It’s a Bitter Winter – Chapter 3

“Lee! Where’re yer going with that lightbulb?” asked Alison.

“Calm down, will you,” replied Lee, “it’s the one from my bedsite lamp which I don’t often use. Mrs Murgatroyd needs a new one for her hall and it’ll take the council forever to come and change it.”

As Lee went downstairs and out of the door, Alison reflected that life had become a lot better over the last six weeks, since Lee had started volunteering. They were still desperately hard up, but he was proving his worth as a chef in turning the most unlikely scraps of meat and vegetables, gleaned from the butcher’s and from the market, into delicious meals. What was more, he’d started teaching the children to cook.

He’d just sneaked out with a plastic box containing a large portion of his fish curry, to give to the refugee family. She’d tried to protest that they didn’t have enough to give food away. He’d replied that the people he was meeting actually made him feel well off! He was now so much more than a delivery driver.

And indeed, the family at Flat 47, Brighton Towers were delighted to see him. They opened the container of curry with broad smiles on their faces. And then the oldest daughter stepped into the doorway with a plate covered by a braided white cloth. Underneath was a syrupy, spongey cake which smelt of almonds, for him.

“Basbousa!” she said, licking her fingers.

Back in his in-laws’ car, Lee did a quick internet search and found that this was the name of a Syrian cake, not a greeting. He couldn’t resist breaking off a piece on his way to Leroy and Valerie’s. And here he had another surprise. Leroy laid his food box on the table in the lounge, and then produced a framed picture wrapped in tissue. Inside a heart with a bright red surround, the words, “I Care” were beautifully inscribed. Leroy explained that Valerie had painted this for him, holding her brushes with her mouth. Valerie struggled to annunciate her words but explained that this was what she’d felt guided to create. It looked rather like a Valentine’s Day card, the sort he’d have bought for Alison last month if they hadn’t been so skint.  

To get to Mrs Murgatroyd’s bungalow, the obvious route led back for half a mile towards the town centre and then to the west. For a change, Lee decided to take a short cut over Brindle Mount via a narrow, cobbled lane between stone walls. Feeling relaxed, Lee turned the music up on the car’s sound system. The sun had come out and spring was in the air. He engaged Second Gear as the car pulled up towards a sharp bend. Not far now to the top of the hill.

He’d just rounded the bend when he saw it. A large white transit van was there in the road ahead, hurtling towards him at speed. It was too late to drop back around the bend. If he stopped dead, they’d still crash. Lee’s intuition kicked in, and he accelerated towards a tiny bulge in the lane that looked wide enough for one-and-a-half cars. Time seemed to stand still, and in that moment of white heat he realised, ‘Oh my God!! this is not my own car!’ And then…

There was a loud scrape followed by a thud. Now for the smash… but…it never happened. The van disappeared round the bend.

  Shaking all over, Lee got out, inspected for damage, and found that both wing mirrors had retracted. They’d collided with the wall on the left and with the van on the right. But both were still intact.

Five minutes later, he arrived at Mrs Murgatroyd’s. She looked him up and down, then made him sit on a chair for five minutes to   recover whilst she fetched a chocolate bar. Then, as he fitted the light bulb, she told him she’d been asking God to keep him safe, and to help him find work. “I’ve just had an idea when I was praying. Why don’t you get a job caring for people?” she asked.

Mark’s Gospel was still sitting on the bookcase in the hall. Lee fingered it, put it in his pocket, and drove home.

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