White Christmas – Part 4
By John-Paul Flintoff, author of What if the Queen Should Die?
“A sheep?” said rabbi Meyer.
“Yes, a fucking sheep,” said the policeman. “We’re trying to clear the area, and you just keep coming. Can’t you get lost?”
The rabbi recognised real panic.
“Look,” the policeman continued, “there’s some kind of asteroid coming this way, and I don’t know how long we’ve got. I don’t want to die.”
And he ran off.
The sight of him sprinting away gripped the collective mind of the assembled watchers. And so it came to pass that the rabbi, the vicar and the imam, who had intended to spend the evening discussing shared areas of faith, found themselves doing the policeman’s work. “Please, quickly, run away,” they told anybody who had not, already, started to run away. The imam, fearing the worst for his son Ali, discharged this civic duty with tears running down his cheeks.
The woman, Taiwo, fell to her knees and howled. How had it come to this? Where was her husband? He had never previously abandoned her with no explanation – not even during the worst times at Calais. How could he do that now? Why had he left her in the care of these stinking white men? These were not the kind of people she imagined finding in England. Was it for this that she had left behind her loving family, the heat of Africa, and spent all her money on bandits who set them adrift in the Mediterranean? And now her body was betraying her. The waters had broken just when she was least equipped to deal with it. And now this pain. Oh. Ooooh. Oh! The pain!
Lost to her contractions, she lost the ability to think of anything else. But when the moment passed, she wondered what was happening around her: the white light in the sky, people running and screaming. Soon only the two stinking men remained. The one whose shoes she had ruined sat on the floor with his head in his hands. The other stared at her. What was the matter with him? Oh. Oooooh. Oh!
Yuill remembered the look in her eyes, from a few minutes before. She had seen in him the man he used to be, before his heart hardened. It had softened him, that glance, like nothing else he could remember.
Impulsively he said: “Your husband has left you. But I won’t leave you. I won’t. I’ll see you right. I promise.”
As soon as the words were out, he realised how stupid they were. How insensitive. But she either didn’t understand or was in too much pain to listen.
Yuill took off the duffel coat, moving towards her, and then removed his parka too. She looked up, panicked, put out a hand to keep him back.
“No!” he said. “No, I don’t…” He spread the coats on the floor beside her, put a hand on his heart. “I just want to help.”
And so nature took its course. Taiwo submitted to whatever her body decided. And Yuill, having no better idea, lowered himself to the hard cold paving beside her and breathed with her – in and out, in and out, loudly and slowly – partly because it might help her, but also because it helped him to cope with the terrible cold, now he had given up his coats. For minutes at a time, he looked into her eyes, hoping to find that same gaze. But she seemed captive to pain, and looked right through him.
Or so he thought. When the contractions subsided, she saw him for what he was. Not a bad man. A good man. He is older than my father, and he smells badly, but he is a good man. Thinking of her husband, she took hold of Yuill’s hand and squeezed it.
Yuill had not expected this. He looked down at their clenched fingers, and felt his eyes watering.
Taiwo made a decision – this man must see what she could not see herself – and manoeuvred so that the man could see the crown of her unborn child emerging.
Feeling at once appalled and blessed, Yuill made a silent wish for the child. Boy or girl, may it have a happy life, and do good things, he thought – and then he felt himself being pulled backwards, and a heavy shopping bag smashed into his face.
Lying on the pavement, Yuill saw the woman raise a hand in protest, then smile at her husband, before sinking again into pain. And Yuill was forgotten.
After a few moments, he got up, dusted himself off and started walking. He must go back to the shops, to be warm. He passed a group, walking the other way – he noticed a woman vicar, and three kids, and a sheep, of all things – but could make no sense of it. His brain was freezing. A thought nagged at him: how long does it take a shooting star to hit the ground, and would it hit the couple and their baby? But he couldn’t think straight. Not till he was back inside, and warm again.
You could stand around for 15 minutes in Currys/PC World before they moved you on.
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