Once, as a child, I was lost.
I don’t remember my exact age. Time has never been kind to my memories and my recall of events – dates, details – has always been a vague and untrustworthy thing. But I remember a sibling in the baby seat of the shopping trolley and as I was old enough to walk and wander by myself this must have been my brother and I must have been in the region of five.
It was in a supermarket. I was following my father and I turned away, just for a moment. What caught my five year old attention in the vegetable aisle of Safeway I do not know, but for a moment I turned away and I slipped into another place where I was lost.
I didn’t know I was lost until I turned back; mind still elsewhere, dreaming the day gone, and I put my hand into my father’s and then, at a jolt from him, dragged my gaze along that hand and the arm and looked up into the face of a man who was most definitely not my father.
He must, I think, have been a nice enough man. His puzzled smile is kind in my mind; his amused ‘hello?’ is gentle.
He almost certainly did not deserve the look of horror I bestowed on him, or for me to scrabble, cringing, away; heart tripping with mortified shame at having touched a stranger so casually with a trust that did not belong to him, and with the panic of being alone, alone – no parents, no sisters to be seen and the sudden, absolute, nightmarish conviction that they would not be found again, ever, and my throat clamped down with fear –
And there, down the next aisle, was my father; one hand on the trolley, frowning down at a packet of pasta. I rushed to him and clung, to his confusion. Bemused, he asked me what was wrong and so I learned he hadn’t even known that – for a moment – I had been lost.