Tony McGuire glanced though the glass partition at the young woman who found making eye contact with him difficult. Her badge told Tony her name was Sinead. She continued speaking at him in a monotone voice, ‘that’s right, Mr McGuire, it’ll be 5 weeks till you receive your first payment. The new universal credit will help you see the value of taking on work of any kind while you receive it.’ Tony looked at her, ‘Five weeks? But it’s Christmas in a week, how will I get something for the wean? How will I feed myself? Five weeks withoot any money are you fuckin serious?’ She pursed her lips and glanced past Tony to the stout security guard who stood watching like nightclub bouncer waiting on the call to action. ‘Calm down Mr McGuire, there’s a slip you can get for the local foodbank….’ Tony looked at her, ‘Whit? I’ve tae rely oan charity for five weeks?’ She looked down at her notes almost embarrassed, ‘I’m sorry Mr McGuire, I don’t make the rules.’ Tony stood to leave, 'how do you people sleep at night?’
Tony exited the Job Centre and looked around him at the busy shoppers rushing here and there, laden with their packages for Christmas. He crossed the street and entered the Forge shopping centre, more to get out of the cold rain than to buy anything. He sat on one of the seats in the mall as crowds of shoppers flowed around him and tinny Christmas music played. The year which was almost over had been a bad year for him. His job had gone and worst of all his Karen had had enough of his drinking and thrown him out a few months earlier. He was back at his mother’s house at the age of 30; no job, no money, no prospects and missing his daughter. He now had the princely sum of £35 to his name and Christmas was a week away.
His chain of thought was interrupted when a man sat beside him, ‘Tony boy! How ye doing ya fud ye?’ He turned to his left to see the familiar face of an old friend. ‘Franny, long time no see, whit are ye up tae these days?’ Franny grinned at him, ‘Still driving a bus, still backing the Celts & still the most handsome man in Tollcross.’ Tony felt a little cheered by Franny’s infectious humour. You always got him one way. ‘I’ve been tae Tollcross and Quasimodo was runner up so it’s not something I’d boast aboot.’ Franny laughed, ‘Shut it ya tadger! How’s yer Maw? How’s the wee yin, she must be at school noo?’ Tony filled him in on the latest developments including losing his job after a bust up with the site foreman. Franny shook his head, ‘I know that clown, he’d find excuses tae get aw the Tims the bullet if he could. Grade A bigoted arsehole. So that’s you nae work the week before Christmas?’ He shook his head, ‘I’ll keep my ears open if I hear of any jobs goin.’ The two old friends parted with a smile, ’Nice seeing ye Franny. Have a good Christmas mate.’ Franny nodded, ‘You too pal, always a seat on the bus if ye fancy getting back tae seeing the Celts.’
Tony sat for a few more minutes letting the river of shoppers flow around him before heading out into the cold. They sky was already darkening over Glasgow’s east end as he stepped out into the street. He held the door for a woman in her 70s who struggled with her many bags. As she passed Tony she smiled, ‘Thanks, son.’ She had barely gone five paces when Tony noticed that she’d dropped something. He saw immediately that it was one of those big red purses that only pensioners seemed to own. He bent to pick it up feeling it’s fullness in his chilly fingers. For a fraction of a second he considered keeping it, simply turning and walking away in the opposite direction but tutted quietly to himself for thinking that way and hurried after her, ‘Here, Mrs, ye dropped something.’ The old woman turned and regarded him, her eyes widening slightly when she saw her purse in his outstretched hand. ‘Goodness! That’s so good of ye son.’ Tony smiled slightly glad to have done someone a good turn. ‘No worries, Mrs.’ She gazed at him, ‘That was very honest of you, son. What’s your name?’ He mumbled, wanting to get going, ‘Tony…Tony McGuire. Merry Christmas.’ With that he turned to go. ‘You too, son and thanks again.‘ Tony headed for his mum’s house, feeling a little better that he’d done the right thing.
The following day he got a frosty reception from Karen as he picked up his daughter to take her out for the afternoon. ‘So I hear ye lost yer job?’ Tony nodded, ‘Aye, Foreman never liked me much he was just waiting oan an excuse.’ She zipped up their five year old daughter’s jacket and as the child ran to get a soft toy, Karen said to Tony, ‘Ye promised wee Katie a bike for Christmas; I suppose you’ll be letting her doon again like ye did at her birthday?’ He exhaled, keeping his emotions in check, not wishing to be drawn into a row, before replying, ‘I’ll do my best, Karen. I won’t get any money aff the social for five weeks but I’ll do my best.’ She barely looked at him as she opened the front door of the flat they once shared. ‘Right, have her back by six and don’t get her soaked if it rains.’
Tony enjoyed 2 solid hours in his daughter’s company and it was a delight to him. He watched her as she cavorted with the other children in the soft play. Every smile, every look over in his direction filled him with pride and love. Later, as they sat in McDonalds, she grinned, ‘Only five sleeps to Christmas daddy! I hope I get a bike and maybe a telly for my room!’ He smiled even as a pang of guilt cut through him, ‘Ye never know what you’ll get at Christmas, darlin. You’ve been a good girl so you’ll get something nice.’ Before heading home, they wandered past Celtic Park, looking resplendent with the Christmas lights glinting in the darkness. ‘Look Daddy!’ Katie smiled, ‘Look at all the lights, it’s beautiful!’ Tony grinned, ‘Not half as beautiful as you, angel.’ He picked her up in his arms and carried her towards the stadium where he showed her the three statues outside the entrance. ‘That’s Walfrid, he was a good guy and he helped the poor children when they were hungry. That’s Jock; he was a great man who helped the team be great too. And that’s wee Jimmy he was the best player ever!’ She looked around her mesmerised, ’Can I come here and see them play one day?’ Tony nodded, ‘in the spring when the weather is better. Now, time to head home, yer mother will be expecting you.’ As he carried her down the Celtic way she rested her head on his shoulder, ’I love you daddy.’ It was all he could do to stop his eyes moistening too much. ‘I love you too, angel.’
The following afternoon Tony found himself in a grubby Bookmakers on the Gallowgate. His last £20 would need to be gambled if he was to get Katie the bike he had promised her. A friend had told him of a whisper about a horse called Kingston Town which was currently 16-1. Tony wrote out the slip and stood with a few dozen others staring at the screens on the walls around them as the race began. Three minutes later his £20 was gone as Kingston Town finished fourth. Tony sighed, mumbling to himself, ‘Well that’s you rooked noo, Tony boy.’
As he turned to leave he noticed two men watching him. Both looked like tough cookies but the bigger of the two looked especially hard. One nodded in his direction and said something to the bigger man who walked towards him. Tony’s heart sank when he realised it was indeed a well-known local tough nut. ‘You Tony McGuire?’ he asked in a gravelly, low voice as Tony searched his mind and wondered what the hell he had done which might attract the attention of this character. ‘Aye,’ he said in a voice sounding a little more calm than he was feeling, ‘whit can ah dae for yer, mate?’ Tony was expecting the worst but the man smiled slightly, ’This is for you.’ He handed a very confused Tony an envelope, ‘My maw sends her regards.’ Tony was utterly baffled and it must have shown on his face because as the big man turned away he smiled, ‘Yer a good cunt son, ye could have bolted wi her purse and ye never.’ The two men left and Tony followed behind them, the envelope stuffed into his jacket pocket. His heart pounding, he stopped at the first bus stop he came to and surreptitiously looked in the envelope. It contained twenty crisp ten pound notes. Tony’s eyes widened, ’Shit!’ he said to no one in particular, a smile creasing his face.
Katie’s excited eyes opened to greet another Christmas. She leaped from the bed and ran into the living room. A pile of presents lay under the tree but she ignored these for the moment scanning the room until her eyes fell on the pink bicycle, complete with stabilisers and a helmet, which stood by the TV. ‘Yassss!’ she roared as her mother smiled at her. ‘I must have been a very good girl!’ Tony phoned at that very moment and she shouted excitedly down the phone to him. ‘Daddy, I got my bike! Santa brought me my bike.’ Tony listened to her excited voice, drinking in her happiness. ‘Mind ye promised you’d take me tae see Celtic when the spring comes tae!’ she continued. Tony laughed, ‘don’t you worry, Angel, I’ll be taking you alright!’ Tony spoke to his erstwhile partner as Katie opened her presents, ‘She sounds happy.’ Karen agreed, ‘She is and she misses you. Don’t get any ideas but why not come roon for Christmas dinner. She’d like that.’ Tony smiled, ‘So would I.’
The skies over Celtic Park were blue as the stadium was bathed in bright sunshine. Tony and his daughter sat near the front of the Lisbon Lions stand as Celtic moved onto the attack. The ball was carried up the right wing and flashed across the face of the goal where a forward arriving like a train smashed it into the net. Tony grabbed his daughter and hugged her. Around them thousands roared out their appreciation of a fine goal. As the crowd settled a little the PA system announced the goal-scorer’s name as the supporters joined in a loud chorus which echoed around the stadium. ‘Oh, Oh Oh, Oh, oh we’re Glasgow Celtic, Oh, Oh Oh, Oh, oh we’re Glasgow Celtic.’ Tony joined in watching his daughter as she smiled to see her old man so excited. When thing’s settled a little he said to the man beside him, ‘I love that song, where’s the tune from?’ The man grinned,’UB40 mate, from a song called Kingston Town.’ Tony smiled, hadn’t he lost his last £20 on a horse of that name? His life had improved a lot since that day just a few months before and when he was with his angel he was the happiest man alive.