Watch­ing the world go by with... ‘ Way­farer’

Evergreen - - Summer 2018 -

Iwas leav­ing the sum­mer fair, when a three- year- old girl stepped in front of me. “Where are you tak­ing the princess?” she asked.

As I won­dered how to re­spond, my mem­ory slipped back 40 years to a shop in a rough part of the city.

She was about four, at a guess, dressed in a sum­mer frock, sim­i­lar to the one be­ing worn by my cur­rent ques­tioner. But it was dirty. It be­ing Novem­ber she was a touch blue from the cold.

“How much is the teddy?” she asked the shop­keeper with a smile that seemed to brighten the whole shop.

The shop­keeper rolled her eyes. “More than you can af­ford.”

Per­haps the lit­tle one was used to dis­dain. Her smile didn’t lose a can­dle of its bright­ness. “But, how much is it, please? It’s for my new baby brother. I’ve been sav­ing up. I have 50 pence.” She put the coins on the counter.

Her ob­vi­ous de­light in her sav­ings touched my heart. Would it look odd for a stranger to give a lit­tle girl some money? While I won­dered, the shop­keeper dis­missed her. “You still can’t af­ford it.” “Oh, well!” She re­claimed her coins, turned on a heel, her head still high. “I will give him mine then. Bye.”

I watched her leave and thought, “Give him mine. Give him mine, not, one of mine but, mine. Her teddy. Her only one?”

A sim­ple lit­tle mo­ment — but it moved into my heart and lives with me. And now, an­other lit­tle lady, fronting up to an adult, want­ing to know where was I tak­ing the princess.

I hun­kered down un­til I was level with the top of the box the beau­ti­ful princess doll came in. I re­alised then that she had been watch­ing it, on the stall at the fair, and she had prob­a­bly fallen in love with it. And here I was tak­ing it away.

“Well I know a lit­tle girl who is feel­ing poorly,” I ex­plained. “And I thought the princess might look af­ter her and help her feel bet­ter. Do you think she might?”

The girl bit her lip and looked wist­fully at the doll. Af­ter a mo­ment, she nod­ded. “Yes,” she said. “She will!”

And then, per­haps be­cause I hadn’t bought a teddy all those years ago, I sought out this lit­tle one’s mother and, be­tween us, we found an­other toy to make her smile.

I left the fair con­tent that no princesses of my im­me­di­ate ac­quain­tance were be­ing left un­cared for that day.

Chil­dren. And the way they love. It might be easy to den­i­grate it as, well, child­ish. But when you look closely enough, you un­der­stand that their loves, whether for a baby brother or a pretty doll, are all- con­sum­ing things.

Usu­ally, the world di­lutes that pu­rity. We lose a lot of that as we grow older and we are, sadly, worse off for it.

All- con­sum­ing, self- sac­ri­fi­cial love. It’s no won­der they say the King­dom of Heaven be­longs to such as those.

KEN MAR­SHALL

Dolls and teddy bears at a craft show at Winch­field in Hamp­shire.

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