Mother’s kirk believed Christmas was a sinful excuse for every vice from gluttony to sloth. When Father used to smuggle us out to enjoy Christmas Mother would be there at the door as if a guardian against sin. Christmas, she would remind us, was originally a pagan holiday and every part of it was pagan from the Christmas tree to the apples to the gifts to the Christmas log in the fireplace. So of course I spent Christmas at Gallstone. Fortunately so did Singh. Most of the school was shut down so it was as if we had the whole school to just ourselves. I quite liked the idea of that. It was cold and we would snuggle together next to the fire under a blanket as we took turns reading the Iliad aloud. “I wish John that you could be one of us……but alas….”
“But I could be Singh” I replied. “If you teach me. Doesn’t your religion accept converts?”
Singh smiled his self possessed smile. “We are all related here. We are the wearers of the same insignia. The same key that unlocks the portal….. alas …….alas…..”
But when summer finally came I had to go home while Singh’s parents arranged for a fellow Sikh to take Singh home for summer recess. I hung around Singh all but forcing Singh to introduce me to the Sikh officer, a fine man in his red uniform wearing an insignia that was the same insignia that Singh’s father wore and even Singh wore inside his black under tunic band where no one could see it except me when Singh let me comb out his long black hair before he tied his turban each day. “Sir. This is John Nicholson. He is –my friend.”
“Really…..” the officer replied in an oddly reserved voice. He held his swagger stick neatly under one arm in such a perfect pose of military authority I quite admired him. “But not one of us.”
“But an aspiring soul Sir” Singh replied softly. “He could be one of us.”
“I am glad to meet you Sir” I said thrusting out my hand to force the officer to shake hands with me. Singh became slightly uncomfortable, as if embarrassed that I was trying to claim friendship with him. “Singh is a wonderful chap Sir. He has taught me a lot. I really admire him Sir. All of you Sir. Really Sir.” How I raddled on like a prig! No wonder Singh was embarrassed to introduce me to one of his kindred!
The officer nodded. “Nicholson. Nicholson. Nicholson” he said as if turning pages of a book to check for footnotes. “Nicholson —- of India?”
“I have uncles in India” I said hoping he would like me and invite me to come with Singh to their home.
“But it would not be wise to pursue this particular relationship I think” the British officer suddenly replied. “Come Singh.” He checked his watch for the time for the train they were taking. I quite admired it.
“What a wonderful watch Sir. You wear it around your wrist. It is not a pocket watch.”
Singh and the British officer looked at each other oddly. Then Singh stood and said “Goodbye John. I really did enjoy our friendship.” Singh held out his hand and we shook hands. I knew then. It was so hard to explain. But suddenly I had a premonition I would never see Singh again
I wished so desperately they could have asked me to join them. How I envied Singh waving goodbye alongside that fine British officer in his red uniform and neat turban. I so desperately wanted to go home with Singh. In the second class train carriage I suddenly burst into tears which was most embarrassing. I don’t think I had cried since Father died.