a bottle within $10-15 and be done with it” Rumi suggested.

They had a pot luck lunch on the weekend before Christmas and he brought some Chole Batura. It was BYOB so some people brought their own beer and whisky. “Want to share some old monk and coke?” Rumi asked him, “Sure, we can’t afford to bring anything else anyway”. He was drinking his rum and wolfing down someone’s biryani when he spotted Mansi. She had a glass of red wine in one hand and a chicken kebab in the other hand. This woman really loves her wine! Why can’t Heads Of Departments like normal things like beer and travel to the Himalayas? Instead they like wine and travel to Paris.

It was the day before the Christmas party and Charan had finally decided. He had $40 in savings, he took out $35 and bought the Grover Zampa La Reserve. It ‘combines grace and splendour on the palate with chocolate, coffee beans and vanilla flavours’ as per the research he did online. It better taste like gold for the price they are charging!

The day of the party, he received a cute Iron Man t shirt. Iron Man was his favorite superhero. “What kind of gift is this?! I hate yellow and this guy gives me a yellow bag?! I am giving this way” a very annoyed Rumi told him. “You spent so much money on this wine and where’s this woman?” she asked him. He waited for Mansi to open the gift but she never did. She was in a meeting with the CEO and couldn’t attend the party. Work never ends in a startup.

It was on a hot summer’s day in March, a week before the world would know what Covid was that Mansi craved for a chilled glass of wine. Her friends had come over and it was the perfect day to open a new bottle. She poured them each a glass, “Oh this one is really delicious Mansi, it has such a good balance. Which brand is this?” “You know, I actually didn’t buy this one, I just noticed that now”. She had received a few gifts for Christmas and one of them was a wine bottle that she just popped in her bar cabinet and forgot all about it.

She read the card that was attached to it, ‘Merry Christmas Mansi ma’am, Regards, Charan”. She had no recollection of Charan and realised because she never attended the party, she never thanked him for the gift. She went on a vacation for the holidays and after that Christmas was history.

She called the HR on Monday, “Who is Charan? I don’t see him on Skype or on the email list” “He left in January, he was our finance intern. We didn’t have a full time requirement after his internship ended so he had to leave” HR informed her. “Do you have his contact details? He gave me $35 wine when he was doing an unpaid internship, I need to repay this kid in some way”. She got his phone number and at that exact moment she was pulled into an emergency meeting and the phone call she had to make was history. Work always took priority in a startup.

It was October 2020, businesses were just opening up after the pandemic hit. She was attending her first wedding of the year. All the other weddings she had attended were on zoom. She was ready to finally see people face to face and wear an outfit that was not pyjamas.

On the way to the wedding Mansi realised she hadn’t done her nails. Ever since Covid hit, she had let go of her usual beauty practices because of the close physical contact she would be in with the beautician. ‘Nails are okay, I can maintain my distance and she would use gloves’ she thought to herself. She quickly googled salons near the venue, all the popular brands were still closed. Only some local salons were open. ‘Well it’s nails, I will just wipe it all off at home if they use cheap products’ she convinced herself.

‘Modest Glam’ was the nearest salon to the wedding venue that was open. ‘Tacky pink interiors’ she thought to herself when she went in, it was a typical budget salon. There was barely anyone in the salon because of the lockdown situation, she waited for the beautician. The owner/beautician was a short fair lady with beautiful skin and bright pink lipstick. “You need to make this quick, I have a wedding to attend” she informed the owner.

She used gloves and kept her distance while doing Mansi’s manicure. She had to take a quick call while the lady worked on one hand. “Oh you work for Sentinel, my son also used to work there” she told Mansi. “Your son? Oh that’s nice, small world I guess”. “Yes, he was an intern there. Took him months to find something else. He works full time elsewhere now, it was a rubbish company that Sentinel. They always used to make him work over time and there was no pay”. “Oh sorry about that, yeah we have a tendency to do that” Mansi replied embarrassed at what had happened. “What is your son’s name?” “Charan, he was there till December”.

It was the strangest twist of fate that Mansi had met Charan’s mother at this random salon. “How have you been doing during the pandemic?” she asked her. “Oh it’s terrible, I’m closing the place down. We have had no business since April, I have been going to my clients residences and giving them the service. And each month the lockdown happens and even my home services get affected. And wedding budgets have been cut down so they ask me to cut my budget down as well. How am I supposed to pay for this place?”

Mansi’s heart went out to the poor woman. She was clearly struggling considering she was doing the manicure herself and had no staff. “I had to let go of everyone, I can’t afford them full time. Maybe when work is more frequent, I’ll bring them back”.

Her manicure was done and her nails now looked like they had not gone through the stress of the pandemic. She paid the bill, “Was it okay? Did you like it?” the owner eagerly asked her. “It was so good that I would like to book your home service every month, with no budget cuts of course”.

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