Tuesday 19 December 2023

Lollipop Man by James McMillan , diet coke, no ice please

Sidney had been bored after just a few weeks of his retirement and the part time job he found as a Lollipop man gave him a new and much needed interest in his life. Early mornings and bad weather had never troubled him and he enjoyed meeting the little ones and their young mums who he also regarded as children. But he feared that a day would come when he would have to hand back his Stop Children sign and settle instead for allotment mornings and television afternoons. He thought that one of the children who do something which would tell him it was time to go.
The Primary School’s classes began at 9 so Sidney always made sure he was at the crossing by 8-30 at the latest. Some of the mothers of the young ones walked them all the way to the school gates and Sidney always found someone to talk to. The mums helped restrain the children until Sidney had marched into the road with the lollipop. But there was one young lad Sidney had his eye on. He walked to school on his own and returned alone. He was not dirty or scruffy but he had a wild look about him and Sidney had a feeling he would be the one.
And so, he proved to be. One day the church clock was chiming 9 when the boy appeared running up the road to the junction where Sidney was based. A huge lorry was coming at too fast a speed to be stopped. ‘Stop and wait’ shouted Sidney attempting to put his arm in front of the running youngster. But the boy was too quick. 'Shut up.' shouted the boy avoiding Sydney easily and running straight across the road. The lorry driver sounded the airhorns and braked but thankfully the boy made it across
And that was it. It was time to go. The possibility that more children would ignore him and just run across the road was not something he could bear. They might not all make it. So, Sidney decided to leave. It was typical of modern life he supposed. Nobody wanted to listen, to slow down, or to wait any more, and it all seemed to start at a younger and younger age.

Sidney worked on until the Summer break and left quietly without telling the mums, the teachers or the children. He spent a lot of his time on his allotment and gradually settled into a different routine. Underneath the stairs where he had kept his reflective waterproofs and the lollipop stick seemed very empty and without his lollipop money, he had to be more careful in the supermarket and his nightly glass of whisky had to be reduced in size.

In November he noticed a poster in the Garden Centre saying We are hiring! an American expression which Sidney disliked. But he read the poster and saw they were looking for a Christmas helper who was good with children. Alice, who was on the till that day, saw him looking at the poster, smiled and asked ‘Do you want to be our Santa.’  

He liked Alice. He knew her as she often brought orders to the allotments. Although she was roughly the same age as him, she could still carry two bags of compost at a time.

‘What would I have to do as Santa?’ he asked. ‘It’s dead easy,’ said Nicky. ‘The kid stands there with their parent and Santa asks what they want him to bring them at Christmas. The kid says something, and Santa looks at the parent who gives a nod or shakes their head. If it’s a nod, then no problems. Santa gives a Ho, ho, ho. If they indicate no bloody way, Santa tells the child he will do his very best but the lazy elves in the toy factory haven’t made enough this year and he might have to bring them something else’.

Sidney applied and got the job. Working with Alice who dressed up as a snowball and was Santa’s helper was the best thing about the job. The worst thing was the garden centre’s compost smell which always made Sidney think of horses.  He suspected the compost smell was one reason Santa’s Grotto was not very busy. But still some children and their parents did come and soon it was the last working day before Christmas when Alice came into the Grotto and announced there was just one more child waiting to meet Santa. ‘It’s my grandson Simon with my daughter Maisie,’ she said proudly. ‘Be nice Santa or else!’.  Simon, when he came in turned out to be a little older than most of the other children Sidney had seen but in response to the all-important question he muttered ‘A Playstation’ and there were quick nods from Nicky and Maisie, so the last customer went home happy.

When they had finished Alice asked Sidney if he fancied a quick drink. ‘I never say no,’ said Sidney, so they went from the Garden Centre to the nearby Bricklayers Arms and over pints of Guinness they discovered they had much in common and as they were getting on so well Sidney asked Alice how long she had been working at the Garden Centre. ‘Only since last summer was her surprising reply. I used to drive a 14-ton truck, and I loved that job. But one day I was doing a delivery quite near here and a little kid ran out in front of me, and I very nearly hit him. Some silly old fool of a lollipop man should have stopped him but didn’t. You’ve got to be quick on your feet in that job, not over the hill and past your best before date. I didn’t want to drive anymore after that. So that’s me. How about you Sid? What did you do before you came here?’.

‘Oh, my goodness! Is that the time?’ said Sidney. 


About the author

James has been writing short stories for a long time. He has been lucky enough to have had several stories published on Cafelit. Scroll down to see them.

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