Lucas North glanced in the mirror under the stairs as he hung up his jacket in Adam Carter’s hallway. He was staying with Adam since the flat he was renting had been rendered temporarily unoccupiable by a burst pipe in the flat above, so he’d been offered the use of the spare bedroom until he could move back in. Lucas could see from the mirror how stressed he was looking and closed his eyes to block out his reflection.
When he opened his eyes, he realised he was sitting on a branch in a tree and looking down he saw what appeared to be a river swirling underneath him.
“Hello,” a voice beside him said cheerfully.
Lucas looked over and saw a small pink pig. “Er, hello!”
“I’m Piglet,” said the small pig. “I don’t think I’ve seen you before. And I’m sure I’d remember you if I had. Have you come to live in the Hundred Acre Wood?”
“No.” Lucas shook his head. “I’m not really sure why I’m here. Oh, I’m Lucas, by the way.”
“I expect you’re here for a Reason. Christopher Robin says lots of things happen for a Reason, although we don’t always know what it is.”
“I suppose I’m here because my flat got flooded out.”
“You as well? I’m here because my little home’s been flooded too. So, I’m just waiting for Christopher Robin to come and rescue me. That’s what friends do; they help each other out.”
Lucas saw a small boy wearing a pair of wellies splashing through the water towards them. The boy waved to Piglet, who waved back.
Lucas felt a sudden pang of sadness that Piglet would be leaving him, but then there was a hand on his back and Adam said, “Dinner’s about ready. Come and join me in the kitchen.”
Hiding out in the gents probably wasn’t the most intelligent thing he could do, but Lucas felt he couldn’t stand being on the Grid anymore. He looked in the mirror and eyes full of misery looked back at him. He shut his eyes, only opening them when he heard a door opening. He found himself inside a small house.
“Hello,” said a voice. “If you’ve come to consult Tigger Holmes, he’s not here.” The small bear picked up a bowler hat and placed it on his head. “Maybe I can help you. I’m Watson, well, one of the Watsons, there’s two of us.”
“I don’t think you can help,” Lucas said sadly. “I don’t think anyone can help.”
“Oh dear,” the bear said. “I’m Pooh Bear as well. In fact, I’m Pooh Bear all of the time and only Watson some of the time, because we can’t both be Watson at the same time.”
Lucas just looked at him.
“When I get sad,” Pooh Bear said, “I often have a little hunny. Would you like some hunny?” Pooh hugged the jar protectively and tried to look as if he was prepared to share it.
Lucas shook his head. “No, thank you.”
“Hunny cookies? I think there are a few left.” Pooh took a plate out of the cupboard and offered Lucas a cookie.
Lucas took a cookie and then a second when Pooh suggested it and began to eat.
“The other thing I do,” Pooh said, “When I’m feeling sad, is I make up a hum. Something like:
Days are grey and then I’m sad
But I share my cookies and then I’m glad”
Lucas recited the verse through a mouthful of cookie. “I like that,” he said.
They heard a knock and Pooh said, “I must go and see who that is.”
He disappeared and Lucas heard the door opening and saw Adam come in.
“I thought you might be in here,” Adam said. “Come on, I’ve bought us some doughnuts.”
Lucas followed Adam back to the Grid, brushing cookie crumbs off his shirt as he did so and muttering:
Days are grey and then I’m sad
But I share my doughnuts and then I’m glad.”
“Sorry?” Adam said.
“Nothing!” Lucas called back.
Lucas examined his face in the Adam’s bathroom mirror. He had a cut above one eye, and there was evidence he’d had a nose bleed, but he’d managed to clean himself up reasonably. He turned and opened the bathroom door, stepping out onto the landing.
Only it wasn’t the landing, he appeared to be in another small house. There was a small fluffy kangaroo facing him, holding a spoon out.
“Open wide,” the kangaroo said.
Lucas, too surprised to do otherwise, did as he was told, and then pulled a face as he tasted the extract of malt. “Yuk!” he said.
A tiny kangaroo beside him giggled, and said, “That’s what I think too. But Mummy says I need it to keep me fit and healthy. What did you do to your face?”
“Now, Roo,” the mother kangaroo said, “What have I told you about asking nosy questions? It’s bedtime, so off you go to bed.”
Roo bounced off, but the mother kangaroo continued to look firmly at Lucas. “I said,” she repeated firmly, “it’s bedtime.”
Lucas was not going to be ordered around by anyone, not Harry, not Adam, and certainly not by an eighteen-inch kangaroo.
It turned out that he wasn’t able to out stare a determined kangaroo. He stood up and walked to where his bedroom door should be. He opened the door to see the room he was staying in. The kangaroo followed and waited patiently until Lucas climbed into bed, only hopping out when Adam came up the stairs.
Adam came into the bedroom and said, “Good, I’m glad you’ve decided to go to bed after all. I’ve brought you some painkillers.”
Lucas was about to refuse them, when he heard the sound of a kangaroo clearing its throat. He swallowed the tablets and lay down.
“That’s strange,” Adam said, “I thought I could smell extract of malt.” He shook his head and departed, leaving Lucas to go to sleep.
Lucas had had enough. The pressure of continually trying to do his best, and never quite managing it, together with forcing down the feelings which kept trying to surface from his time in Russia, was threatening to overwhelm him. He had grown more and more short-tempered until Ros had ordered him to go for a walk to get some fresh air.
He had stormed off the Grid, intending to make a point, but realising as soon as he’d done so that he’d complied with her instruction. He thought about going back but couldn’t face the expressions of his colleagues when he did so, so carried on and walked to St James’ Park.
He reached the lake and leant over to look in it, catching sight of his reflection as he did so. Then feeling slightly fuzzy he sat down and closed his eyes. When he opened his eyes, he was facing a thistle patch, with a small fluffy donkey standing in it. The donkey was wearing a bowler hat.
“Oh!” Lucas said. “You must be the other Watson.”
“That’s right,” the donkey said with a sigh. “It’s my turn today. Are you looking for Tigger Holmes?”
“No, I’m not looking for anyone.”
“Very wise. That way you won’t be disappointed when you don’t find them.” The donkey paused, then added, “So why are you here?”
“I’m running away!”
“Ah! And where are you running to?”
“I’m not running to anywhere, I’m running from … from everything.” Lucas realised that shouting at an eighteen-inch donkey was ridiculous, but it was either shout or cry. And crying in front of a small donkey was even more ridiculous. “I’m sorry!” So was apologising. He rested his arms on his knees, buried his head in his arms and began to cry anyway.
The donkey didn’t say anything, which Lucas appreciated. He didn’t want sympathy, or understanding, or words of encouragement. Finally, he sat up again and rubbed his eyes.
“If you take my advice, which very few people do, and act on it, which even fewer do,” the donkey said, “You will accept that your friends mean well. They may not understand you, they may, and probably will, say the wrong things, and even try to persuade you at times that there are better places than a thistle patch, but they are doing what they can. And it is a kindness to let them.”
Lucas gave a small smile. “I never thought of it that way.”
“Not many do. Oh, that thing, which fell out of your pocket, made a noise a few minutes ago.”
Lucas picked up his phone and looked at it. There was a message from Adam, suggesting they pick up fish and chips on the way home. Lucas looked back at the donkey. “Thank you,” he said, “You’ve been very helpful.”
“I am sometimes!” the donkey replied and returned to eating thistles.
Lucas woke up. A quick glance at the time confirmed it was half past one in the morning. He’d had another nightmare and there was no chance he’d be able to get back to sleep after that. He decided to go downstairs and switch the television on; if he had it on quietly it shouldn’t disturb Adam and it might help to distract him a little. Dragging his duvet behind him he headed down and into the lounge.
He collapsed onto the sofa, wrapped his duvet around him and picked up the remote. He looked at the television screen, at the mound of person and duvet vaguely reflected in it and decided he couldn’t be bothered to watch anything after all. He might as well let the memories take over.
He shut his eyes and then opened them again rapidly at the sound of a thud close to his ear. In front of him, looking very cheerful, was a small fluffy tiger wearing a sou’wester.
“Hello, Lucas,” said the tiger.
“You know who I am?”
“It is my place to know things. I’m Tigger Holmes, and that’s what I do.”
“No Watson today, then?” Lucas mentally groaned, he was now being sarcastic towards a small fluffy tiger.
“Yes, you’ve met the Watsons. Good fellows in their own way, but probably not the keenest of brains.”
“I don’t know. They were both very helpful.” Lucas gave a small smile. “And so were Piglet and the kangaroo, um, Roo’s mother.”
“I didn’t say they weren’t helpful or kind. And sometimes that’s all that’s needed. But we’re getting off the point. You’re here to consult me.”
Lucas shook his head. “No, I’m not.”
“Oh, you are. You just haven’t worked out what the question is yet. Have a think.” Then, when Lucas glared at him, Tigger added, “You might as well. You’re not going to be doing anything else for the next few hours.”
Had anyone else said that to Lucas, he’d have sworn at them. But he couldn’t bring himself to swear at the little tiger in the sou’wester who had brought his front paws up to his face and was giving him his full attention.
“Oh, very well then. How am I supposed to put everything that’s happened behind me and live a new life?”
“That’s easy. You’re not!”
“And that’s your answer?”
“To that question, yes. Perhaps you should rethink the question.”
“You’re supposed to be so clever – what do you think the question should be?” As soon as he said it, Lucas felt bad. He knew he’d been doing that a lot lately, every time someone had said something which hurt, he’d hit back. Which had then made him feel worse and led to a vicious circle.
Tigger nodded. “Sometimes it’s said that we should leave behind all the baggage we’re carrying. But that’s what you find when an elephant has passed through.”
Lucas smirked. He hadn’t expected the tiger to use that expression.
Tigger continued. “The trouble is that you can’t just discard your suitcase, because in there are all sorts of things you still want. The best you can do is unpack the suitcase, select the things you need, plus the ones which you can’t bear to be parted with. Leave behind the nearly empty suntan bottle which has started to leak and the pair of socks with holes that you’ve already replaced and repack the rest in a new rucksack. And then, after a while, buy a new holdall, unpack the rucksack and repeat the process.”
“Yeah, okay, but how...”
Tigger held up his paw and continued, “So now you’ve got your baggage with you, you don’t need to keep looking back, you can start accepting others’ help...”
“Yes, Watson, the donkey one, I don’t know his name?”
“Eeyore told me about that.”
“Good. And you begin to move forward. And again, it’s not one step of a time, which is...”
“Elephant dung,” Lucas said helpfully.
“Precisely. You bounce along for a bit and then fall flat on your tail. But you pick yourself up, you accept the help as others haul you up when you’ve decided the view from the ground is quite acceptable for the moment and you carry on.”
“Actually, you’re right,” Lucas said. “I think you have answered my question.” He yawned. “Thank you,” he mumbled.
He was going to say more but fell asleep. The next thing he knew Adam was in the kitchen making coffee.
Lucas got off the sofa and walked slowly into the kitchen.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to wake you,” Adam said. “You looked really peaceful, so I hadn’t wanted to disturb you.”
“You didn’t. I smelled the coffee and came to investigate.”
“It’s Saturday, so we’ve got plenty of time to do what we want. Do you fancy a cooked breakfast?”
“That sounds great. I’ll take my duvet upstairs and come and give you a hand.”
When Lucas went into his bedroom, he saw a card on his pillow. He opened it and smiled. Inside was a message from Tigger Holmes and friends. He tucked it into a drawer for safety. This card was one he would keep in the front pocket of his mental backpack.