Celebrating the 12 days of Christmas
with short reflections on 12 gifts
We have some things in common, my next-seat neighbour and I: we are both female, we are both bored. She, however, is about 7 years old; I am more like 57. Although she’s perfectly well behaved, her slump tells me that she’s about exhausted the delights of this passport office waiting room.
I engage gingerly — not every kid is OK talking to strangers and not every parent is OK with strangers (even grandmotherly strangers) talking to their kids — gauging the reaction at every stage to know when it’s time to knock it off. You know the sort of thing.
Mumble mumble in response.
My name’s Isabel. What’s yours?
Something almost inaudible in response.
Have you been here a long time?
Yes! OK, that’s clear enough.
And there I stop. She’s squirming on her plastic chair — I’m glad to know it’s not just my aging butt that doesn’t appreciate them. As ‘240’ comes up on the overhead display, she looks at the ticket she’s been entrusted with and says in a discouraged tone, Not yet.
I glance over: her ticket is ‘242’.
That’s an interesting number, I offer.
She looks at her ticket, and then up at me, Huh? written on her face, if not quite voiced.
Look, I say, it’s the same frontwards as backwards.
Oh yeah — she sees it all right, and perks up a little bit. In this entertainment wasteland, it’s no small distinction to be the holder of an Interesting Number. With uncharacteristic restraint, I let it lie. There is a processing pause, and then she speaks. I don’t think I imagine a slight reticence: after all, if my answer is negative she doesn’t want me to feel badly.
Do you have an interesting number, too?
I show her my ticket: 246.
I think so. Each number is two more than the one before it: it’s like counting by twos.
As she digests that notion, I try not to grin too broadly. The meme may have jumped. There is just the chance that this kidlet will never look at numbers the same way again.
As the display reaches 242, she and her accommodating mother move on to the next stage in this trial by endurance. We say goodbye, and I am left to give thanks for the gift of wonder: there is so much to marvel at in this world, from interesting numbers to moments of completely unexpected connection.