This whole circus was getting to be a pain, truth to tell.
The Professor’s chair had had to be lifted up the trailer steps with him still in it, which had taken four of the burliest and most heavily tattooed of the gypsy menfolk. The four were also somewhat surly, not because of the muscles and the tattoos but because they had been up very late last night drinking beer and home-made hooch round a camp fire, playing the violin and singing and entertaining a nervous father-to-be. They had hangovers, and the chair was very heavy and fitted through the trailer door with less than a knife-blade’s clearance.
And then there was the Indian gent in the puffy jacket and worn-out trainers, brandishing a rolled-up something or other in a lengthy cardboard tube. Too light to be a shotgun. The only visitors they ever had, normally, were the polis or the bailiffs. They were not well-disposed towards visitors. And all this had happened since the ice-cream van turned up, with the Italian-looking fella and his highly pregnant lady. And now there was the baby as well; the birthing trailer was out of use just when several of their own women were about to give birth. It was all very inconvenient.
And now there were two ice-cream vans, the old, clapped out one and a brand new, giant, pink-and-white new one sporting more chrome and silly mirrors than you could shake a stick at, and artwork like you’d never seen – angels and lambs and some Indian goddess in a long pink frock – couldn’t deny it was effective, but what was all that to do with ice-cream? The thing’d draw the polis here like bees to a honeypot. You could probably spot it from Lynn, up here on the hill.
And driven here by this blonde fella in the dinner jacket and black bow tie, who was obviously one of those agency look-alikeys. Couldn’t be the real thing: apart from anything else this one’s voice was too deep. Big, booming actor-ish voice, like that Blessed chap from Z-Cars with the beard, or one of those opera singers. Genuine fella had a much higher one than that. They never can get that right, these look-alikeys. Was he going to want beer? The Indian in the anorak and the chap in the big chair had already refused. Too early in the day, so they said. When was it ever too early for a free can of lager?
What were they all doing here? Why should three men, who had obviously never set eyes on one another before, suddenly turn up in a muddy field demanding to see a chit of a girl and her baby? Babies were just babies – welcome, precious and loved, of course – but women were always having them, popping them out like shelled peas. What was so special about this one?
How could a famous footballer have even known their van had broken down in a field in Norfolk, and why would he have bought them a new one and driven it here himself, overnight, all the way from Scotland? And the Indian gentleman – he had brought his own gift – a pink, rhinestone-studded jacket – obviously a market knock-off. Yet he had handed it to the girl as if it was the most precious thing in the world. And, to her credit, she had accepted it as if she truly believed it was. She had laid it tenderly beside the child, where it lay in its padded cardboard box, and reached out to touch the man’s arm.
The footballer look-alikie fella – well, he had brought the van. Pretty big gift, that one. He had handed the keys to her husband, the Eyetaliano, Sepp, who had gone out to look at it. He was in there still – probably gawping at everything with his mouth wide open. It was an ice-cream van and a half, that one.
But the old van was of more interest to the gypsies. They had earmarked it for spare parts, then the scrap metal merchant. They had already costed it down to the last pound. At least they’d be getting something out of all these shenanigans once everybody left. Which would be soon, please God.
But the Professor – he didn’t seem to have brought anything. Just sitting there in that big old chair, thinking. Except that, down the arm of the chair there was – now, what was it? He was bringing it out now. Only something small. One of those computer things – what do they call them, now – a memory stick? Or would that be a dongle? And he seems to be holding some sort of conversation with the child. How does he think the baby’s going to understand him? Babies don’t understand plain English let alone something coming at them through a gadget that makes a man sound like a Dalek. And then – and then he’s reaching out. How is he reaching out, when a moment ago…? And now – he’s standing up. How is he standing up? He’s putting the little computer thing beside the child, and he’s laughing, as if there’s some sort of a two-way conversation going on here.
“You must already know the Theory of Everything, sir, but I’m giving it… I’m leaving it to you, and it’s for you to decide whether you let it be known to mankind. This, as you know, has been my life’s work, and I’m giving it up to you.”
“You didn’t need to heal me. I came here because the angel brought me. I didn’t expect anything. I just hoped for, maybe, peace.”
“Now, sir? Do you know, I believe I will leave my chair behind for the gypsies to dispose of. I will walk to the nearest town and purchase a back-pack and supplies and I will back-pack around the world!”
“Seventy-three? Do you think that feels old to a man who can suddenly walk and talk again? Why, a hundred and ten would not be too old for me to circumnambulate the globe!”
Circum- what’s he on about?
A small girl had been peering through the trailer window. She had the beginnings of a cold and was wiping her nose on her sleeve at intervals. “What about the others?” she asked her father?
“The other three inside. Nobody’s looking at them.”
“What other three? What are you blathering on about now, Maisie?”
“The very tall black man with the wings, and the green-eye-feathers; the lady in the pink dress with the two elephants and all the golden bangles, and that thing made of numbers and squiggles like a cloud – the one that came in with the bent up chair-man. Why’s nobody taking any notice of them?”
“Tell me the truth now, chavi. Would you have been eating them mushrooms again?”
(Matthew 2: 1 – 12)