My shoulder is bumped for about the tenth time since I got out of the car less than a few minutes ago. My grip tightens around the tiny hand I am holding, determined not to let go. Once again regretting my decision to listen to the social hype about how bad it is to put a child on a leash. I would love for any of those people who say no to spend even an hour at the shops with a kid who loves to run away. This was our first outing to the city shops. Normally I was only brave enough to take Jaiden to the local shop at best. But being a single mum meant that I wasn’t always able to get a baby sitter when I needed to make bigger trips.
“Ok Jaiden what happens if we can’t find each other?” I asked him as I pulled him to a stop.
“Meet you at the burger place,” he smiled back at me. I looked down at his forearm which I had written my mobile number in permanent ink.
“Good boy,” I praised as I pointed to the number. “And what is that for?”
“Tell burger place to call you,” he replied.
“Good job,” I replied as I kissed his forehead. He turned and made it about three steps before I was able to grab his arm again.
“Can I have ice cream?” he asked.
“If you are good,” I told him for what was probably the sixth time that morning.
“Mummy, I’m tired,” he groaned.
“You said you were a big boy and you weren’t going to need your pram,” I replied.
“But we have walked too far,” he cried his sparkly blue eyes filling up with tears.
“Piggy back?” I sighed. It would have only been about 20 metres in before he started up again.
“Mummy I have to do wee,” he announced loudly. A few other people on the street turned and glared. We were in that part of town where is was all corporate and more upper class than what we normally went to. My stomach twisted a little with embarrasement.
“You said you didn’t need to go when we left the house,” I groaned.
“But I didn’t then,” he cried. I made my way around looking for where the toilets were. They were not easy to find and for the next five minutes my son had gone from not needing to go at all to being completely busting. I finally found them and held back how annoyed I was that there was no parents room. I took his hand and headed for the ladies.
“I’m a boy!” he yelled.
“It’s fine you just have to come with me and I can’t go in the boys,” I told him.
“Then I can’t go in the girls,” he replied.
“Fine we will go in here,” I told him as I headed to the disabled toilet.
“Mum that’s for wheelchair people!” he cried. I tugged his hand a little harder and shushed him.
“It’s ok we will be quick,” I whispered.
“You’re not a wheelchair person mum!” he screamed letting everyone within the vicinity know that I was trying to misuse the bathrooms.
“I’m not a girl and I am not a wheelchair person!!” he continued on.
“Well you can’t go in there alone. You will have to come to the girls with me,” I told him.
“I’m not a girl!” he screamed his voice getting louder and louder. “Daddy never made me go in the girls.”
“Well your daddy isn’t here anymore is he?!” I snapped. I watched as my sons face crumpled and the tears started to flow. My heart felt shattered. “Fine go in the boys.”
He perked up immediately and trotted off with a grin. Part of me wanted to grab his arm and drag him into the ladies. I wondered at his age how much he understood about how much his mentioning his father would set me off.
Two years ago my husband went fishing and ignored my pleas to not go due to the bad weather that had been reported. He had always called me a worrier and that everything would be fine. When he didn’t return I assumed he had gone for beers with mates. But when he didn’t come home the next day and I couldn’t get in touch my heart sank. I was contacted by police that afternoon when his broken boat had washed ashore empty. There was no contact from him and none of his mates had heard from him at all. I called search parties and his photo was all over the news and the town and social media and everyone was keeping their eyes peeled for him. After 6 months we lost all hope that he would return and held a memorial service for him.
I managed to get my emotions under control and pull myself back to the present. Jaiden had been in the toilet a long time for someone who only needed to wee.
“Jaiden?” I called through the doorway. There was no reply. “Jaiden?” I called out again. A grabbed the arm of a suited man who was walking out of the toilets.
“Did you see my son in there?” I asked.
“No ma’am,” he replied.
“His name is Jaiden can you see if he needs help in there?” I pleaded. The man went back in and I could hear him calling out.
“Sorry ma’am, no reply,” he might have gone out the other entry.
“Other entry?” I cried. I didn’t even hesitate and ran straight through the toilet block ignoring the few cries of annoyance from the men using the trough.
“Jaiden!!” I screamed as I raced out the other side almost barrelling into a man who was coming in. He double checked that he was entering the right bathroom after seeing a woman step out of it. He looked at me puzzled and then at the male sign and headed in.
I looked up and down the street and couldn’t see him at all. I raced to the burger place that we would always meet at.
“Have you seen my son?” I asked the cashier showing them the photo on my phone.
“No sorry,” they replied. My heart was racing and the world started to spin. “Are you ok?” the cashier asked.
“My son is missing,” I whispered and then my ears started to ring and I couldn’t make sense of anything.
“Jaiden!!” I screamed from the doorway. Before long the shop security were at the burger place and taking my details and sending information to the shops to start looking out for him. My phone started to ring.
“Jaiden?” I asked as I picked up.
“We have found your son. Next time please don’t waste our time he is with his father,” came the security guards voice.
“He can’t be,” I cried. I was given directions and ran to where I was told he was. Sure enough there was Jaiden being thoroughly entertained by the street balloon artist. I looked around for a moment. Who in the world was saying they were his dad.
“Jaiden,” I cried as I raced over and picked him up to swing him around. The last twenty five minutes had felt like an eternity.
“Mummy I found daddy,” he cheered.
“Honey we have been over this…” I started. But as Jaiden continued grabbing at the hand of the balloon artist I actually took him in. I am sure this same guy has been on this corner every time I have come here.
“Mark?” I cried. The artist looked up from where he was sitting and the same crystal blue eyes my son stared at me with looked up through long matted hair.
He handed Jaiden the dog he had been working on and then stood up to face me his dirty teeth showing through as he smiled at me.
“But you’re dead,” I muttered. He nodded. “How could you do this to us?” I screamed as I started punching his arms.
“We were struggling,” he told me. “I took out too much from some loan sharks and the only way to protect the two of you was to die.”
“We could have figured it out,” I told him.
“You’ve been ok,” he said. Suddenly I couldn’t breath. “No-one notices me here. Not even you. I been making sure you keep up your regular shopping trips.” My eyes started to get blurry.
“Mummy look. Woof, woof,” Jaiden cried running around with the balloon dog he had.
“Now I know Jaiden is ok as well. I won’t be able to come back now he has blown my cover,” he said. Everything started to spin and my knees just gave out.
“This lady needs a doctor,” Mark called out. “I never stopped loving you,” he whispered in my ear. Then as a crowd surrounded me to help he vanished into it.
“Bye daddy,” I heard Jaiden call out.
Just like that my dead husband disappeared again.