“Aww, Mum, this is such a drag. Do I really have to go?”
Mrs Connelly sighed wearily. “Sarah, I so don't want to have this conversation again. Gladys has gone down with laryngitis and you're our next best vocalist. We need you. The old folks need you. You don't want to disappoint them, do you?”
Sarah chose not to reply. Instead she sulked all the way to the retirement home. Once inside, she stood defiantly in one corner, playing absent-mindedly with the hole where her nose stud normally resided. Not only had her mother ordered her to remove all of her body jewellery, she had also laid down the law on what length and style of skirt her daughter was permitted to wear. Some of the residents might be offended by modern dress, she had explained, and it wouldn't do to upset them at Christmas time. Fine, thought Sarah to herself, next time I'll dress up in sackcloth and ashes and we'll see what the old dears think of that!
Truth be told, Sarah enjoyed being centre stage. She often sang in the choir at church and she was popular among the other youth. But at church she was permitted to dress as she saw fit and no one tried to make her conform. It was quite another matter at school – all the girls had to wear the same hideous regulation uniform. As soon as the final bell rang, they would all rush home and change. Homework could wait but the dictates of fashion were inviolable.
Mr Humpleton announced the first carol – O Little Town of Bethlehem – and Mr Burton's accordion began to wheeze out the tune. Moments later Sarah stepped forward and raised her voice to give a strong vocal lead. The other members of the church group joined in and shortly afterwards they were accompanied by the creaky voices of the thirty or so residents who had gathered for the carol service.
Sarah quite liked Christmas carols. Most of the traditional hymns that they sang in church sent her to sleep – they reminded her of the sort of thing people sang at funerals. But carols were different. Most of the tunes were upbeat and the words possessed a certain poetry that lifted her imagination, spurring her to contemplate the wonder of the Nativity. How could a holy, all-powerful God have condescended to step into this rotten, stinking human plane? Sarah couldn't give an answer to that but she was sure looking forward to asking Jesus about it.
Mr Humpleton announced Away in a Manger, the one carol that Sarah absolutely loathed. It was so trite, so sickly sweet. But nevertheless she sang like the proverbial angel, putting heart and soul into every verse. She had just reached the cattle lowing when suddenly she recognised a smirking face in the audience. It was Bridget, a girl from school. Sarah stumbled over the next line as she fought the urge to flee in embarrassment. Bridget was dressed to kill in sleek leggings, short skirt, silk blouse, and a petite shrug cardigan. A silver chain dangled from one ear and her opposite eyebrow had a matching stud. Sarah by contrast looked like a frumpy old spinster from a lame 50s TV show.
The rest of the evening passed in a blur. Sarah sang competently if somewhat less enthusiastically. The next day she staggered into school, dreading the snide comments that were bound to be made about her fashion sense. Bridget, surprise surprise, was waiting for her by the door to the main hall.
“Sure,” replied Sarah.
“I thought you were really cool last night.”
“Yeah, I've never seen my Gran so happy. She was singing her heart out and tapping along to the beat with her cane. It reminded me a lot of when I was younger and she would take me to Sunday School with her. I loved it.”
“Yeah.” Bridget lifted one eyebrow. “Are you sure you're okay?”
“Sorry. It's just that I was dead embarrassed by what I was wearing. I thought you and the other girls would be sure to have a go at me.”
“Nah, I wouldn't do that. I know what mums are like. Mine gives me ear-ache too”
Sarah breathed a sigh of relief. “You know,” she said, slightly nervously, “our youth fellowship has a Christmas concert this Friday. Would you care to go with me?”
“Actually I think I would like that very much...”
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