The bell rang at the end of lunchtime detention and I packed my bag and joined the rush in the hallway to get to class. It was maths again. I wished I didn’t have to do maths on my birthday, but I opened my book and tried to listen to the teacher explaining something about algebra until I couldn’t stop my eyes from wandering to the window again and watching the birds standing on the window sill. I wished I could fly away like the birds. I would just float in the air and circle round and round and not have to worry about anything.
I rode my bike home slowly after school that afternoon and stopped in the park for a while. I sat on the swing and read a few pages of my book as I gently swayed back and forth but I didn’t really feel like reading. I wished I felt like I did when it was Christmas when I was young, all warm and exciting.
The first time I can remember Christmas was when I heard my sisters talking about it in the kitchen. Catherine said the year before I had been scared of Santa Claus and cried when we had our photo taken. I didn’t remember that at all but she showed me the photo in the lounge room and there I was on Santa’s lap crying my eyes out. That wasn’t going to happen this year because I was a big girl now.
‘What do you want for Christmas, Molly?’ Catherine asked. There was a tea towel over her shoulder and she was stacking the dishes away.
‘I want to be a princess,’ I replied.
‘Molly, you can’t ask to be a princess for Christmas,’ Samantha said, her hands making soap bubbles that floated in the air; I watched the bubbles drifting until they burst. ‘You get presents for Christmas, like on your birthday.’
‘Even better than that,’ said Catherine, ‘Santa brings you presents in the middle of the night and leaves them at the foot of your bed.’
‘Christmas is so exciting,’ Jasmine added with a big grin. She was waving her arms around with a pink tea towel and started bouncing up and down on her heels. ‘I can’t wait for all those lollys and yummy things to eat on Christmas day.’
‘I can’t wait either,’ I joined in, clapping my hands together and jumping up and down with excitement as well.
Samantha looked at me over her shoulder and said I should settle down or I wouldn’t be able to get to sleep.
Later that week we went Christmas shopping and Mum made us all get dressed up in our best clothes. I was wearing a pretty pink dress with ribbons in my hair and white sandals. It made me feel like something special was about to happen as I twirled around like a ballerina and watched the skirt of my dress float up.
When we got down town, Stephen held my hand as we walked around the shops in the main street. Wide shop awnings and wooden verandahs hung over the footpath to make it nice and cool in the summer heat. The main street was wide and the shops on the other side seemed so far away. Most of the shop windows were filled with Christmas decorations and the street was busy with cars driving up and down as they looked for somewhere to park. Every now and then a noisy truck went past and filled the air with dirty smoke that made me cough.
There were so many people walking around that I felt like I was going to get swallowed up by giants; all I could see were legs. I watched all the different shoes walking past and wondered what sorts of people were at the top of them. A pair of old lady’s shoes walked past; they were black and stiff and in a hurry. A group of white tennis shoes with long girls’ legs and little white socks went the other way with giggling voices. Some old brown boots with mud still clinging to them stepped aside as we walked along. We stopped and I heard a deep voice. ‘Good morning, Mrs White,’ the voice said, then my mother’s voice replied and I heard her talking about the weather and Christmas and some other things until I saw some pretty pink shoes that went ‘click click click’. I wondered what it would be like to walk in pretty shoes with such high heels, so I practiced by standing on my tippy toes until my feet started to get sore. Across the street I could see somebody wearing sandals just like mine. A girl with brown hair was walking with her mother and she waved when she saw I was watching her. I quickly looked away and hid behind Mum’s legs. When I looked back the girl was gone.
I tapped my feet as we started walking again. My sandals made a nice loud sound on the footpath. I tried skipping and that made an even better sound with a nice rhythm. Sometimes we stopped and the girls held skirts up against their waists before putting them back and moving on. Sometimes I had to stand there for ages while Mum and the girls flicked through every blouse on a rack. That is when my legs began to really ache. I tried to imitate the girls and held a dress out to feel the soft material before putting it back and flicking my hair over my shoulder. I got bored with that pretty soon though and started singing songs in my head. I stood in front of a shop window and watched my reflection pulling funny faces as I sang.
Whenever a pram went by I tried to have a look inside to see the baby. I wondered what it would be like to have a younger brother or sister to play with. I would try and be really nice to them all the time like Stephen was to me. Sometimes the babies looked back at me and smiled because they knew what I was thinking.
We walked on and on all morning until my legs got so tired I could hardly stand and my feet were hurting from the sandals. It was getting hot as well, even though we were still on the shady side of the street.
‘I want to sit down,’ I started to whine.
‘Hush, Molly,’ said Mum, ‘We’ll stop for some morning tea soon, just hang on for a bit longer.’
‘But I want to sit down now!’ I was starting to sniffle.
‘Don’t worry Molly, I’ll give you a piggy back ride,’ said Stephen, crouching down so I could climb on his back. Suddenly I was one of the giants.
As we continued walking I could hear Christmas carols coming out of the shops. ‘Jingle bells, jingle bells,’ I started singing. ‘Jingle bells, jingle bells,’ over and over again as I kicked my legs.
‘The next bit is “jingle bells all the way,”’ said Stephen.
‘Jingle bells all the way, jingle bells all the way,’ I sang. Stephen held onto my legs tight to stop them from kicking, so I rocked my head from side to side in time with my song.
Eventually we stopped walking and sat down in a café that was nice and cool. Mum bought me a chocolate milk shake and a donut and I sat there watching the bubbles in my drink and listening to the girls talking about shopping for shoes. This didn’t seem like a very fun part of Christmas to me at all, but we were going to see Santa Claus next so that was exciting.
I finished my milkshake and lined up behind all these other children waiting to see Santa. Through the crowd I could see a little bit of red suit and his white beard and I could hardly stand still.
Stephen was still holding my hand and it was finally my turn. But suddenly I didn’t want to do it. He looked so big and red and scary that I started to cry. ‘Come on,’ said Stephen, ‘You’ll be right Molly’. I tried to stop crying and be brave but I couldn’t help it.
Mum picked me up and handed me to Santa. Suddenly I was on his lap with a big white glove around my waist. ‘So what do you want for Christmas, little girl?’ he asked in a big booming voice. I couldn’t answer or think of anything to say, my voice had disappeared. I just wanted to get away from Santa and back to Mum where it was safe.
‘She’s just a little shy, Santa,’ said Mum.
‘Ho ho ho,’ he replied, ‘Why not have a lolly from my sack then?’ I timidly reached into the bag and pulled out a red lollipop.
‘You should say “thankyou”, Molly,’ said Mum.
‘Thankyou,’ I said in the quietest voice ever. I don’t think Santa could hear. Then I was off his lap and back in Mum’s arms and we were walking away.
‘Mum!’ I said, ‘I forgot to tell Santa I want to be a princess!’