• Liza Stirlinglass

Diversion - A Christmas Story Part Eight

Elaine could see a couple of the passengers looking out of the window, they were signalling to other passengers to look, but most of them simply shrugged when they went to the window. And then the sound of the tiny newborn caused everyone to turn around.

“You have a daughter Amira” announced Jean. Mark continued to give instructions about the cord and the placenta from Elaine’s phone. The mince pie lady stepped in to help gently wrapping the baby, she passed her to Amira.

“Well done ladies” said Mark, my first ever online delivery. You were all absolutely amazing. Congratulations to Mum and Dad. Do you have a name?”

Elaine beckoned to Khadir, he had been staring out of the window whilst Amira was giving birth. Had he heard the singing she wondered? “A daughter Khadir, you have a daughter.”

“Thank you” he said, his smile was broad, the light in his eyes twinkling as fervently as the stars in the sky. Gone was the tension and terror of the past few hours as he gazed lovingly at his wife and child, propped on pillows and blankets on the floor of the carriage. A less noxious birth place one could hardly imagine thought Elaine as she watched him crouch down and put his finger gently onto his childs temple. Yet despite the surroundings, something beautiful, almost miraculous had happened.

The singing had faded away. She peered through the darkness out of the window, but only the two large vehicles remained. There was no line of women in cloaks. Had she imagined it? But what about the others in the carriage who seem to have seen and heard the women as well? Then, as if the silence was too much for everyone, a slow rhythmic clapping began, one pair of hands joined by another, then another, until the whole carriage was applauding with whoops and shouts of congratulations, wow and amazing.

“Thank you Mark” said Elaine as she depressed the speaker button.

“Hey, I did nothing, everyone there was so brave, capable, that British stiff upper lip is nowhere in sight, from the sound of the cheers.”

“Yes, it seems that even the grumpy ones were finally brought around when they heard the baby. And did you, well did you hear women singing?”

“I think I did, it was like an old fashioned carol. My mum used to be in a choir, they liked that stuff.”

“My mum too. Yes it was a very old carol, written way back about 500 AD I think.”

“So who was singing?”

“I don’t know, I think they may have been ghosts, but that can’t be right can it?”

“Well Elaine let’s face it, you have so far had the weirdest train journey in history. A stranger from Canada helps deliver a baby by phone on a train that’s stuck somewhere in England. And now ghosts, well why the hell not, aren’t ghost stories a Christmas tradition there? It's a bit of a diversion from the usual journey I’m guessing.”

“Yes, it really is. Diversion is right. It’s taken my mind off my mum, but now, I just want to get home. Oh sorry, that was thoughtless.”

“What, you wanting to get home?”

“No mentioning my mum, when you still don’t know what’s happened to yours.”

“It’s OK, I’m sure everything is fine, I have to believe that. Now we know Lee isn’t a murdering monster.” He laughed, but it was hollow and Elaine could tell he was still worried.

“Let me know what you find out. Or if I can help out somehow.”

A big rumbling sound distracted her. “Snow plough” shouted one of the passengers.

“Well it looks as if we might be able to get going again, the engineers seem to have arrived, along with a snow plough, so fingers crossed, let me know about your mum.”

As the engineers set about freeing the train Amira and her baby and Khadir were well attended by Jean and the mince pie lady, whose name turned out to be Shona. Elaine called their Aunt to let her know the baby was safe and well. She sent her some pictures of the little family huddled together, safe and warm and one of Jean and Shona, with the baby layette and all the gifts that the other passengers had collected together for them. Gifts that had been wrapped for other young children, boxes of biscuits and a variety of Christmas treats. One woman had given Amira a beautiful blue shawl to wrap around herself and the baby.

“I’ll be at Birmingham, just let me know when the train will get there. It is not far and I have a neighbour with a passenger van who has offered to drive me.”

“Ok, and use this number if you think I can help out, I mean with whatever you need to do, to help them stay here. At least the baby is born here. Surely that should help.”

“I hope so. But the rules are not clear and it’s very hard. Thank you Elaine and to the other ladies, for helping my family.”

The two volunteers who had been assisting the older man in first class came back through the carriage with the guard. The looks on their faces was priceless when they discovered what Jean had been doing.

“A baby girl, born on the train!” Father Philip pronounced excitedly. “Well that is a miracle. I’ll be changing my sermon for Christmas. Well done Jean. Can I see her? Does she have a name?”

Amira and Khadir nodded. “She will be called Jahan, which means land. We chose J, because of Jean and Jahan because this is now her land. And her second name is Saeeda, which means lucky and happy. S after Shona. Our baby is lucky and happy we have so many new friends.” Khadir’s small speech was both elegant and modest. He looked down as he spoke, holding Amira’s hand. Little Jahan Saeeda was sleeping peacefully in her mothers arms.

The woman who gave Amira the shawl began to sing Oh Holy Night, her clear acapella soprano mirrored the earlier voices Elaine had heard, other passengers who knew the words joined in singing whilst others hummed the tune, some even harmonised. Elaine noticed that the guard was smiling, perhaps for the first time since they had left Cardiff. His watery eyes looking around at all the passengers, taking in their unity, with not one complaint about the time the train had been stuck. It was almost 9.00pm, they had been on the train together for seven hours. A man in a high vis jacket appeared, “We’re ready” he said, “Off to Birmingham.”

“Hooray,” everyone yelled together.

“Time for us to get off then” said Father Philip. Jean and the other volunteer waved their goodbyes.

Elaine looked around as Jean disappeared from view, followed by Father Philip and behind him, a tall cloaked figure gliding effortlessly, Elaine opened her mouth, it was the woman with the silver plait, the one who had served drinks, she was sure of it.

The passenger who had given Amira the blue shawl walked along the carriage to where Elaine was sitting, she too was staring at the backs of the volunteers. “Do you see her?” Elaine asked.

“Yes.” she replied. “That’s Martha of the Ashes. She appears rarely and the fact we can both see her, well, it is a wonder in itself.”

Join in on Zoom for Part Nine of the story. Saturday 19th December at 8pm.

Meeting ID: 896 1968 6034

Passcode: Diversion

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