The winner, by Philippa Bower
The nativity play had already started when Andrew arrived at the school.
He entered the darkened hall to the sound of While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks by Night.
Andrew located his wife in the audience and carefully pushed through the seated parents to take the empty chair at her side. “I’m sorry I’m late, Pam,” he said. “The plane was delayed.”
Pam was angry and didn’t reply. Andrew turned his attention to the stage.
A group of shepherds sat singing in front of a cardboard cut-out of some hills.
To one side, half hidden behind a curtain, the music teacher played upon a piano and glared at the little shepherds, as if defying them to sing, ‘Washed their socks’.
“The angel of the Lord came down and glory shone around.”
On cue, their daughter, Cindy, rose up from behind the hills.
She looked breathtakingly beautiful as the Angel Gabriel, in a long white dress and wearing huge wings covered with real feathers. Behind her golden curls was a halo.
Andrew felt his heart swell with pride at the sight of his darling daughter. He had only just got here in time but the nightmare of his journey was worthwhile to see her in her glory. “Fear not: I bring you good tidings of great joy.”
Her voice trembled with nerves and her eyes scanned the audience. “For unto you is born this day.”
She spotted Andrew and Pam in the audience and smiled.
“With renewed confidence she tackled the speech. “A Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.”
Beside him, Andrew could sense Pam’s total concentration. She was holding her breath willing Cindy not to forget her words.
“Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.”
With much shaking of scenery, a multitude of six angels rose on either side of Cindy and chanted. “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace, good will toward men.”
Andrew kept his eyes on his daughter as the rest of the scene played out. Never had he felt so proud of her. She was not only beautiful but brave and clever.
He would not have broken his promise to be at the Nativity for anything.
“I had a terrible time getting here,” he said to Pam, when the curtains closed.
“The traffic was jam-packed. I even had to jump some lights. Well, not jump them, exactly, but go through while they were turning.”
But his wife was still annoyed at his lateness and had turned to talk to her neighbour.
After the play was over, Andrew followed Pam to collect their daughter.
He would have spoken to her further, tried to make amends for being late, but he was starting to feel strange.
Jet-lag must be catching up with him. Cindy had changed back into her school uniform and came running towards them her face shining with happiness. She flung her arms around her mother.
“I’m sorry your father couldn’t make it,” said Pam.
“But he did make it,” said Cindy. “I saw him sitting next to you.”
Andrew wanted to step forward and embrace his daughter but he couldn’t move, everything was becoming misty.
“Where is Daddy now?” asked Cindy. She looked around, but her unseeing eyes scanned past him.
There was a pain in Andrew’s chest. Suddenly the scene changed. He was flat on his back on the road. Blue lights were flashing and men were leaning over him.
“I’ve got this one’s heart started again,” said a paramedic. “We must get him to hospital as soon as possible.
“I’m amazed he came back after so long,” said his companion.
Andrew’s mind was in a whirl. What was happening?
He was at his daughter’s nativity play... No, he was desperate to arrive in time and had jumped a light as it was turning red.
There was a crash – an horrific impact. The shock of it stopped his heart and he had died.
But he could not die, he had given his word. “There was something I had to do.”
Andrew’s voice was barely more than a whisper as the paramedics lifted him onto a stretcher. “A Christmas commitment I had to keep – even though I did it in secret.”