Now that’s a hell of a day of Christmas shopping,’ Andy laughed as she and Erimem moved away from the reception pad in the time travel control room. They dropped their carrier bags on the floor and shrugged off their coats. After the cold of a snowy London winter, the heat in Erimem’s apartment was scorching. It was an artificial environment which had been programmed to replicate Egypt’s weather, landscape and, to some degree, architecture. For now what mattered was that it was damned warm and they welcomed it.
Andy removed her time travel ring. ‘Right,’ she said, putting the ring back in its proper place and picking up her bags. ‘Let’s see what we’ve got.’
They had managed the few steps to the door leading into the main living area of Erimem’s apartment when the time travel equipment began to hum again.
‘What is happening?’ Erimem asked.
Before they could even look at the controls, Ibrahim appeared on the reception pad. He stood still as he realised he wasn’t alone. ‘Oh,’ he said. ‘You’re back.’
‘Obviously,’ Erimem said. ‘And so are you… although we had no idea you were going anywhere.’
‘Sudden urge,’ he said unconvincingly.
‘Ibrahim,’ Erimem said suspiciously. ‘Tell your Great Aunt what you have been doing or there will be trouble.’
‘Um…’ Ibrahim was fishing for a quick excuse. Obviously inspiration hit and he pulled a paper bag from his pocket. He strode over and handed it to Andy. ‘The book you were looking for. Just in case you couldn’t find a copy.’
‘Thanks,’ Andy said.
Ibrahim looked at Erimem, looking like a little boy asking a favour. ‘Can I tell you what it was about on Christmas Day?’
She stopped as the time travel equipment whined again and Helena appeared on the reception pad. The older woman looked at the others in the room. ‘Bugger,’ she said. ‘This is damned awkward.’
‘Would you prefer to explain on Christmas Day, too?’ Erimem asked.
Helena leaped at the offer. ‘Definitely,’ she said. ‘Oh, and I picked this up in case you couldn’t find one,’ she added, handing a familiarly sized paper bag across to Andy.
‘Brilliant,’ Andy said. ‘Cheers.’
Christmas Day was a fascinating experience for Erimem. It was the first Christmas she could remember. If she had ever had a Christmas before, she couldn’t remember it.
She discovered very quickly that she absolutely loved the tinsel and lights and glitter. She found the religious music deeply moving and loved what Andy called ‘the cheesy Christmas tunes’. On the other hand, the frenzy of shopping and incredible amounts of debt people racked up buying far more than was needed… that confused her. She was also bemused by how the so-called Season of Goodwill could result in so much foul behaviour when tempers frayed in the last days of shopping and in the fights she had seen at the numerous Christmas parties that she had seen.
Christmas lunch was held at Ibrahim and Helena’s flat. There were five of them present. Ibrahim, Helena, Erimem, Andy and Andy’s brother, Matt. Matt was quiet, as Andy said he tended to be around new people. On the other hand he was beyond delighted that Andy had found such a pristine copy of the first Doctor X book. She seemed surprised that he hugged her. Surprised and them just a touch emotional. Most of the gifts were opened while Matt was there but a few had to be saved until he had taken up Ibrahim’s offer to skype with a friend from the study.
‘Genuine 1964 Manchester United replica shirt?’ he all but squealed. ‘From genuine 1964?’
Andy nodded. ‘And sold with genuine 1964 hatred for 1964 Manchester United.’
‘1964 jealousy,’ he snorted.
Helena had opened her gift. ‘Genuine Beatles vinyl?’ she breathed.
‘We’ll need to get something to play them on,’ Ibraihim said, but Helena cuffed his arm.
‘And risk scratching them? Are you mad? These are works of art.’
Ibrahim reached behind a cushion and produced an envelope, which he handed to Helena. ‘This could go with your records. Great minds and all that.’
Helena ripped the envelope open and four pieces of printed card dropped into her hand. ‘Shit,’ she breathed… ‘Are these real?’
‘Yep,’ Ibrahim answered. ‘Four tickets for a Beatles concert on the 1964 tour.’ He looked at Andy and Erimem. ‘Think of it as historical education.’
Helena was holding out an envelope to Ibrahim.
‘What’s this? He asked. ‘Don’t tell me. Tickets to see the Stones.’
‘Tickets to see Man United? In 1964? You neauty.’
‘So,’ Andy said with a hint of severity in her voice. ‘You gave us gyp for using the wotsit to do some Christmas shopping, and then did it yourselves? Both of you?’
‘Yes,’ Ibrahim agreed freely. ‘We’re hypocrites. Hypocrites and liars because I told Helena I was going to the office but I sneaked away.’
‘And I thought he’d gone to the office, so… sue us.’
Ibrahim and Helena bickered playfully and Andy went to check on Matt, clutching the earrings Erimem had found for her back in… well, that would be telling. Erimem looked at the pile of gifts she had been given. She didn’t understand the holiday but she understood the affection being shown in this little group of people. This was her family now and Christmas was for family.
Scrolling through the ipod, she found the track she was looking for. Like Andy had told her, ‘if it’s Christmas, you need some Slade’.
Next year she really would have to investigate this idea of hanging stockings on the wall…