‘Quit it, Doris,’ said Doris’s dad. He felt the sack kind of shifting and thought Doris was pulling at it. His grip on it was going. Since he couldn’t make any hasty movements due to his precariously balanced scrap-filled miter, he had to let go. The sack landed on Doris and made her plunge forward to the floor, where her head hit the edge of the step into grandma’s parlour. ‘Uh-oh,’ said Mr Martin. Turning around he did make a sudden movement now, with the hand that still held his bishop’s crosier. The bottom end of the staff hit one of grandma’s flower pots on its pedestal and sent it flying into a circle of already nonplussed-to-stressed children. The wailing started just as the curled top of the staff got entangled in Saint Niklaas’s beard. The staff’s momentum briefly lifted the beard before both were pulled back sharp by the beard’s elastic and the bishop-cum-sidekick whacked himself square on the chin with his own fancy stick. This made most of the children laugh through their tears. Some started hiccupping. It also made Doris’s dad lose his balance. He let go of the staff, which kept on dangling from his beard, in order to whirl his arms windmill-fashion and heighten the kids’ hysterics. In the meantime Doris’s mom had pulled the sack off of her knocked-out daughter and was kneeling by her side. She got smacked on the head by the dangling staff and instinctively put her hands up to grab whatever had hit her. She’d given it a good hard yank before her brain almost caught up with her reflexes and she let go. A couple kids were already hyperventilating.

This time it was a real neat thump. It spun Mr Martin halfway around. He was whirling his arms again when pop appeared in the open door. Although Bernard had seen Sinterpiet before, it was always an experience. So it took a moment before it dawned on him to do something to keep his neighbour from falling over. There seemed to be a stick handily attached for that purpose. Bernard started pulling just as Doris’s dad looked like he would join his daughter on the floor one step down. ‘Nooooo!’ yelled Mr Martin, nearly upright again. Startled, pop let go.