THE WORST TIME TO TRAVEL
(The theme for November was The Unwanted Gift, and there were two elements , Travel, and Forgetfulness)
‘You look, if you don’t mind me saying so, absolutely fed up.’ The fat man, having thanked her for lifting her bag off the seat next to hers in the crowded waiting room, now seemed to want to make conversation and Carol sighed inwardly. But if it passed this interminable waiting time …
‘I hate travelling at any time. But most of all at this time of year.’
‘So why are you?’ He unwrapped a burger, his obvious anticipation undimmed by the soggy bun, flabby burger patty, and wisps of tired vegetable matter being revealed by the process, and she averted her eyes.
‘Oh – my daughter. She sent a note and a gift saying I had to open it immediately, and join them for Christmas. I’ve not been able to reach her, so there was nothing for it but to book. I don’t want it to be an emergency, but I’ll be a little cross if it isn’t. She knows how I hate to fly!’
‘Did you bring the gift?’ He lowered the sad limp burger, and looked interested. ‘What is it?’
‘You tell me.’ She produced what looked like a steel powder compact. ‘It does open, but there’s nothing inside. And anyway, who needs a powder compact these days? I’ve got a powder spray. She gave me that, too, last year, so she knows I don’t need a compact.’
‘Well, now,’ he said thoughtfully. ‘And those powder sprays – last year, you said? But they only came on the market a few months ago.’
‘Yes, I know, but she works with new inventions. Did you ever watch that TV show, a Town Called Eureka? A bit like that. No direct contact with the outside world, that’s why I couldn’t reach her.’
‘And that’s where you’re going?’
‘Yes.’ She eyed him warily, suddenly aware she’d said more to this total stranger than she should. Holly had asked her never to discuss anything about the Centre.
He gave the compact back and took a bite of his burger, and she blinked. Just for a second, as he bit into it, the patty had looked thick and delicious, topped with crisp lettuce, juicy tomato and a generous supply of fried onion rings – the sort of burgers she’d made for Holly and Nicholas, when they were young. The impression was so vivid she could actually smell it, and her mouth watered automatically – then he was chewing, and for all his obvious enjoyment, the portion left in his hand looked as tired and limp as it had before. She looked away politely and focused on the tired, irritable and fretful passengers around them, staring with dulled eyes at the departures board which flickered again. ALL FLIGHTS DELAYED.
‘Not much Christmas spirit, is there?’ He really was a very rosy man, against that snow-white hair and tidy beard. ‘Tell me, did you ever ask her for anything in particular?’
‘No. Well.’ She laughed despite herself at the memory. ‘I asked her not to expect me to travel ever again until they invented a teleporter! I’d forgotten that. So did she, obviously.’
‘She didn’t.’ His eyes lit with laughter. ‘Carol, for security reasons she sent the instructions separately, and they got stolen. You go find a private corner, open the compact, and tell it to take you to Holly.’
She stared at him and he twinkled merrily.
‘I’m by way of being in the Christmas business, Carol. And I love the way your family names reflect my traditions. Now off you go and have a wonderful holiday with your family.’ With that he started to laugh, an old-fashioned belly laugh. ‘I’ve got some planes to sort out! Ho ho ho!’
I know, I know, cheesy. But it was the winning entry for that month so go ahead, laugh.