• Liza Stirlinglass

Diversion - A Christmas Story Part Seven

The mince pie lady came forward, “It’s alright dear, just breath like this” and she started making small panting sounds.

“This cannot happen now,” Khadir looked across at Elaine “her aunt is waiting to to help us.”

“Well babies come when they are ready” said the mince pie lady. “No stopping nature.” Her tone was firm, practical as she gave instructions for Amira to stand and follow her.

“I can drive her, well both of you to the hospital” said Jean. “My vehicle will make it.”

“No” replied Khadir. “We cannot.”

“Khadir, why can't you go to the hospital, it will be safer for Amira.” Elaine leaned over to the boy, she could see he was terrified. No doubt due to his wife starting her labour on a train stuck in the snow thought Elaine.

“No papers,” he said quietly. “Sorry.”

Amira called out again, the mince pie lady held her in her gaze, demonstrating the breathing technique that was supposed to help.

“Khadir, you have to trust us to help you, to help Amira” Elaine spoke firmly.

He nodded. “Yes, but no hospital. Please.” He turned to Amira, and stood to let her out of her seat. “Inshallah” he told her as Jean and the mince pie lady guided Amira back along the carriage nearer to the bathroom. There was a space without seating for wheelchairs opposite a table. The girl seemed to know instinctively what to do and put her hands on the table between the seats, leaning forward slightly.

Ask him what he means about papers and why she can’t go to hospital” said Jean, “he seems to trust you.” Jean was rubbing Amira’s back while the mince pie lady started to unwrap a bag of Christmas presents from her case. It was a hand knitted layette for a new baby, and some tiny hooded towels and baby blankets, lined with satin.

“They were for my granddaughter” she said, “but she’s not due for a few months. I can make another set.”

“They are beautiful,” said Jean. “Look Amira, for your baby, breathe sweetheart, like this.”

As the two women continued to support Amira, Elaine returned to Khadir. His head was bent he seemed to be praying. Elaine knelt down an waited for him to finish. “Khadir, why can’t we take Amira to the hospital?”

He shook his head and pointed to her phone. “Please, Khala, call Khala.”

Elaine nodded and pressed the number she had called before. She held the phone out for Khadir but he didn't take it. “You, please, you ask her.”


Elaine explained to the woman at the other end of her phone what was happening, that someone could drive Amira to a hospital but Khadir had said no.

She heard the woman take a sharp intake of breath.

“They cannot, I think. If they do, they will be found out, sent away and the baby. Oh my God."

"Tell me, we can only help if we know the problem"

"Help? Inshallah. They just came, a long journey, walking, a boat, a lorry. They were desperate, but I didn’t know Amira was having a baby when I arranged for them to come. They were supposed to be staying in a flat, in Cardiff, but the man I paid stole my money. He wouldn’t let them stay when he saw she was pregnant. So they were coming here, to me. I was going to help her deliver the baby. I am trained, I was a midwife in Syria. Now I work in a factory.”

“I am so sorry,” said Elaine, she could feel tears pricking at the back of her eyes, imagining the dangerous and terrible journey Khadir and Amira had been on, only to be let down when they thought they would finally be safe. No wonder they looked worried, and were exhausted.

“Khadir is a good person, so is Amira, please, I have trusted you. Can you help them.”

“We will do everything we can. But if she needs a doctor, for the baby, we will have to take her to hospital.”

“Yes, I know, but only if there are problems. Please, if they can come here I have money, I can help them prove they are good enough to stay here.”

The words, good enough to stay here tore at Elaine’s heart. How cruel that a human being had to prove their worth, and might not be accepted, because they were from somewhere else she thought. They had fled war and they had to have been desperate to get into one of those boats. Elaine went back to where the two women had attempted to create a private birthing space for Amira. Jean had fetched a large first aid kit from her car along with some blankets which she had hung between the table and the wheelchair fastener. The floor was covered with more blankets, coats and two pillows. “I wish we had a doctor,” said Jean. “The baby is coming fast.”

“Mark,” exclaimed Elaine, pressing her phone again. The miracle of the mobile age she thought as he picked up.


“Yes, look, there is a young woman here, she is in labour. Can you talk us through it?” She pressed speaker so that the others could hear him

“Oh my,” he said, “Can’t you get her to a hospital?”

“No” the women yelled back together. “There is no time.”

“Okay here we go” he said and started asking questions, confirming the time between contractions, whether Amira was standing or lying down.

The other passengers were talking amongst themselves, the drone of their voices building louder as some expressed concern about what was happening to the young woman having a baby, whilst others were commenting less kindly about foreigners. Elaine wanted to slap them. How could they be so unkind at a time like this. Why weren’t they offering to help, to pull together, support Khadir who was clearly scared for his wife and baby and sitting alone. Wasn’t that what Christmas was supposed to be about? As she held the phone, listening to Mark and watching Amira giving birth in a train carriage, without comfort, she thought about the Christmas story she had grown up with, a baby born in a stable. His parents, refugees from another place, fleeing danger to keep him safe. She was about to call out, say something to the passengers who were being less than charitable, when the chant started. It was low at first, a whispering like wind catching leaves. As it grew louder she felt her anger subsiding, the plainsong stanza drew her into a state of calmness and composure. The singing grew louder, drowning out the voices of the passengers. Veni redemptor gentium, vieni redentor delle genti, ostende partum virginis, rivela il part della vergine the singers chanted, in perfect harmony. Elaine looked out of the window, behind the lights of the two big trucks, she saw the line of cloaked women walking in pairs, towards the train. They stopped opposite the carriage where Amira was delivering her baby, Their pure voices ringing out the ancient carol on the midwinter night sounded, to Elaine, like a choir of angels. The snow had stopped falling and the indigo sky was lit with stars.

“How beautiful,” gasped Elaine as Amira gave one a final groan, and she heard Jean say, “Well done.”

Part 8 will be read on Zoom on Thursday December 17th at 8.30pm GMT

Please join in and have your say about part 9 at

Meeting ID: 896 1968 6034

Passcode: Diversion

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