Oh my gracious. I owe more than a few of you return emails and actual pen to paper thank you notes and letters, but meanwhile, I want to tell you about my day. Do you remember that nightmare I had about leaving a child on the bus? Something all too similar happened on our 94 today in real life.
Today is dark and wet. A greyness hangs over the city, making everything clouded over, fuzzy, a bit lost. Oxford Street was jammed. Tourists, shoppers, workers, strollers, brollies, rain. Our bus crowded, too.
So I didn't take much notice of the two women with children getting on ahead of Baby Sister and me as we made our way home. People shuffled to their seats and these two Italian tourists were sorting their fares, a buggy, packages, handbags, coats, umbrellas, small hands. We pulled away from the stop when they started talking very frantically to each other in rapid-fire, gesticulating Italian. Panicked searching and tense conversation ensued. Trying to alert the driver, looking upstairs, and in every seat on the bus. Something precious was clearly, desperately missing. Everyone was in high alert and maybe even more, wishing we could speak their language.
It soon became obvious the young mother was missing a child.
It became sickeningly silent for a moment. The driver hadn't understand the chaos, the bus rounded yet another corner and we cruised to the next stop. Clutching Baby Sister on my hip, I hopped off with the crying mother who was pushing a woefully empty stroller back the way we'd come. Hopped off so quickly that a kind passenger got off with us and handed me Baby Sister's school bag (I'd left it on our seat in my rush to comfort this mother!). I was a link in a chain of helping hands.
The mom, who turns out does speak English, was grateful for the company and confused about where we were now. Which way back? Where to go? This way, I encouraged, reaching out to her.
As we raced the agonizing blocks near where she'd last seen her girl, she recounted that the two women had been juggling children back and forth all morning. She confessed that she couldn't be sure if her daughter was in a shop or at the bus stop when they'd been all together last. And that her girl didn't speak English.
I tried to keep her chatting as we sped up more but I could see devastation and fear building in her eyes and her heart beginning to break. I assured her that corner of London is filled with lots of kind people and that I was quite sure her girl was fine. But I blessed myself in prayer when she wasn't looking. What I was thinking is how truly dicey that area can be, how there I steel myself against the daytime drunks, the vagrants, people who are disordered, those up to no good. I prayed while I was thinking of a girl gone missing from outside her rural home in minutes last week.
As we finally got to Oxford Street, I tried to catch every shop employee's eye knowing that if they were looking for a mother missing a girl they'd be right out front. Everyone seemed oblivious to the emergency. Scanning the block ahead for the tiny red coat she was to be wearing, I saw nothing but crowds of grey. No one seemed little today. Just hulking, threatening, big.
And then there she sat. Tiny. Alone and terribly wide eyed. Her mother raced to her and held her too hard.
There but for the grace of God go I. There we all go, right?
Here's hoping, though that if any of us are ever taken to that edge of fear that we won't go alone, that we'll have some company. I feel sure that's why despite not getting through my long list of seemingly important "to dos" this morning and thinking how woefully behind I would be all afternoon, I changed from our normal routine today when I got Baby Sister from school.
We were meant to be there. Not to find someone, but to hold the searcher's hand, to hug her tight.
I don't think it was an accident that I'd set aside my priorities and treated Baby Sister to a snack on our way home. Then not wanting to wait in the rain, we took a different bus and got off at another stop to connect to ours. There we missed the first bus, and got onto the second one that came. The very one missing one precious girl. No fewer than 5 twists and turns in our normal routine that brought us there. And then.
All's well that ends well. Keep your school bags close and your smalls closer. I know I'm going to.