As I sit here wrapped in the cotton wool of my living room I remember that fateful shopping trip to the supermarket. Although it was eleven years ago, that feeling of never seeing my family again still lingers in my mind as I sit and mull what could have ensued. It seems silly now, but for a 6 year old losing your family and being alone in the big world was the worst thing that could happen.
Like other adults, my parents were very keen to do things on time, as if they had their own unwritten law saying that everything must be done on that day or else. I’m not sure what ‘else’ is or was, but the schedule was based around Mondays or payday as my dad liked to call it. On Mondays we collected the money, and then paid the bills, with what money was left we got the groceries for the week ahead.
It was during the summer holidays, something every child looks forward to, although there was no holiday abroad for me that year, the comfort of not going to school was good enough. Like all mums my mum decided I should come along to do the shopping with her. I thought she would be happy to see the back of me, but she decided she couldn’t bear to see me lazing around the house anymore and that I should get some fresh summer air; I say summer but there were quite a few clouds in the sky. It felt like a chore, I didn’t want to leave the comfort of my soft leather sofa and my television, which was as always glaring at me.
There was pretty much nothing I could do. “NOOOOOOOOOOOO!” I said.
As I was getting myself ready my brother was bickering on about how he is going to have an enjoyable time alone knowing my essence will not be around him. He was warning me about the dangers of exhaustion of shopping, I was only a kid, for me what was important is the packet of sweets and the new toy which I was going to receive at the end of the journey. To get back at him I used every curse I knew (which was not that many) and tried my best to show him his place. My brother knew exactly what a mind-numbingly boring day I had in store but I just managed to take no notice of him.
It was a warm day but the grey skies doming over my head suggested otherwise, the weatherman had forecasted rain so just in case I took my rainbow coloured umbrella in my mum’s trolley. The outside world was not something I was used to as I was mostly slouching around at home during the holidays. We took the usual mode of transport; the bus. My mum had some issues with the train. Naturally, London buses took time, especially the 18 bus; I knew it would be a long day. The bus had arrived quickly than expected, after some out of duty buses had whizzed past in a red blur. So the journey to do the weekly grocery began…
We got off one stop early. We were heading for the post office first and on the way I got myself a chocolate ice cream draped in nuts and sauce, I was about to put it in my mouth when a cyclist knocked it over. I looked up at my mother with the cutest smile I could gather, but she gave me a ‘no-more-ice cream-for-you’ stare so I stopped protesting. It was a long walk to the post office, I found it hard to walk with my small feet, it was like going through an obstacle course as I was some sort of a navigational dog faeces, bumps in the pavement, holes in the ground and any sort of uneven ground.
After what seemed like hours of walking we turned the corner and we saw the post office, a small red bricked structure with the irregular anomaly squashed in between a corner shop and a shoe shop. As I went closer I saw some graffiti on the sign but still the scarlet post office logo was quite visible. We walked in and saw an elderly gentleman and with him a young freckle faced girl with red hair carrying an ice cream, I had the burning desire to just snatch it off her and gobble it down but my mum was keeping a close eye on me.
The little post office was jam packed, so much so the dusty coloured walls could not be seen. Every one of the four cashiers was working as fast as they could but my mum’s notion was that they were being sluggish. Monday was always a busy day but today there seemed to be something else maybe because it was the first day of August. I found myself a seat and to my great relief it was opposite a fan. I relaxed and watched my mum anguish in the long queue and in the calm of the quiet post office and the relaxation of the firm seat the tiredness of the from the long walk set in and I dozed off.
A poke on my stomach startled me and I realised that I had fallen asleep and my mum had woken me up. We made our way to the butcher’s shop where my mum usually bought all the meat from. As I walked into the shop, the smell of raw meat was quite obvious but it was taken over by the exotic bazaar which was the rich smell of chilli, herbs and spices. Quite calmly my mum asked for some chops, I always wondered where all my food came from; as I watched the meat loving butcher with the blood stained apron and the knife chopping up the meat I felt somewhat sick. This was a mystery I was better off not knowing.
When the whole ordeal was over we were about to leave when I heard my name being called it was my dad’s friend, a plump and bald figure, I was to call him uncle. He greeted my mum and others in the shop. He was coming over to me. “Oh no!” I thought…
As he bent down and said hello, I saw his stained teeth, chewing away at beetle leaves (I gathered from the red colour of his mouth) like a cow would on grass. I felt some things from his mouth fall on my face and with the most polite “hello” and “how are you” I sped out of the shop with my mum closely following behind. I gathered she didn’t like him either as she didn’t complain about my rudeness.
It was a brisk five minute walk from the butcher’s shop to the supermarket in Harrow Road, this walk was a sprint compared to the long bus journey to the post office. The automatic doors welcomed us in to the huge supermarket with a warm welcome. There was every sort of cake, chocolate and biscuit I could dream of and there was a sensational feeling going through me I was that ‘kid in the candy shop’.
My mother had said something to me; I didn’t hear her as something had caught my eye. I blanked out everything else and walked towards the sweets. I picked up some lemon sherbets and some milk buttons and dropped them into a plastic bag, this was my treat…
Suddenly, I looked around – “where’s my mummy?”
Desperately, I ran around. I went left. I went right. There was nobody in sight. Where was she? It wasn’t my mum who was lost. It was me.
I was lost…
I asked anyone and everyone I could find but nobody had seen her. I had never imagined I would get lost, I was warned about the dangers of exhaustion but this was something else. I didn’t have a clue as to how to get home, I had nothing with me. I wondered, was she looking for me as well. Perhaps, had she said something important before she went? Lonely and afraid, I went and sat on the floor behind the counters and sobbed, hoping that she might see me.
I sat there for a good fifteen minutes before it came to me. Maybe she had gone back to the butcher’s shop. Putting down the sweets I slowly moved towards the automatic doors. The world suddenly seemed a different place even the automatic doors appeared to be unfriendly. I tried my best to retrace my steps. Out of the blue I realised we hadn’t actually crossed the road on the way to the supermarket so all I had to do was to follow the pavement. The street seemed far busier than before I dodged and dived people walking. This was going to be hard. It had started to rain, I imagined my rainbow umbrella, sitting in my mum’s bag, the thought of my brother sitting warm at home just made it worse.
Drenched from head to foot in rain, I somehow managed to get to the butcher’s shop. There was that man again, my so-called ‘uncle’, but somehow I felt relieved to see him. This just showed how desperate I was. I asked him if he’d seen my mother.
“Yes!” My prediction was right she had come here, but she had since gone. My emotions were a rollercoaster of a day as it continued. Suddenly, there was a voice…
I made out it was my name; I heard it again, much clearer this time it was a woman’s voice.
“Mummy!” I cried. I was the most happy and relieved I’d ever been in my life up to that day. She explained that she had comeback for her purse and she had told me to stay at the supermarket. I apologised and in return I got a warm hug and a packet of sherbets and milk buttons. It wasn’t a bad day I thought. We finished our shopping and went home.
This was a experience that made me realise how much my family meant to me and that it is important to listen to grown ups at all times. I survived this time. On another day in different circumstances I wouldn’t have been so lucky. Who knows what could have happened?