I trotted downhill a couple of miles from home, trying to cover the final third of my journey. A tiny lady walked ahead of me, and as I walked past, waved and said something in Chinese(?) I waved back with a cheery 'Morning' ( my 'Ni Hao' deserted me at that time, and in any case, might have been the wrong dialect with which to address her.) She was dressed in a dark red coat with pretty flowers embroidered along the front, and a pair of black capri pants.
We had reached a bit of a slope and I pressed on, and the ageless Grandma faltered behind me, having kept up with me until then at a very sprightly clip. I reached the top of the slope and turned the corner, glancing back to see where she was.
She was backing her way up the slope, waving her arms out to the sides. I stared. Was she alright, or having some sort of health problem. I ran back down the slope and she turned around smiling.
'Are you alright?'
She smiled again, saying something in Chinese.
'Are you lost? Where do you live?'
Again, an incomprehensible phrase, but with a hand pointing in the general direction of a few houses up the road, and a vigorous nod of the head.
She was alright, and appeared to know where she lived. I breathed a sigh of relief and continued on my morning walk.
Not lost, after all.
M was heading out to London to see the Lion King musical with her uncle and cousin.
'Do you know our address and phone number, in case you get separated from Chittappa in the crowds?'
It was time to grab a piece of paper and note down the essential details.
'Keep this with you, and in case you get lost, approach any lady or police officer and ask them for help.'
M looked highly insulted.
'I'm not going to get lost.' with all the indignation that her thirteen years could muster.
'You are not going to get lost. But better safe than sorry'
She didn't get lost, and got back safely home after a lovely outing to Covent Garden, crowds and fancy car displays notwithstanding.
This morning, M and I walked out looking for a bookstore. M had run out of books to read in the third week of our stay in the UK and I had promised her that I would get her some more.
A little girl with harvest gold hair peeping from under her crochet hat, wearing a pale purple dress,white cardigan,red socks and red shoes, was walking slowly ahead of us. No adult was in sight.
We walked slowly past her, as she ruminated on something, gaze fixed on the sidewalk. I slowed down even further, with an uneasy feeling about this. Sure enough,she came running after us, and kept pace with us as we turned the corner.
She started speaking non-stop, and I strained to make out her accent.
Something about the cat in the corner house, which gazes at me solemnly each morning as I walk by. I tried asking her."Do you live in that house? What's the number of your house?"
She paused her chatter and considered: "It has a seven...and a six."
"Oh, is it 76? Let's walk you back there."
She assented and happily turned around with us. As we walked, I asked "What's your mum and dad's names?"
"My mum and dad died in a fire."
I wasn't expecting that, neither was M. Startled, I pressed on with the inquiries, trying to figure out which house she might belong to. "Do you know the name of the street you live on?"
"No, I don't remember..." She drifted off into more ramblings.
"What's your favorite colour?" she asked. "Mine's purple...and pink."
"I don't have a favorite colour." I replied. A thought struck me. "What is your name?'
"Emma*", she replied, barely audible.
"And your last name?"
"Ooh, blackberries! These taste good!" She reached out and took one from the blackberry hedge at the road corner.
"How old are you?", I asked.
I formulated a plan. I would take her to my sister's house, and call the police to let them know of the lost girl. It was better than leaving her wandering around the neighborhood, especially with the dodgy characters who appeared to inhabit the bus stop bench.
We walked past three or four houses, and paused for her to try shoo the cat which had moved onto a low roof.
Just then, a woman came running up, dressed in sweatpants, no shoes, just bare feet. She gathered up the girl, who launched herself into the arms with a vengeance.
"Is this your daughter? You must have been terrified!"
Poor woman, I thought. She barely spared me a glance, even as I tried to make eye contact with her. "We live at __ , and just happened to see your child walking about alone."
"We're at __, if you ever see her wandering about again", she tossed off in a hurry, as she turned to rush back to her house.
As I recounted the incident later to my sister, she trenchantly observed "She got lucky that you found her child and that the police were not called. They would have placed the kid in foster care, if they found out that she had not watched over her carefully." Ah, the perils of a nanny state.
Lost and found.
*Not her real name.