Coming Home.

This story continues from last year’s Christmas blog. If you’ve not read it already, it might provide an enjoyable minute or two. If you did read it at the time, pop back for a second visit before you read Part 2.

Here is Part 2 of the story…

Mrs Winchester never slept like a baby normally.  The doctor had described her early wakefulness in various ways, and diagnosed ‘Marriage Anxiety Syndrome’ (DSM-IV 326a) resulting in an ‘over-active sense of responsibility’. She lived with that subtle underlying anxiety of one who cares a lot for the needy – and there was no doubt that Max came into that category. She was, in her words, a light sleeper.  Max, on the other hand was having the time of his life.

Having recovered a little of his decorum following his stumbling across baby Jesus and his teenage parents in the stable, he grabbed his iPad and began writing his journal. He recorded every last detail: the clothes the shepherds were wearing (‘headgear like a tea towel at home’), the state of the stable (‘warm, though smelly’) and discretely omitted Mary’s struggle with feeding Jesus for the first time (he had quietly nipped into the inn for that bit). It was only then that he realised he had a bar or two of Wifi (it was free in the inn), so promptly whizzed off an email explaining where he was and what was happening, to Mrs Winchester, who was duly dumbfounded. She phoned the Community Support Officer again to tell her she’d found Max and heard her snigger for the second time.

Max headed for a hour or two of sleep. He dreamt he heard angels singing, Max 35. Angels.but was wakened finally by the revving of cars in the road below his window. Three massive blacked-out limmos were parked on the curb, complete with their minders and an escort car or two. He slipped his shoes back on and headed for the stable again, there to find a selection of eastern dignitaries gathered round the manger/crib. They were chatting quietly to Mary and Joseph as Jesus slept, and he noticed them handing the young couple some little gifts wrapped in the poshest of wrapping paper.  Max took a picture with his iPad and emailed it home.  “Bethlehem” he thought to himself, “will never be the same after this night, and neither will I.” He proved to be right on both counts.

It was a few days later he decided to head home. Boxing Day had come and gone, and he’d been able to sleep off some of his weariness. It was with a palpable sense of relief that he pressed the “Go Home” button on his TomTom, and waited (ages) while it planned his route through Lebanon, Syria, Turkey, Bulgaria, Serbia and Hungary, into Austria and Germany and back to the Channel. Bluewater seemed a long way away.

He only got lost six times, and broke down just the once – as he was driving round the southern edge of Lake BalatonBalaton – about half way home. Most of the time he slept in the Fiesta, but occasionally he allowed himself the comparative luxury of a comfy bed in a wayside inn.

Max’s final stop was at the side of the road a few miles from his house. He pulled into a little car park on a hill overlooking a beautiful view – you know the sort. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to go home, it was just that he was overwhelmed by an inexplicable desire to cry. For a few minutes he managed to contain himself, but finally he surrendered.
For the first time in thirty eight years, he sobbed and sobbed, calmed himself and sobbed some more. Wave after wave of tears engulfed him.  He was shocked to find he couldn’t stop. His body ached with the emotional outburst. Somewhere within his brain he remembered something about the symptoms of PTSD, but he couldn’t care less right now. He knew something deep was happening to him and continued to cry.

When finally his tears ended he noticed the sun was setting – the huge red orb making its way inexorably towards the darkening horizon.  As he sat quietly he felt a sense of peace begin to trickle under the door of his heart. Max put his head back on the headrest. All he could think of was that baby. Somehow the peace he felt was connected to the little newborn child resting innocent and contented in that grotty stable, though he found it impossible to figure out quite how.  He remembered a couple of lines of a T.S.Eliot poem about Magi going to see Jesus, and how they felt. “We returned to our places, these kingdoms, but no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation...” He would look it up when he got home. He felt like that too … no longer at ease … old dispensation. Weird. He started the engine.

Mrs Winchester was delighted to see him back. He was even quieter than normal – which is saying something. Preoccupied. Contemplative. Stronger. More relaxed in a way. Nothing seemed to matter to him in quite the same way, and despite her efforts she couldn’t get him to open up. “I’ll tell you all about it sometime, my dear,” he told her.

And one day he did.

Max Winchester Visits Bethlehem

Max hadn’t intended to visit Bethlehem. The truth is, geography never has been his strong point, and satellite technology isn’t either. When the word ‘Stable’ had come up on his TomTom, he’s assumed that it meant something completely different. He’d hit the ‘Go’ button – with a degree of his normal trepidation – and driven off into the night. Mrs Winchester, knowing the limits of her beloved husband’s technological skills, and aware that he’d left his trusty AA map at home, went to bed a little worried. In the morning, when his side of the bed had remained unslept in, she phoned the police.

No, they hadn’t had any reports of accidents, but thanked her for leaving her details. She heard the Community Support Officer on the other end of the phone snigger as she mentioned his satnav skills. As Mrs W. returned the old phone to its rest, she noticed his mobile on the chair. The battery was flat. Her faith in angelic beings looking after her beloved husband of forty years would be tested over the next few days – and it was. She slept not a wink that night, lying in bed imagining the worst. Or even worse.

If she had only checked with his credit card company in the ensuing week she would have found a series of petrol purchases across Germany, Austria, Croatia and Greece. (Greece was worrying.) And a huge cash withdrawal at Athens. Little did she know that as she lay in bed on the fourth night, their little Ford Fiesta was on board a ferry in the Med, headed for Haifa.

Max Winchester arrived at Haifa and continued to follow TomTom diligently. The man at the border had asked him for his passport, and he was relieved to realise he had on the same jacket he’d been wearing when they’d done their last international trip – Newhaven to Dieppe in the summer. The passport was in his inside pocket. What a stroke of luck! He still remained a little confused about how he had managed to travel so far when he’d only planned to go Christmas shopping at Bluewater. The Med had indeed appeared to be the only blue water he had been in close contact with since he’d left home. However, during his drive through Albania he had noticed a particularly bright star in the night sky. He’d found it strangely comforting – not least in the absence of Mrs W’s reassuring night-time warmth that he had snuggled up to for so many years. This shopping trip had not been quite what he’d imagined, and he knew there was no way he could do anything other than follow the satnav. He’d be lost without it.

He drove out of Haifa with his spirits high, and it was one in the morning when, having had a bit of a kip in the back seat, he checked the satnav again. Only ten miles to go!

The next city looked very unattractive. “Unemployment high here” he told himself as he surveyed the unkempt streets with their high walls covered with graffiti. Very down market. Poor. Not a very safe place to stay. He kept an eye open for a place where he could get a room for what was left of the night – with secure parking. Mrs W. would be very disappointed if he came home without the car.

So it was that a few minutes later a little inn attracted his attention, and he pulled over. This place really was the pits. The gum-chewing girl on reception was chatting up a bunch of locals who smelt of, well, the countryside, and through a doorway he could see there was clearly a lot of activity going on under the light in an old stable. He could hear a girl crying in distress. What on earth…

Max never forgot that out-of-this-world moment. It wasn’t the teenager giving birth, or the scruffiness of it all. It was as if a shaft of burning light like lightning pierced his heart on that December night.

And back in her warm bed, Mrs W. switched off the light, closed her eyes and slept like a baby.

Part 2 … Coming Home.