The first of my English tasks, this one was pretty simple. We had to write about a childhood memory. Personally, I HATE writing about myself, simply because my life just isn’t full of interesting material to write about. But I tried to make this pretty, if anything.
A lot of planning went into that tiny slot of time – only ten or fifteen minutes between when my parents’ television show finished and when they would come around, closing windows and checking that their children were asleep. Then they would haul out the washing basket filled with presents. The Christmas tree stood in the rumpus room, a live tree, as had always been the case. Chasing the kittens around underneath the prickly branches, I would breathe in the sharp, woody scent of the pine needles, always reminiscent of Christmas. Now, if I were to creep out into the kitchen, I would glimpse the tree alight with small, electric lights, flashing harmoniously and filling the empty room with light. But, as it was, now was reserved for a different practice. Cautiously, hardly making a sound, the CD player was moved next to the window, my favourite CD fetched from its proper place (on my floor, next to the socks) the bedcovers on the top bunk pulled back, lest mum come and I be forced to leap deftly into bed before she could chastise me, and the lights turned off to create the right mood. Then, with the cool, summer-evening air breathing in through the open window, I sat on my desk chair and gazed out the window.
My eyesight was never any good, and glasses eventually came a few months later, but for now I enjoyed the slight blur in my vision, melting the city lights into the rest of the dark landscape. The CD hummed in its player and the Christmas carols started soon enough. I flicked through the tracks, eventually coming to the second last, the perfect song.
The CD was from some English choir with a name that now escapes me singing in a grand cathedral and accompanied by an organ. Even now, I have never heard better renditions of each carol. The particular one that I chose that night was soft, starting out with only one voice singing the simple tune, the notes falling to and fro. The voice was then joined by others for the chorus, a sequence of notes that made my nine-year-old heart sing. I sat with my chin resting on my palm, staring past the fly-screen and watching the lights melt into the bush. The crickets chirped friendly songs in my ears. The song lasted for three minutes. In those three minutes, my usually loud and erratic nine-year-old countenance was utterly peaceful. Now that I look back on it, I describe it as contentment. Everything was perfect, just right. There was not a thing I would have changed, except perhaps given myself more time.
Because as soon as the song finished, the CD moved along its course and, too caught up in my reverie to notice, the CD player then blurted out, at full blast, the final song.
‘HARK THE HERALD ANGELS SING! GLORY TO THE NEWBORN-’
I jumped up and punched the stop button before flying up the bunk-bed ladder and into the doona. The next moment, I heard footsteps in the corridor and the door creaked open slowly. I closed my eyes and tried my best to look fast asleep. My mother stood on tiptoe, leaning over to check that I was asleep. Satisfied, she moved away and continued out of the room and down the corridor. In my crumpled position on the bed, a small smile danced on my lips.
And whenever I hear that song, the same smile dances again.