All months were born equal. The circle of the earth around the sun was divided into twelfths and each month received an equal slice.
Until December stirred up a commotion one day when he declared he felt outdone by January because everyone spends most of December looking forward to the New Year.
Poppycock, retorted January. This was utter nonsense, she remarked, and said that in fact people love December because he has Christmas and most of the year-end holidays all to himself - "He sits on the best days of the year like a fat broody hen," were the exact words she used - and that when she finally arrives on the scene, the celebrations have all but come to an end.
"And since we are on the topic," January continued, "I ought to remark that it is I who must feel threatened." Not that she did, she hastened to add, but if any month could be permitted to feel woeful about his or her lot, it was her, she claimed. Everyone begins the year on a high note and it takes them only a single month, which regrettably is January, to fall back to reality with a thud, she said and banged her delicate fist on the table for effect. "Show me one person who has spoken a true word on the last night of December," she challenged, as if it were all his fault that she started with a bang and ended with a whimper.
She turned an oblong face towards February and pointed a slender manicured finger at him, demanding he put his pennyworth in. Now February was a lovely child and he preferred to steer clear of any conflicts that erupted among his clan. But he was especially fond of December, who resembled a pot-bellied pipe-smoking Santa himself, and equally intimidated by January who was still glaring at him through her lorgnette.
February cleared his throat and said, "I don't quite see the point of your dispute. As for myself, I am perfectly content with the present state of affairs. With Cupid playing tricks, everyone seems to have a jolly good time."
"Spoken so truly like someone in love, foolish and irrational," dismissed January coolly.
"I think that's true for me too," piped up March. "Not the foolish bit but the happiness part of it. I put the spring in everyone's step," he said. Think of it, he went on, the world passes through an equipoise in March. "I tame the endless nights of winter to make way for the vernal freshness of April," he puffed his chest.
"To be fair, March," interrupted September, "That is not a specialty unique to you. That is precisely what I do when it is my turn in the bottom half of the world."
"That hardly merits any argument," huffed December. "It is not merely you September, we all lead dual lives. Shall we stick to our conventional roles for the sake of this discussion? When you think of Christmas, what comes to mind first - snow or beach weather?"
September acquiesced in silence. December gestured to April who then spoke up gently. "To be honest, I am often confused about my place in the scheme of things," she said. "Am I spring or am I summer? Or am I to adapt myself to the whims and caprices of each year as it comes?"
A profound silence enveloped the room. December looked benevolently at dainty little April, her eyes blue as freshly laundered skies. Even January's face softened a little but she caught herself lest the others should misconstrue her expression as a change of heart. "Are you unhappy with the situation, April?" she asked.
"Oh no no, January," April laughed. "It was just a thought. And with March and May by my side, I am never lost. I turn to them whenever in doubt. And looking on the brighter side," she continued, "I begin on a hilariously tricksy note, don't I? Anyway, don't you worry about me. I was merely taking stock of my life. Like all of us are doing."
January remained quiet.
December cleared his throat.
Time halted for an indecipherable moment.
A wisp of doubt began to form in April's mind. "That is what we are doing, aren't we? Weighing up our lot in life?" she queried.
"Uh, yes-yes," December said and with a hasty wave of his hand passed the oratorial baton to May.
May dragged on her cigarette deeply and with a bored look on her face said, "You can call me spring, you can call me summer, you can call me whateva you like baby. All Aa know is this. Ma job is to let the su-uhn shine. You know what I'm sayin'?"
She drew on the white stick again, the mentholated flavour forming clouds of ice in her mouth which she puffed away in thick rings. "Some like it hot, some ain't gonna like it hot," she resumed. "So Aa let the sunny boy do as he pleases. If he's gat bones to pick with someone, Aa say to him - Give it to 'em baby. You know what I'm sayin'?"
"Aa ain't got no identity crisis and all like little April here," she patted April on the head. "But Aa am touched by your loyalty, little sistah. Anytime you gat a problem, you come to me. Don't you go running nowhere else. You know what I'm sayin'?"
January barged in on May's monologue. "Yes, yes May, we know what you're sayin'," she said in mock imitation. May winked at April and retreated into the recesses of her mind, wearing a nonchalant look on her face and breathing out puffs of silvery smoke.
The attention turned to June. "There is a reason I have the longest days in the year," June said crisply. She took turns to look everyone in the eye as she spoke. "It is so that we have time to do more, accomplish more. Not sit around a table talking absolute, inconsequential drivel," she snapped and glared straight into January's eyes.
July intervened almost immediately. "Dear folks, please allow me to apologise," he began. "You must forgive my twin sister. She has had too much on her mind lately, what with people moping about in the realization that half the year has flown by, perhaps the best half of the year," he said and immediately won a gracious smile from April and even January allowed herself a little blush that flamed her cheeks. August and September snorted, December narrowed his blue eyes under thick, bushy eyebrows, which July ignored. The majority were swept up in his flamboyant charm. "As for myself," he continued in a pretence of humility, "I am merely here to remind people not all is lost with the end of June. Come to July, is what I say."
"Every court needs its jester," December muttered to himself, then raised his tone before any eyebrows shot up. "Very well July. Now August, surely you will have more fascinating things to say. Some more fascinating things, I mean," he added with a twinkle in his eyes.
"If you are referring to the multitude of personas I hide within myself, December, you will most certainly not be disappointed," August said genially, and his smile crinkled his eyes. "There's the sunshine and holidays in some parts of the world. Then there are the wet days in other parts. Having to wear many hats all at once, never knowing which one will come in use now. Unpredictable, like life itself."
December clapped heartily. "It is obvious why you are called August," he gushed. "Lofty in thought, regal in bearing," he effused.
A stony silence followed.
“He got the hots for him or what?” someone whispered, deliberately audibly.
"Ssshhh!" January hissed. "Let's move on," she commanded.
September cleared his throat and said, "I stand on the fringes of summer and autumn. I have long days and short ones. Summer is bidding farewell, making room for a brief autumn before winter takes over. I reside on the threshold, in both places at the same time but also in neither entirely. I think it is important for me to remain where I am, in the midst of transition, embracing the change, and helping everyone through it."
December clapped, and everyone joined in the applause this time. "Well put, September," he cheered. "Bravo," someone shouted and another whistled and yet another hooted.
When the applause faded, everyone turned to October. But his chair was empty.
"Where's October?" January asked.
When nobody responded, she repeated her question louder this time. "Where the hell is he?"
"You know the little devil," July laughed. "He may have very well gone out for a quickie," he guffawed.
"Shut up, July," snapped June. "November, you might as well give your performance and then we could call it a day. I have plenty of matters needing my urgent attention," she said.
An expletive was beginning to form on January's lips when she spotted a dark, shapeless figure rise from behind September. The shadowy form billowed out and spread like a thick cloud of blue-black smoke over everyone's heads. There was a distinct chill in the air, a harsh sting caught the months unawares. From the screen of smoke emanated images of streets ablaze in scarlet glory, trees in autumnal blossom, their colours reflected in the skies, bloodied by the setting sun. The ball of fire sank into the ocean and the room was plunged into opaque darkness.
From the night leapt a figure onto the table with a thud; a pink-faced clown dressed in suspenders so large it could have hidden a twin under its garments. A red bulbous nose protruded from its face, which was plastered with a smile so wide it reeked of evil. It held out a black, magician's hat and shouted, "Trick or treat!"
January shrieked, February clapped, March stomped his foot in disgust, April swooned, May blew a ring of smoke towards the clown then splashed water on April's face, June pursed her lips and hissed "Codswallop", July remained frozen in his seat, jaw hitting the floor, all his charm now a stranger to himself, August let a knowing smile play on his lips, September shook his head in exasperation, October was still missing from his seat, November raised a middle finger towards the clown, and December chuckled at the expressions on everyone's faces.
"You trickster," December cried, choking on his laughter as tears streamed down his cheeks.
October bowed deeply, pleased with his performance. He reset the atmosphere and his clothes with a snap of his fingers and returned to his place beside November.
Words were conspicuous by their absence on the lips of everyone but August and December, who congratulated October on his fine act.
It was a incensed November that rose from her seat to talk about her life. "Trust October to steal the show," she bawled. "Sandwiched between two childish attention-seekers, I obviously am left with very little for myself, be it time or space or attention. What has the world come to? There's talk of Halloween well after I have begun. Christmas trees spring up in November these days. New Year plans are made in November. It is as if I do not exist at all."
She sniffed, then paused for a long moment, drew in a deep breath and, as if she had had some kind of epiphany after a long, trying day, shook her head and said, "I am sorry. I'd rather not ruin the valedictory."
November pulled a case from her purse, flipped it open, powdered her nose, coloured her lips, shut it close, and tucked it away. "Let's begin again, shall we? And October, you better sit still this time," she kicked his shin. "I do not have much to say but the thing I love most about being November is all the babies that are born in this month. Conceived by lovers under Cupid's spell in February, the little ones come into the world in November. It does not matter that winter is lurking in the shadows, the days are growing shorter and the nights endless, that December is getting grumpier" - she winked at him cheerfully - "or even that the year is almost coming to an end. A new beginning can happen anywhere, anytime," she said. When she sank back into her seat, she received a standing ovation.
And that is how it came to be that December and January each have their share of one and thirty days, because by the end of that evening, December had gotten to decide for himself and January had refused to settle for anything less than he had.
March was granted more life; everyone needs more time to adapt to change, he had argued. By the same measure, September was accorded another day which he politely declined; I am only executing my duty, he said.
May gained an extra day too, which she promised to share with April should her little sistah ever need it.
June, everyone concluded, was overworked and that it would be a shame to burden her more. But everyone could do with a little more charm, so July went one up on his sister on that count.
August scored points for his regality, and October for his bold performance. November said she already had more life than she could ask for.
February lost many of his days to others, which goes to show that if you are satisfied with your lot and do not ask for more, you may end up with less than before.
But all good deeds do not go unnoticed. To commemorate his sacrifices, he was rewarded with an extra day, but only once in four years. Being Cupid's friend, he remains everyone's favourite, which goes to show what matters in the end is not what you get, but what you give away fearlessly.
Story originally published on Saturday, 23 March 2013