It was just this time of year, and the shopping mall in the country town where I grew up, though small, was buzzing with pre-Christmas hype. With a lot to do and never enough time to do it all in, my mother and sisters and I split up to do our shopping with a plan to meet back in the middle of the mall at a certain time. This was before the days of mobile phones all round and free Virgin to Virgin text messaging.
At the agreed time, we met up once more -- rather too near Santa's throne for my liking. (Shopping mall santas were forever thinking I was younger than I actually was, and offering me candy that I didn't want -- mostly because it made me feel about six years old to accept it.) So we met up -- with me keeping a wary eye on Mr. Ho Ho himself -- and it was then that we discovered a problem: my little brother, then about three years old, was missing.
"I thought he went with you," Mum said.
"No, he stayed with you in the dress shop. He was right next to you."
"But I didn't even see him!"
After this and more similarly incoherent dialogue, we went our separate ways and retraced our steps, going through all the stores we'd visited to look for the little guy. You should know that he has down syndrome, and back then he spoke some strange hybrid of Swahili (or something) much better than he could manage English. There was no real way for him to communicate with strangers.
When we met up again, no one had found him. My mother's eyes were wild, and I could see a horror movie playing across her imagination, one in which some devious perverted soul had done a little Christmas shopping of his own and was perhaps even now taking home his little package.
We broke apart and began our search again. Others began to take notice.
"Oh, the little darling!" said the bag-checker at Big W, "I know him! I'll keep an eye out."
"Him? We're old pals!" said the lady at our favourite dress shop, "He was in here with your Mum but he followed her out again. I'll tell the girls at the chemist to watch out for him."
The newsagent lady broke away from her stall and came to join the search. And Santa, coming off his shift, came to talk to us, tucking his red hat into his bag.
"I saw the little fella," he said, presenting a concerned and perspiring red face. "I'll head out and look for him, too."
By this time, he had been missing for twenty minutes. To mum, it was an eternity. There was not time to process what was going on, really, but everyone's thoughts were jumping ahead to unspeakable horrors and tragic remembered news items.
Then, quite suddenly, he was found. An acquaintance had been browsing in Big W and found my little brother, quite on his own, standing and waiting in a corner of the massive store. She had not even known he was missing; she simply stumbled across him and realised he should've been somewhere else.
There was a delirious reunion in the middle of the shopping mall, right near Santa's throne, and in my memory I can still see everyone gathered about, smiling congratulations on a job well done
That's what it's like in a small town.
Staish -- I don't think it's greedy at all! If things offer delight in this earth, how can they be less special in the next? Ah, I haven't been to the gallery for aaaages. That's a photo I took a while back.
Chantel -- you're a treasure :). I hope your wishes come true, too!
Bethany -- it would be lovely if they all came true in this life. There's still time...
Elizabeth -- :D
Damian -- I did really wish all those things in the one day! Not that I realised at first -- you know how thoughts can flit over your mind and you have to pin them down before you really pay any attention to them? -- but those were definitely all longings I felt that day. Oh, and the silver ball pool: yes, totally just as exciting as the exhibits!
Anonymous -- hmm. Reminds me of a song...