Saturday, 10 December 2016

Mysterious ways

Mysterious ways

Jacqueline guided her car carefully along the Shettleston Road in the pale light of a Spring morning which threatened rain at any time. She stopped at the lights and glanced out at graffiti covered tenement building on her left. Life was tough for many in the poorer parts of Glasgow and she knew early on in her life that she was lucky indeed in not having to face the hardships many of the children she taught did.  As she mused on such things a child emerged from the close nearest to her. She recognised the bleary eyed and rather unkempt lad as John Lynch one of her pupils in Primary 6.  He always looked a poor wee soul and she knew from teaching him for the past six months that he had a difficult life. Social work was involved in his life due to his father’s erratic behaviour and the skinny, pint sized wee lad was as nervous as a kitten. His father was off the scene now and mum struggled as best she could with John and a younger sister.

As she watched him wait outside the close, shoulders slumped, she thought of a proverb her Polish grandfather used to say; ‘The child is the father of the man.’ She hoped wee John would somehow overcome the harsh realities of his life and not carry his insecurities and fears into adulthood. So many lives were hampered by bad starts although she knew of others who had risen above the hardness of their childhoods and made a place for themselves in life. Just as the light turned amber and she released the handbrake a man in a faded tracksuit, came out of the close behind John. Jacqueline didn’t hear through the glass of the car window what was said but the unshaven, scruffy looking man slapped John hard across the back of the head. Her car was already moving as this occurred and with vehicles behind her she couldn’t just slam on the brakes. She glanced in the mirror as the figures grew smaller with distance, ‘Bastard’, she mumbled under her breath, grinding her teeth in anger.

She reported what she had seen to the Head Mistress of the school as soon as she arrived and it was duly noted. The Head Mistress was sympathetic and muttered darkly, ‘I’ll see Social Work know about this. We let people look after children who are banned from keeping animals.’ The conversation moved on from John Lynch to the upcoming school fete. ‘I want you to organise the prizes for the draw we already have vouchers and various things from the local shops. I believe the local Celtic Supporters Club is going to give us an item for the draw too. The signed football top they gave us was very popular last year and sold a lot of tickets.’ Jacqueline listened as the head teacher outlined her plans for the Fete and her role in things. ‘So I’ll send all the prizes to you and you can organise that side of things.’ Jacqueline agreed and headed to her classroom on the first floor to prepare for the day ahead.

Later that morning as she read with a small group of children she had a chance to talk to John. ‘Was that you I saw down at the lights this morning?’ He replied in a quiet voice, avoiding her eyes, ‘Yes Miss Cairns, I was going tae my grannies. There was nae milk left in oor hoose for breakfast.’  ‘Who was the man you were with,’ she pushed, ‘not your Dad, I’d recognise him.’ The boy was silent for a moment before mumbling, ‘that wis Davie, He stays wi us noo.’ She moved on with the school work when she saw how subdued he had become. They moved onto writing their news and she smiled when John handed his in. There was another story about his beloved Celtic. Sometimes it was all he wrote about. She corrected it as she read his childish glee in his team winning. At least he had some happiness in that. It was written in his familiar spidery handwriting and said…

‘Monday 16th April 2001
I saw Celtic on the telly. They beat Dundee United 3-1 in the cup at hamden. They might win the cup final. I want to go to the cup final but I’ll see it on my grannies telly anyways. Henrik Larsson is my bestest player ever.’

Above the news was a childlike drawing of the dreadlocked Mr Larsson, hands raised after scoring another goal. Jacqueline smiled again and thought to herself that such role models weren’t necessarily a bad thing for a growing boy. From what she heard Larsson was a decent man and a model professional.

After School Jacqueline sorted through the various prizes local businesses had handed in for the upcoming Fete. She made a mental note to phone the Celtic Supporters Club in the area to check what they were going to hand in for the prize draw. They were a good bunch and Scott Delaney who ran the bus was a former pupil of the school. The preparations for the Fete were going well and Saturday 19th of May was pencilled in as the big day. Face painters had been ordered and a bouncy castle would be installed in the playground. All was ready to go and Jacqueline as usual went the extra mile to ensure it was a success.

The routines of school life kept her busy until one sunny morning in May the Head Teacher handed her a white envelope. ‘That’s from the Celtic Supporters Club.’ She said, ‘Looks like a donation rather than a strip this year. Oh well, not to worry.’ The head teacher sounded a little disappointed as she gave Jacqueline the sealed envelope and headed back to her office. Jacqueline opened the envelope at her desk in class 6 and removed the letter it contained. It was from Scott Delaney who apologised for not having got a signed shirt this year but offered instead another gift which he hoped might raise a few quid for the school. Jacqueline looked at the two pieces of paper held to the letter with a paper clip. They were two tickets to the Scottish Cup Final between Celtic and Hibernian. In that instant John Lynch’s face popped into her head. What wouldn’t that lad give to see a cup final involving his beloved Celtic? As far as she knew he seldom got to see the team he loved so much with only his increasingly frail grandfather taking him to the odd home game.

‘No!’ said the Head Teacher with a firm voice, ‘I have sympathy with what you’re saying Miss Cairns but those tickets were given to the school in good faith to be raffled and it would be wrong to give then to any individual child no matter how needy.’ Jacqueline turned from her office, noting that the Head Teacher always called her ‘Miss Cairns’ when overruling her or laying down the law. ‘You’re the boss Margaret but that wee lad’s life is pretty crummy and we both know he’s Celtic daft.’ The Head shook her head, ‘It’d be wrong Jacqueline. Raffle them in the usual way. We have to be fair to everyone.’  Jacqueline headed along the corridor, a little deflated. She saw and heard every day how besotted wee John Lynch was by Celtic but still there was nothing she could do.

When news broke that two Cup Final tickets were among the raffle prizes the tickets sold like hot cakes. The Head teacher insisted on a separate draw for the tickets as a sort of grand finale to the Fete and suggested Jacqueline write every ticket purchaser’s name onto a piece of paper and place them into the revolving drum the school kept for such things. There were over four hundred tickets sold for the draw as the Fete approached.

The Wednesday before the Fete was Parents’ evening and when John entered the classroom he was dressed in a Celtic top which was a couple of sizes too big and a couple of years out of date. As Jacqueline outlined his progress to John’s mum the boy was buy counting small change. His mum was her usual nervous self and ordered him to stop. ‘But Ma I need tae buy a ticket for the draw. I might win the tickets and ye can take me tae Hampden?’  Jacqueline smiled and helped him count the money out. He had enough for one ticket and his mother commented, ‘He’s been saving up coppers every day to buy a ticket. I told him he had no chance but ye know what weans are like? Think’s this is like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and he’s gonnae win a golden ticket.’ After they had left Jacqueline took the small white rectangles of paper she had cut on which to write the names of people who had bought a ticket for the prize draw. On the top one she wrote ‘John Lynch’ and folded it before placing it into a plastic box. She stared out the window a though creeping into her mind.

The school Fete on a bright Saturday in May was a huge success as adults and children thronged the school yard eating, laughing and generally having fun. Jacqueline helped out where she was needed before being ordered by the Head Teacher to get ready for the big draw. The revolving drum had been placed onto the stage in the school hall and it seemed as if hundreds of people had crowded in to see who would win the Cup Final tickets. Jacqueline smiled at John who stood with his bored looking mother to the right of the stage, a hopeful look in his young eyes.  The Head Teacher took the microphone from the stand and made a short speech about how successful the Fete had been and how much she wished to thank the parents for all they did for the school before saying the words they all wanted to hear, ‘and now without further ado, Miss Cairns will choose someone to draw the winning name in the prize draw. The winner will receive these two tickets for next week’s cup final.’  She then rather theatrically held a white envelope containing the tickets above her head.

Jacqueline invited one of the Primary 7 children to come onto the stage and made great pains to spin the revolving drum which contained 392 pieces of paper. There was an air of expectancy and complete silence fell in the hall as the Primary 7 girl opened the small hatch in the side of the drum and stuck her hand into the large jumble of paper slips. She drew one out and handed it to Jacqueline who handed it in turn to the Head Teacher. The Head opened the paper slip as hundreds of eyes were fixed on her. Her eyebrows raised slightly before a smile creased her face and she spoke into the microphone, ‘The winner of the two tickets for next week’s Cup Final between Celtic and Hibernian is….’ She then did one of those annoying pauses so beloved of game show hosts before shouting loudly into the microphone…. ‘John Lynch of Primary 6’

There was a cheer in the hall and a few groans of disappointment but to the right of the stage John was stunned. As realisation struck home he shouted, ‘I’ve done it Ma! I’m going to the Cup Final! I telt ye I would win, I telt ye!’ Tears were falling from the boy’s eyes as he mounted the stage to collect his prize. Jacqueline gave him a hug, feeling a little emotional herself. ‘Well done, John. Enjoy the game.’ He whispered in her ear, ‘I prayed so hard Mrs Cairns, I prayed so hard every night. I knew God had tae hear me.’  She smiled as he turned to receive his tickets from the Head Teacher and held them above his head like a winning Captain with the Scottish Cup.

After the crowd had departed the teachers and other staff members tidied the school, chatting happily as they did so. ‘Imagine wee John winning those tickets?’ the Janitor said. ‘Couldn’t have gone to a better person, that wee fella loves Celtic,‘ someone replied. Jacqueline passed the Head Teacher, carrying the revolving drum and said, ‘Just going to empty this into the recycling bin. No point wasting all that paper.’ The Head held the door for her as she passed. ‘That was great. I’m glad wee John won. Quite a coincidence after our discussion.’ Jacqueline shrugged and smiled, ‘Sometimes God works in mysterious ways.’ She reached the recycling bin and began to empty over 390 pieces of paper into the container. She noted her neat hand writing on every single one of the white rectangles of paper. She also noticed that every single one of the pieces of paper had the same two words written on them; ‘John Lynch.’

She smiled and headed back into the Hall mumbling to herself, ‘Enjoy the Cup Final, John. I hope your team wins.’

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