The letter arrived in November. A standard white envelope, first class stamp. The old woman did not open mail right away, fearing contamination from the COVID 19 virus, so it lay there for two days. What was this? On reading it, she feared it was a scam. So many of her age group were duped by skilful fraudsters. Yet the paper was of good quality, the type well set out and her name and address correctly displayed. It was a formal letter from a firm of solicitors in Kingston requiring evidence of her identity and proof of address. Her heart pounded. What had she done? Some driving offence, some breaking of COVID ‘bubble’ rules, a false accusation?
The telephone rang. Her heart beat even faster. There was sobbing at the other end. The young child’s voice was pitiful.
“Granny, Mummy says we can’t afford an angel’s outfit for me......and she says there won’t be a na...nati....nativity play this year in church. It’s not fair. I am a big girl now. I was too little last year.”
The great grandmother quickly forgot her own anxiety, comforted the child, at the same time wondering whether a 2020 family Christmas would be possible. She had better get her own affairs in order, answer the Solicitors’ letter and calm down.
The package arrived two days later. It came by courier from France. What now?
First there was the plastic envelope, next bubble wrap, then an orange box tied with brown embroidered ribbon. The old blue veined hands trembled. She recognised this box.
Decades ago as a young woman she would excitedly open such boxes, with a gift of a precious French scarf from a loving husband long departed. She checked the name on the parcel wrapper again. Yes, it was her name. She reverently undid the tissue paper and EXPOSITION UNIVERSELLE was revealed, a fantasy silk scarf by the Polish artist Jan Bajtlik who appeared to have a great sense of humour. A scarf from the most prestigious French house, a Polish designer and all these memories from the past. Yet, all her French friends were dead, what little association she had with Warsaw very limited..... Who had sent this scarf? There were just too many mysteries in one week.
The solicitors’ second letter arrived the following week bearing the extraordinary news that a certain Amelia Fotheringay had died and left a bequest to her as a token of appreciation for a past kindness. She had no friend with this name.....then suddenly the name Amelia rang a tiny chord in the tired old brain. She had indeed met a terrified patient in the Eye Hospital who developed a panic attack and could not breathe. Forgetting her natural shyness and own anxiety about imminent eye injections, she had asked whether she could place her hands on this stranger’s shoulders and talk her through the crisis. Gradually, the panic subsided and the stranger’s breathing returned to normal. The old lady sat beside this rather eccentric patient and reluctantly exchanged contact details, fearing weekly emergency calls. None came.
So poor Amelia had died. One small act of kindness hardly merited this wonderful scarf from Paris and how had that been organised?
Lockdown life for everyone eased and it seemed that Christmas might actually be celebrated with feelings of hope for the future. She would save the fantasy scarf to be worn for the first time at Christmas. With its inspiration, what stories she would tell the great grandchildren of tree houses, a shark gobbling all our trash and converting it to green energy, Noah’s ark, funfairs, a sunflower clock, space ships! She would then encourage the children to tell their own stories. What better gift is there than sparking a child’s own imagination?
The postman was at the door again. Not so many greeting cards this year and fewer foreign stamps. She liked to look at the handwriting on the coloured envelopes and guess who might be the sender, extending the pleasure for a few more seconds. Another plain white envelope. A third letter from the solicitors enclosing a cheque for Amelia’s bequest, not a large amount, but certainly enough to buy an angel outfit for a little girl and a pair of earrings for herself to accompany the scarf.
The scarf, now WHO was the mysterious sender? WHODUNNIT?