Anne Woodborne

The Yellow Teddy-Bear

The pulsating racket draws Ellen from the shelter of her home. This
throbbing, pounding noise. She stands at the entrance to the Fairground, with its Ferris wheels, merry-go- rounds, beer tents, stalls, throngs of people. The smell of braising onions, sausages, hot chips, reaches her nostrils. Her stomach growls unexpectedly. A man tears a ticket, says, ‘That will be ten rand.’ She stares up at him myopically, adjusting the angle of her trifocals. She squeaks, ‘Do you give discounts to old-age –pensioners?’ He shakes his head. ‘Oh, well,’ she grumbles. She scratches in her bag for her purse. Her fingers are all thumbs, she can’t see clearly. ‘Let me, Lady,’ the ticket dispenser is impatient, there’s a queue behind Ellen. ‘Oh, but,’ she protests. He extracts two coins from her purse and waves her on.

Ellen pauses and leans heavily on her cane, clutching her bag close to her chest, under her heart. The letter’s in there, the one from David in Adelaide. He writes that her granddaughter is going to have a baby. A baby? Her granddaughter was little more than a baby when she left this country with her parents twenty years ago. The news has filled her with joy, short-lived, then with sorrow. She doubts she will ever see this great-grandchild. ‘Excuse me,’ she whispers to passers-by. ‘Can you help me?’  They rush past. Is she invisible?

She takes a few steps here, a few steps there, blinded by the brilliant lights, deafened by the cacophony. She becomes aware she has a shadow. She turns. Who is this person with the white painted face, the sad clown’s eyes, peaked eyebrows, red bow lips? He mimics her limp, her dormouse stare, an imaginary bag clutched to his chest. She moves. He follows. She turns to stare at him. He looks behind him. ‘What do you want?’ she quavers. He removes his cap, holds it humbly in front of him, clown eyes beseeching. ‘No,’ she folds both arms over her bag. ‘I – you can’t – I don’t have any.’ He droops, shrugs.

In front of her, a stall with numbered prizes. She sees a large yellow teddy- bear with button eyes, expectant stitched smile and a tartan ribbon round his neck. His arms stretch wide as if to say – come get me. The soft yellow fur would be ideal for a baby to hug, to take to bed. ‘Oh,’ she cries, ‘can I try?’  ‘Hoopla,’ the stallholder bellows. ‘Try your luck. Throw a ring, win a prize. 50c.’

Ellen fumbles. ‘Here, lady,’ the man says, reaching for her purse. ‘Oh, drat,’ she says. ‘How – what do I . . .’  ‘Take this ring,’ he thrusts a rubber ring into her shaking fingers. ‘See these hooks?’ he gestures behind him. ‘Aim for the number you need.’ She veers her eyes to the teddy bear. No.6. She finds the hook with no.6 above it. She steadies herself against the counter, tries to focus. Do I throw overhand or underhand? she wonders. She swings wildly. The ring shoots sideways, clipping the stallholder on the head. He swears. A group of children jeer loudly. ‘Kyk die ouma –sy gooi mis.’ Ellen shrinks. ‘May I?’ A smooth voice in her ear. She turns to see a dark –skinned man reach out his hand for the ring. His teeth shine white. ‘Let me. No.6?’ She nods, transfixed. Where does this stranger come from? Nigeria? DRC? He has exquisite manners. The ring sails through the air, falls on the hook. The yellow bear is safe in Ellen’s arms. ‘Thank you –how kind.’ He bows, vanishes into the crowd.

Ellen meanders contentedly towards the exit. She will send this to her great-grandchild. But how will she package its bulk? And the cost? Nothing is straightforward. A couple, walking nearby, stop in mid-tracks. Ellen hears a moaning gasp from the woman as she clutches her bulging stomach under a tent dress. She and the man look down at her wide-spread legs, at the water gushing into a puddle. The woman cries in distress. ‘My water’s broken. Pete, get me to the hospital.’

Peter dials a number. ‘Don’t panic- just breathe. Victoria Hospital’s a minute away.’ Into the phone. ‘My wife’s in labour. Send an ambulance to Maynardville immediately.’ Ellen hovers, her heart beating. A crowd gathers to witness this drama. Ellen remembers her own labour, long ago. Oh, the agony and the ecstasy. An ambulance rolls through the gates, red light flashing. Paramedics lower a stretcher, push through the crowd. The woman lies down, moaning, her eyes wide with fear. Ellen surfaces from the past, approaches her, holding out the yellow teddy-bear. ‘Here, lovey,’ she says, ‘take this for your baby, it will bring you luck. ’ The woman’s eyes beam gratitude, despite her pain. She disappears into the back of the ambulance. Doors shut. Ellen watches the ambulance drive away, then turns her back on the Fairground. She has a box of baby patterns at home somewhere. She can still knit – something small perhaps? Bootees, bonnets, bibs. Did babies still wear them? Yes.

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