Thursday, 22 December 2011

a christmas story

And so this is Christmas.

Don’t worry. I’m not going to quote the whole song. But we are finally there and it does rather chime with the theme of this post, which has been ringing in my head for a few days now.

It began with a knock at the door (as stories so often do) just as Snooks and I were leaving for our regular afternoon ‘play and tea’ date with his best friend. For ‘play’ read ‘Snooks tormenting the friend for whom his love is so great he cannot find words and so uses pummelling and bear hugs’ and for ‘tea’ read ‘other children eating while Snooks uses free reign of house to explore areas officially off limits, like the shower’. Eating is for sissies.

So we opened the door, arms full, coats on, to find a young woman standing there, well dressed, all in black wringing her gloved hands and clearly very cold.

“Hi, this is so embarrassing and not a way to meet your neighbours but I live at number 171 and ….”

She wanted money. I had never seen her before. The address she gave existed but was too far down the street to be known to me. Her meter had run out. She had two sons at home. She needed the cash until her partner returned that night and she would return it. She had a gadget in her hand, which apparently played some part in the story. I had stopped listening by then as it was academic. I had no way of knowing if she was telling the truth and the chances were, she wasn’t. But she looked cold. I noticed that for a well-spoken, well-dressed woman, she was very thin under her coat and one of the teeth at the front of her mouth was missing. She was doing well to talk without letting it show.

I sighed and looked at Snookie who was in my arms. We were clearly on our way out, which meant she also knew the house was about to be vacated. I sat him down on the stairs and reached for my purse, making sure that I stood between him and the doorway. My greatest fear at that moment was that someone might charge into the house and terrify him.

“What are you doing mummy?” he asked.

“I am giving this lady some money,” I replied.


“Because she says her little boys are cold and she needs it to keep them warm,” I said.

As I turned back to her she smiled and held out her hand to shake mine.

“My name is Rebecca. I will bring it back around 9pm tonight, unless that is too late?”

I shook her hand. She seemed so nice. I really wanted to believe her. I asked who was looking after her sons while she was going door to door. She said one was 15 and very responsible.

On our way to the friend’s house I explained to Snooks what had happened.

“I did not know whether the lady was telling the truth so I decided to trust her,” I told him. “Let us hope I was right.”

By the next morning I felt far more upset than I had expected. I had so wanted Snooks to see that even in London, we can live as a community, instead of in isolated, frightened units.

The woman from the Met to whom I spoke on the phone that morning made no attempt to disguise her scorn.

“You gave her money. She has not committed a crime,” she told me and suggested I knock on number 171 and ask for it back.

I took Snooks with me, hoping that Rebecca might open the door and her 15- year-old responsible son might wish us a Happy Christmas.

Instead a different woman peered around the front door and shook her head. She thought I should try round the corner where some other people of the same racial origin as Rebecca lived.

Last year, on Christmas Eve, Snooks and I were in Starbucks enjoying a hot chocolate and babychino when a rather grimy looking old fella carrying two huge carrier bags of canned food asked if I could help him find a seat. He was blind and wearing a military medal on his coat. I bought him a cup of tea and Snooks and I listened to his stories about the war for a while before wishing him a Happy Christmas and going on our merry way. The thought crossed my mind as we left that he may whip off the dark glasses and drive himself home to a sherry by the fire, but I doubted it.

The Christmas before that, our first with Snooks, our tree was decorated with lights borrowed from a friend whose kindness hauled me out of a disappointment so deep I could not see daylight, after the Engineer’s employment ended without notice, through no fault of his, on the 19th of December just as my dream of a family Christmas was about to come true.

I know it’s all very It’s A Wonderful Life but I can’t help seeing a common thread in these Christmas stories and its one which helped me feel better about Rebecca.

After we left number 171 I explained to Snooks that unfortunately it seemed Rebecca had told us a lie and she did not live there and was not going to give us our money back

“Will the police tell her off for being naughty?” he asked.

“Well,” I said, “we are not going to tell them about her. She has been really naughty because she has stolen some money from us. But I think she must have needed it very badly so let’s just hope that one day, when she is feeling better, she will come and find us and give it back. You never know.”

Happy Christmas one and all.

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