Sunday, 12 December 2010


"Morning Mrs. M!" I called out as I was crossing the street. Terry's mum looked up, she'd been pushing her wheeled shopping basket up on to the curb, and waved. I hurried over, nearly slipping on a patch of ice, then nearly tripping over a paving stone that the days of freezing and thawing had lifted. "Need a hand, Mrs. M?" I said, skidding to a halt.
"Oh thank-you dear, you can push the trolley. We're just waiting for Terry, now."
"Oh, is he with you?" I had mixed feelings about seeing Terry again; shortly after the exchange student had left he'd asked me if I liked manacles, and I really hadn't liked the suggestive tone the conversation had taken.
"He will be shortly dear, he's just picking some things up for the church."
That startled me a little, neither Terry nor his mum were particularly religious as far as I knew.
"Oh, are you helping out this year then?" I tried for diplomatically neutral, but even to my ears I sounded nosey. Terry's mum kindly answered anyway.
"Well, it wasn't my idea," she said, pointing to the bench at the bus-stop and indicating that she intended to sit down. "Agnes down at the WI has been mithering me for weeks now to do something to give back to the community. I've told her, over and over again, that I do plenty for the community but that it goes unnoticed."
I wasn't sure that bombing crack-dens and forcing talk-radio presenters into nervous breakdowns actually went unnoticed for all they gave back to the community, but I wasn't about to interrupt Terry's mum when she was explaining.
"So when she brought the new vicar in to pester me as well, I felt I'd better step up and do my bit."
She smiled at me, doing her twinkly-white-haired-old-granny-how-lovable routine and not fooling me for an instant. The new vicar probably hadn't had anyone warn him what a bad idea it was to involve Terry's mum with projects, and wouldn't have heard about her relic-collecting trip to Italy that's still causing international incidents every three or four months.
"So what are you helping out with then?" I said, looking around for Terry.
"The nativity scene in front of the church."
I saw Terry. Walking quite quickly, looking very nervous, holding a baby. He checked the road and hurried across, spotting us at the bus-stop. He looked relieved to see his mother, and turned white a sheet when he saw me. He kept on coming though.
"Mum," he said, holding the baby out like it was red-hot.
"Put it in the trolley, dear," said Terry's mum. "Did you get the right gender this time?"
"This time?" I couldn't help myself, the words just escaped from my lips.
"Oh yes, the last two he's picked up have both been girls. Fancy, as if baby Jesus was a girl! I told him, if he gets it wrong this time I'll take him down to the maternity ward and make him pick one out from there instead."
"Mrs. M, isn't this... isn't this, well, kidnapping?"
"No." She stood up and started pushing the trolley away. "Kidnapping would require me sending a ransom note, or never returning the child. I'm just borrowing it, for Christmas, and starring it in a nativity scene. If anything, this is just movie-making."
Terry tugged my arm, so that he and I fell slightly behind his mother.
"She's had me steal reindeers from the zoo, too," he whispered. "And there's three confused old men from the local shelter in the living room."
"Terry, you can't let her steal babies!" I was trying to whisper, but I was getting worked up. He shushed me.
"She isn't really. The baby'll go into the nativity scene this evening, just before the carol service, and then I've got to tip the police off. It'll be back with it's parents before the end of the day, and the new vicar will be doing all the explaining."
I stared, first at Terry, then at his mother.
"Your mother's a wonderful woman," I said heavily. "I'm sure there's a good reason for everything she does, and I'm so glad it rarely involves me."

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