A Christmas Walk
He had always lived in the city. His parents had met there, and his brothers and sisters had been born there.
Sometimes they’d visit the countryside, but it would always be on a blue-sky day. This led Andy to believe that the city was mostly a dark and wet place and it was the land beyond where the sun always warmed the land.
He’d dreamt of his father again, meaning the he had woken at 3.20am in a pool of sweat. Each time that he saw his father, he would bend down to tell his son that everything was all right and that he was good and not to worry. The first few times it had happened he’d mentioned it to his mother, but it caused her so much pain that he stopped talking about his dreams.
His father had worked in the city. Every morning he would cycle to the railway station, take the express into the centre, and then cycle to his office. Then on the dark unforgiving Wednesday a large truck had cut across his path. The driver hadn’t seen him, in fact he couldn’t see him, and the truck hit Andy’s father.
Andy remembers his teacher standing at the classroom door, she had just been talking with the school secretary. She turned and looked straight at Andy. Straight into his eyes – straight into his soul. One human being locking hearts with another.
There was a sharp pain in his heart which told him it wasn’t good news.
At the funeral, several of his uncles and family friends slapped him on the back and told him that at thirteen years of age, he was the man of the house now. Andy had no idea what they meant.
His dad’s sister, aunt Alice, had rented a house for Christmas. It was up in the hills to the west of London, and everyone was going to be there; his grandparents, his own family and most of his uncles and aunts.
“It’s what the family needs at a time like this,” his grandmother had said. “The first Christmas without my boy”.
It had started snowing on the evening of the Wednesday before. They left very early on the Thursday morning, to ensure they all made it to the house before the snow got heavy. Christmas was not until the Saturday but everyone wanted to get snuggled into the house before the big day.
The place was perfect and aunt Alice had chosen well. Andy had to share a bedroom with one of his brothers and one of his cousins, but if he was being honest it felt comfortable. Andy felt a warmth in his heart that he hadn’t felt for a very long time.
Everyone mucked in with the Christmas dinner. The family had decided to hand out the presents after they had eaten and after they could then all sit down in front of the big log fire.
Andy had saved his money and given his mother a small picture frame in which he had placed a photo of his father. She had beamed the biggest smile towards him when she’d opened his present.
Andy got books and games, and a welcomed new phone. He knew he was lucky – luckier than most people. But still.
After the Christmas lunch, he decided to go for a walk along the trail that led out of the village. It was a beautiful day and the blue sky and fresh air seemed to cut into his lungs.
Since he was going outdoors, he had been given the task of taking the three family dogs for a spot of walking. They all needed it, given what they had just eaten.
Andy wasn’t alone on the path and decided to keep the dogs on their leads in case they chased the man in front.
For the first time in a long time, Andy felt a little contentment, inside. The pain had gone for a few hours and he felt like his old self.
Sherlock, the oldest of the dogs, gave a bark which brought Andy back to the here and now. The man up ahead had dropped a small dark object and the dogs thought it was something to chase.
Andy ran ahead and picked it up. It was a small box, and inside was a little medal. There was an engraving on the back which read ‘To the greatest. Saint Andrew’s University – 1998’.
Andy felt that the man would not want to lose this and as he shouted on him, the man turned a corner behind a bush. Andy set the dogs free to see if they might catch up with the stranger but when they all got to the corner, the man was gone.
Andy slipped the medal back in the box and put it in his trousers.
It was the following day that it happened. His mother was washing some of their holiday clothes and, as usual, had to empty Andy’s trouser pockets. She had found the little box.
Andy ran to the utility room.
“Where did you get this?” She asked her son. Andy told her the story and that was when she almost fainted. Andy had to get her a chair to sit on.
“Every year just before the Christmas break, me, your father and the rest of the students would have a cycle race from our rooms to a pub in the centre of Saint Andrew’s. Whoever got there first was given a medal and whoever was last – bought a round of drinks. Your father, with me on the cross-bars, won that race in 1998. He had it with him the day of his accident and although I searched through his clothes I couldn’t find it. What did the man look like?” Asked his mother.
“Just a man,” said Andy. “Just a man”.
bobby stevenson 2016
photo: Christmas in the Cotswolds – Andrew Roland