Friday, 5 December 2014

Celtic Star

Celtic Star

Stevie McNally stood on a chill December evening gazing wistfully into the bright window of the Celtic shop on Argyle Street. His breath was visible in the cold Glasgow air and he was shivering a little as he peered through the glass. Christmas shoppers flowed around him like a stream around a rock. A few of the  passers-by looked at him with disdain and one muttered audibly, ‘Oot the way Jakie.’ A small manikin wearing the child sized Celtic strip had the word ‘Sale’ written on a red label stuck to the chest and a shop assistant was about to stick on a price tag. He so wanted to buy his Celtic mad son a strip for Christmas but unless it went below £25 he simply couldn’t afford it. It hurt him that he did so little for Patrick these days. It also hurt him that his son’s mother now lived with another man who got to play with him every day while Stevie barely saw him. It terrified him that he’d drop out of his son’s life completely and be forgotten by him. Stevie had seen the other man in Pollok Park with Patrick and it tore at his heart when he saw how his son seemed so attached to him. He wanted to give wee Patrick a present he’d enjoy for Christmas and perhaps on a deeper level remind his boy that his Dad still existed. The young assistant glanced briefly at him through the glass as she attached a label which read £25. Stevie walked to the door and pushed it open before stepping into the warmth of the shop. As the door closed behind him, cutting out the chill and noise of the street Stevie looked around and soon located the sale section.

The same young assistant who had stuck the sale label onto the manikin sized him up as he approached the window display. He knew he looked rough. He had been unemployed for what seemed forever and since parting company with Patrick’s mother he had spiralled down and now called a grim room in a hostel by the Clyde, home. A fight with an un-medicated schizophrenic in another hostel the year before had left him with an angry red scar which ran the length of his cheek. He caught a glimpse of himself in a mirror and quickly looked away. Wrong choices, wrong friends and the wrong attitude had seen his life fall apart after he parted with Annie. Booze and drugs fuelled much of his downfall although he was now making a real effort to stay clean and sober. He looked at the smart young shop assistant in her neat Celtic Polo shirt, her smart pony tailed hair freshly cut, ‘Aw right hen, is that boy’s Celik strip in the windae twenty five bar?’ She glanced almost imperceptibly over Stevie’s shoulder towards a male shop assistant as if reassuring herself that he was watching, before focussing on Stevie, ‘No, the top is £25. The full strip is £45 in the sale.’ Stevie’s heart sank a little, ‘Jeez Brother Walfrid widnae like that.’ His pointed little joke met a blank stare so he continued, Ye goat it tae fit a seven year auld?’ She nodded, ‘Yes,’ and fetched a shirt from a pile on a nearby display shelf. ‘I’ll take it to the till for you.’ Stevie was used to this. Poor looking people were considered potential shoplifters by some and not to be trusted with the merchandise till the money was handed over. She handed the strip to a burly male colleague who looked at Stevie without bothering to put the hooped shirt in a bag as if doubting that he could pay for it. ‘Twenty five pounds please?’ he barked at Stevie who took the money from his tracksuit pocket and counted it out onto the counter. Two wrinkled tenners and five pound coins. All that remained of his Jobseekers allowance.  The assistant took the money with his fingertips as if it might be infectious and placed it in the till. He then bagged Stevie’s purchase and handed it to him. ‘Thank you, Merry Christmas.’ His less than friendly expression rather undermined his festive wishes.

Stevie walked through the bustling streets noticing the excited children gaping at the Christmas lights and generally enjoying being in town at this time of year. Music, which sounded like Peruvian pan pipes drifted down from Buchanan Street and the sparkling Christmas decorations lifted the whole scene. Stevie caught glimpses of that other Glasgow too, the one few bothered to notice. He spotted Eddie, a long term homeless friend of his begging outside Argos. He was sitting on a piece of cardboard and had his dog Jinky with him. Eddie had been hospitalised the year before when some drunks turned on him. For some, homeless also meant worthless but Eddie was the most kind-hearted and decent guy Stevie had ever met. He shared whatever he made begging with the other ‘invisibles’ of the Glasgow homeless scene who crossed his path. Stevie smiled at Eddie as he passed, ‘You still no goat a job ya chancer?’ Eddie grinned his toothless grin back at him and replied in his gravelly Glaswegian voice, ‘Waitin oan a call fae Selik, hear they need a striker!’ Stevie laughed, ‘Striker? You couldnae strike a match ya auld bam.’ The friends smiled at each other and Eddie gave Stevie a small clench fisted salute as he walked on.

Stevie’s Celtic store green bag was inside his tracksuit top close to his heart, ‘Patrick will love it,’ he mumbled to himself as he headed towards Clyde Street and his bed for the night. He skipped up the stairs into the hostel and noticed a group of the residents had gathered at some sort of meeting in the TV room. He entered and sat just as a stout man in a tidy suit was finishing speaking. ‘So basically, the Foundation gives tickets to those who couldn’t otherwise afford to go to a game. I’m leaving 20 with the hostel manager and I hope to see some of you at Celtic Park next week.’ It seemed to Stevie that he’d timed his arrival to perfection. As the man turned to leave, he noticed Stevie’s Celtic shop bag now in his hand. ‘I hope you can make it pal, you’re obviously a fan.’ Stevie nodded and chanced his arm, ‘Can I take my boy?’ The man smiled, ‘Of course you can.’ Stevie looked at the Hostel manager who held a white envelope stuffed with tickets. The man, a life-long blue nose called Ian, had a soft spot for Stevie and caught his eye, ‘Don’t you worry Stevie boy, goat your name oan two already.’ Stevie was elated. He could take Patrick to the match. His son had never been to Celtic Park and perhaps they could share a good time together. Make a memory Patrick would treasure.

Stevie used the office phone in the hostel to phone Annie. It was his first call to her in six weeks. ‘I want tae gie Patrick a Christmas present and take him tae the match oan Saturday.’ She responded in the curt, dry manner she adopted when he called these days. ‘You can meet me at my ma’s and I’ll check ye oot first. If yer drunk or smellin’ of hash yer no getting near him.’ Stevie felt a surge of anger but controlled it, ‘I’m aff the drink and don’t touch any other stuff, Annie. Ye need tae trust me mer.’ She cut across him, ‘Stevie, you’ve let me doon so often, I canny trust ye. Wan o’cloak at my Ma’s and nane ay yer nonsense or ye kin forget it.’ With that the phone went dead. Ian entered the room at that point, ‘Stevie, ye need tae square yerself up before goin’ tae get yer boy on Saturday. I got some gear aff a guy who left the hostel last month. He wiz aboot your size.’ He handed Stevie a black bin bag. Stevie glanced inside at clothing he knew was a cut above anything he owned. He smiled at the middle aged hostel manager, ‘Cheers Ian, yer no a bad guy for a zombie.’ Ian laughed. ‘Just you and yer boy have a good time son. They grow fast and it’s important he knows who his auld man is.’ Later, as Stevie tried on the nearly new clothes he found piece of paper in the pocket of a pair of jeans. It was a receipt with Ian’s name on it. He had obviously given him some of his own clothes. Stevie mumbled to himself with a wry smile, ‘Aye, no a bad guy for a Zombie right enough, Cheers Ian.’

Stevie McNally felt a little nervous as he walked up towards Annie’s mother’s house. It was here he had finally blown his relationship with Annie three years before. Annie was waiting by the close, looking to Stevie as beautiful as she had when he had first got up the nerve to ask her out when they were 16. Now as they both approached 30, the affection they once felt had melted like April snow. There was not a day which passed without him regretting losing her but he accepted that he had blown it and wouldn’t get another chance. He smiled nervously at her, ‘Aw right Annie, yer looking well, doll.’ She sized him up, noticing the smart clothes which had replaced his usual track suit. ‘So are you. Glad tae see yer sorting yourself oot.’ He nodded, ‘Done some bad stuff Annie, I know that but I’m on the right road noo and I just want tae see the wee man for a while, you know.’ He handed her the bag from the Celtic shop, ‘Here’s a wee present for him for Christmas.’ She took the bag, ‘Get him back here for six, Stevie.’ With that she turned and nodded at the first floor window where her mother was watching the scene below from behind the net curtains. After a moment, the close door opened and six year old Patrick stepped out into the bright chill of the day. He seemed bigger than the last time Stevie had seen him and his tousled dark hair needed a trim. Annie zipped his warm jacket and gave him a hug, ‘See you at supper time Patrick. Stay wrapped up.’ As she headed back into the close Stevie called to her, ‘Annie!’ She turned her head as he continued, ‘I really am sorry ye know.’ She pursed her lips and turning, headed into the close without replying. Stevie smiled at his son who regarded him with amused interest, ‘We really gone tae the match Da?’  Stevie took his hand, ‘Of course we are but first we’ve going tae see the statues at the front of Celtic Park and the walkway. It’s brilliant, Patrick.’ They set off hand in hand, Stevie’s spirits lifted by simply being with his boy.

Patrick talked incessantly about Christmas and his Primary one class at the local school as they joined the stream of people heading for the stadium. ‘Miss Brown said Christmas is when magic things happen da, ye need tae see a big star first though. That’s the sign something really good is gonnae happen. A long time ago a baby was born and Miss Brown said there was a big star o’er his wee hoose and Miss Brown knows everything!’ As Stevie listened to his son’s rambling innocence, part of him was aching at having missed so much of his son’s journey through life while another part of him just basked in being with him on this bright winter’s day. God how he loved this boy, he was the one bright light in his life. ‘Miss Brown sounds like a good teacher, son.’ Patrick nodded, ‘She said the Romans came here a long time ago. Did you see them Da?’ Stevie laughed at his son’s utter innocence, ‘Naw Son, before my time, I think yer Grandad John did though.’ They turned off the London Road onto the Celtic walkway. ‘Look Da!’ cried Patrick, ‘It says Celtic on the ground’ Stevie stopped with his son in the middle of the huge club crest emblazoned on the walkway. His son knelt and traced part of it with his hand, spellbound. Stevie had forgotten how children could be amazed by things adults took for granted. ‘Aye but look at the stadium son…’ Patrick glanced up at the huge bulk of Celtic Park. The Celtic way was lined on both sides with green and silver Christmas lights and this drew the eye to the stadium itself at the other end of it. Christmas lights glinted from the walls above the main entrance and two large Christmas trees sparkled by the statues of three Celtic Legends. Patrick’s eyes widened, ‘It’s magic Da, it’s Christmas magic!’ Stevie smiled, ‘I know, they did a good job wi aw these lights.’ Young Patrick shook his head and pointed high above the ground to the very top of the main stand. ‘Naw, look a star! A Christmas star! Miss Brown said that means that something good is goin’ tae happen!’ Stevie followed his son’s gaze and his eyes came to rest on a huge golden star which glinted above the red brick fa├žade of the south stand. ‘Jesus,’ he whispered to himself, ‘it is a star.’ He fought back a tear as he took his son’s hand, ‘C’mon let’s go see the Celts, see if that Miss Brown was right.’ They walked to the stadium together each in their own way amazed at what the day had brought.


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