Ben had looked out of his bedroom window half a dozen times over the last hour or so. He first noticed her when he came home from school, sitting on the bench at the park opposite his house, as he got off the bus. He didn’t know what had drawn his attention to her at first, what had made her stand out from all the other children. All he knew was that she just seemed somehow different.
She wasn’t dressed in the school uniform they were all wearing, for a start. There was something about how she sat, she seemed sad. Her clothes were worn and they didn’t match, not the stuff that he and his mates wore, emblazoned with slogans and logos. Not only did her clothes not match they didn’t seem to fit and looked, well, a bit dirty he thought.
And the more he looked the more curious he became: who was she, where did she come from, why was she just sitting there, so still, so silent? There was no iPod plugged into her ears, she wasn’t constantly texting on her mobile phone or, like his sister Lucy who at this very moment had the latest Jacqueline Wilson practically glued to her face. How very different she seemed from his sister, and her noisy, nosey friends who teased him and hid his stuff. She looked so fragile and so alone.
He told his mum, who looked for a while. ‘She doesn’t seem as if she’s from around here. You have homework to do young man; we’ll keep an eye out for her’.
Later, after dinner he went up to his room. Dinner tonight had been his second favourite; fish fingers, beans, mashed potatoes and gravy. ‘Gravy with fish fingers, whatever is the matter with you?’ his mum always said, but she always made it and always kissed his head when she put the meal on the table for him, and gave him that lovely big smile of hers. He always had five fish fingers. ‘Why five?’ his mum had said the first time he had asked for this. ‘Because it makes a whole hand. Get it, five fingers on a hand?’ Even his sister laughed at that one, and from then on he always had a whole hand of fish fingers, with gravy.
His favourite meal of all time, ever, was Christmas dinner and in three weeks and five days that’s what he would be having. Even while eating his second favourite meal he had been imagining Turkey, roast potatoes, stuffing, cranberry sauce and lovely thick onion gravy. God, he couldn’t wait.
In his room, full from his meal, and whilst trying to decide whether to play alone on his x-box or ring Danny, his best friend, he looked out the window again.
She was still there!
It was getting dark now and he only saw her as the bench was lit by the streetlight. She must be cold he thought, and hungry. Why wasn’t she at home? He felt worried.
‘We must do something’ said his mum, ‘This isn’t right. I’ll go and talk to her’. But the girl wouldn’t speak, just got upset. So Ben’s mum called the police.
A police car arrived in ten minutes. Two policewomen got out, and another woman who Ben could tell, just by looking at her, was the girls mum. ‘Oh Sarah, we have been looking for you all afternoon, I’ve been so worried’. Then she hugged her and started to cry. Ben’s mum started to cry too, and when the two policewomen began to dab at their eyes Ben said loudly ‘I thought this was supposed to be a happy time!’ Then he had to turn away as he felt tears welling up inside him too.
Later that evening the two policewomen called round to thank Ben and his mum. Sarah and her mum were from the women’s refuge near the town and Sarah had run off after an argument. That night Ben lay in his bed, surrounded by all his lovely games and books and his television set (He was so hoping for a DVD player for Christmas so he could watch his favourite films like his friends did). His mum had spent time explaining what a woman’s refuge was and Ben was feeling sad for Sarah and her mum, and also angry at their dad. He remembered his own dad, and how much he missed him since the accident. He would never have hurt Ben, or Lucy, or his mum and would have been furious and upset for Sarah as well.
Three weeks and five days took forever to pass, but pass they did and Ben woke, as usual, to a huge stocking on his bed filled with small wrapped presents, some fruit and a few sweets. A while later he made his way downstairs, exited and hopeful with just one thing on his young mind.
The decorations, the tree, the coloured lights, he couldn’t take it all in, not yet, not until he knew. Would he get it, where was it? There under the tree, a large present, it had to be, he rushed to it, grabbed it, his name was on it, oh god this was it; ‘Just you wait a minute young man, stop and breath, savour the moment’. ‘You say that every year mum’ Ben said, with a huge smile on his face.
‘Merry Christmas’ shouted Lucy as she burst into the room, smiling also and with chocolate round her mouth. ‘Wow, let’s count our presents Ben’. They both had twenty. Twenty! The most they had ever had. Ben looked at the pile of presents for his mum, there were seven. He felt sad and a little guilty; she always spoilt them at Christmas and went without herself. His mum looked at them both; she knew what they were thinking. ‘I wish dad was here too, and miss him as well, but he wouldn’t want us to be sad on Christmas day, would he? So come on let’s open these presents. Last one to finish washes up after dinner’. ‘That’s not fair’ Ben and Lucy both cried out, ‘we’ve got more than you!’ ‘Better get opening then’.
In far too short a time they were all three laughing and surrounded by wrapping paper, opened boxes and hurriedly torn off labels. Ben was so pleased with his DVD player and couldn’t wait to set it up in his room. ‘Go on’ said his mum, ‘I’ll make us all a cup of tea’.
Up in his room, after trying the lead the other way around, and swearing quietly so no one heard him, he was ready to watch a DVD. Just at that moment he heard a car pull up somewhere so looked out his window, left and right then across the street. Some people were walking past the bench, the bench where they had found the girl; Sarah. He almost shouted her name as he remembered her. Suddenly it all came back to him and he wondered what today was like for her, how many presents had she got, was she missing her dad like he was? He was just starting to cry as his mum came in with the tea.
A while later Ben, his sister and his mum, knocked at the door of the women’s refuge asking for Sarah and her mum. After a very long wait they were finally allowed in to see them. Sarah looked surprised as Ben handed her a present. He had re-wrapped one of his DVD’s. She smiled as she opened it; it was Happy Feet, an animated film about dancing penguins. They all hoped it would make Sarah and her mum laugh like they had when they saw it at the cinema. Sarah looked at her mum and went quiet. ‘We don’t have a DVD player’, her mum explained.
Ben suddenly felt very awkward, his good idea crashing around him. Then he remembered in his pocket was a Ten pound note that was in a card from his Granddad, who had written in it ‘I want you to do something with this money to make you happy, don’t save it’. In a flash he knew what that was and held out the note to an astonished Sarah. Everyone went very quiet. ‘Please take it’ he said. Sarah’s mum looked at her ‘You can buy that bag you saw in the shop and have some money left for chocolates’.
Sarah hugged him and kissed his cheek as the tears ran down hers, Ben started to cry again and soon they were all in tears, hugging and kissing him and each other. Ben felt very happy and somehow a little bigger inside. Then he remembered something his Dad had said to him one day. ‘Whatever happens in life Ben, remember there is always, always something you can do’.