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by Sheila Sowden





Last year, progress changed the accounts system at work and my life. The new electronic system did not require the fifty till rolls in stock. It would have been sheer waste to send them for recycling. They were expensive and the stationery company didn’t want them back. I called on local shopkeepers but they were the wrong size.

The charity shop didn’t want them and suggested children could use them for drawing. I didn’t know any children.

As a last resort I took them to a nursery school and they were thrilled, saying they would use them for Christmas decorations. That was my good deed done.

I was invited to their Carol Concert to see the decorations. Frank, my husband, was very keen and said he would take the camcorder. He said ‘Hannah don’t be so miserable.’ I tended to avoid children but agreed to go.

Christmas designs had been painted onto the till rolls with a touch of glitter. Some were like twisted rope and others were made into paper chains. I felt out of place sitting with the proud parents who waved and pointed to their children. Young voices singing Silent Night brought a tear to my eye.

Years before then we had accepted that we couldn’t have children and just got on with our lives. We both realised our mistake after that afternoon and decided to do something about it. The foster agency was very helpful and we became registered after only six months of training.

Six year old Natasha, the sole survivor of a house fire, came to us in October. On paper she was categorised as ‘low potential’ for adoption. We were given background information and shown photographs during the preparation meetings. Her legs bore the scars of the fire and she suffered nightmares.

Susan, our social worker, led her gently by the hand up the pathway to our home. Her eye movement was very slow with few blinks. There was no sparkle; just a glaze. No amount of training could have prepared us for her sad brown eyes. She looked so vulnerable trailing her few possessions in a supermarket carrier bag. Her stay with us would be for an undetermined time.

After only a couple of months Susan was concerned about Natasha’s progress. She was still withdrawn and I was horrified that Susan was thinking of moving her for specialist care after Christmas. Her empathy was wasted on me and I felt a complete failure. Of course we wanted what was best for Natasha but we would miss her.

We were warned not to expect too much but I’d pinned all my hopes on Christmas Day. I naively thought that Christmas would work magic. It didn’t. I’ll never forget that sinking feeling as I knew Natasha would be taken from us; probably into an institution. Frank squeezed my hand and we rallied on through the Christmas Day rituals.

By mid afternoon our brave faces were beginning to wane when I noticed Natasha clasping something. She fell asleep on the settee for her afternoon nap and I uncurled her fingers to find a piece of screwed up paper. It was a piece of the Christmas decorations. I had kept some of the streamers from the concert as a memento and decorated her bedroom with them.

My sixth sense told me she had been there; at that nursery making Christmas decorations from the till rolls. And it must have triggered a happy memory for her. I just knew I needed to find a till roll, paint and glitter before she woke up.

The corner shopkeeper thought I was mad when I hammered on his door. It was, after all, the only day of the year he closed. I doubt he understood my garbled story but he gave me a till roll. I had some paint and all I needed was some glitter. I called at eight houses were I knew there were children before I found some.

Natasha woke up groggy and rubbed her eyes. Time stood still as she looked at the things I had put on the coffee table. I don’t think we drew breath as we watched her climb off the settee and stand with her head bowed. We waited hopefully as she pushed her stray blonde curls away from her eyes. She gave us a sideways look and we busied ourselves to let her take her own time.

She waited a while before she knelt by the table and started to paint. I had cut a few lengths of paper for her.

Soon afterwards Frank sat on the floor and started to paint. Natasha watched curiously then carried on with her painting.

Frank showed her his painting of a snowman. Natasha held her drawing up; a finished squiggle resembling a Christmas tree. We praised her work and she handed Frank another length of paper.

They did five paintings before I got the Christmas present I’d wished for. She smiled! Frank hugged me. We reached her.

As Frank raises his glass to mine, his wink said it all. I called the toast. “To Progress...Merry Christmas.”

© Sheila Sowden, 2005
All Rights Reserved