Traditionally, it is La Befana – and not Father Christmas – who brings gifts to the children of Central Italy. It is on the morning of the Epiphany, that children would wake up to find packages under their beds. If they had been good children for the preceding twelve months, of course. La Befana is a dishevelled old woman in rags, covered in soot from the chimneys she slides down, and always with her broom, to sweep all the old year’s troubles away before the leaves your home.
Imagine my surprise, this morning, when I found a gift from La Befana under my bed. Was I a child again? A glance in the mirror gave me a quick – if rather undiplomatic – assurance to the contrary. And yet there it was, in my hand, a small velvet pouch containing six memories. One for the first six days of the New Year. Six gifts. One by one, I looked at them.
ONE: an unexpected kindness
I was broke. I had to go into town, and the fares had just made their usual January leap. I was queuing for the ticket machine at the Tube station, feeling miserable. Of course, I had no one to blame but myself, but that only exacerbated my feeling of being totally useless. Out of nowhere, a man – a stranger – walked straight up to me, a day travelcard in his hand. He had a kind face. “I’ve finished with this for today,” he said. “Can you use it? It seems a shame for me to throw it away.”
I still carry that travelcard in my wallet, as a good luck token.
TWO: when animals understand
Feeling alone in a crowded Tube carriage. I think, I speak four languages, but nobody can understand me. I am defective and cannot be fixed. There is no place for me in this world. I understand you, without the need for your languages. I look up and meet the deep, liquid gaze of a black Cocker Spaniel. She is staring at me intently, wrapping me in the unconditional love in her glistening eyes. You are not alone. She is too far for me to reach out and stroke her silky head and long ears. We stare at each-other until her master needs to get off the train. She turns to me with a parting glance. So now you know. Don’t go having such silly thoughts again. I wink back at her.
I am walking with a friend in Kensington Gardens. Swans are loitering by the pond. “I wish I could have a swan feather,” I say. I walk up to one of the swans, who is grooming his silky plumage. “Will you give me a feather?” I ask. My friend looks on, tolerantly. A feather drops from the swan but is carried away by the ripples in the water before I can catch it. I ask again. This time, the swan pulls out a long, snow-white feather, and tosses it unmistakably towards me. My friend’s mouth is agape. “No one would believe it,” she says.
I carry the feather inside the flap of my writing folder.
THREE: cover for a book that is to be written
I am having trouble starting my novel. The prospect of writing 100,000 words fills me with insurmountable dread. I do not know where to begin. I am having tea with a friend. He says, “Begin with this.”
He takes out a plain sheet of A4 paper, folds it half and makes it into a book cover. On it, he writes the working title of my novel and my name. “There,” he says. “The cover is done. Now you just have to write the book.”
It is so simple and yet so effective. I go home and start writing.
FOUR: a family Easter
This friend has not known me all that long, and yet she invites me to be part of Easter luncheon with her family. I have never met them, yet they welcome me not as a stranger, but as one of them. There are no enquiring looks or awkward questions. I am enveloped in the warmth of their hospitality and in the joy of the occasion, as though they have known me all their lives.
FIVE: Doctor Theatre
This friend is my fairy godmother. She always seems to know when I get lost in the dark oubliettes of my head, and need dragging out and throwing out in the sunshine. She takes me to see a play. She knows one of the actors. I drink the carefully crafted language, the challenge of the thoughts behind it, the velvet timbre of the actors‘ voices. I feel the joy of watching highly-polished British actors do what they do best. No movement, no glance, no breath is out of place. After the show, we have drinks with other actors. I could listen to their voices for ever. They are bewitching, mellifluous, rich. I am in the presence of Beauty. I dream of these voices someday speaking the words I write.
SIX: to honour two steadfast friends over land, dale and sea
I have not seen either of them for over a decade. Yet no writer ever had such champions for her pen. They always have a kind word to say about my writing. They have not missed a week in nearly two years of my blog-writing. Every week, they send encouragement. Sometimes, it is no more than a word – but always a word chosen with the greatest care. Just to remind me that they are right there, behind me, rooting for me. Little do they know, just how much their support means to me.
As I pour the six memories back into their pouch, I suddenly see a seventh one, concealed at the bottom, which I had previously failed to notice. It is a coffee shop gift card, a dear friend gave me on New Year’s Day. He said it will make it possible for him to buy me a hot chocolate if I really need one, and he is not around, so that I never feel quite alone. As I put it in a safe place, I realise this card is actually a key. A key to a story. In fact, more than one story.
A story for every cup of hot chocolate on that card…
* Scribe Doll begs her readers to allow her just a tiny little dusting of poetic licence.