As she entered the second-hand store, Lucy coughed. A cloud of dust engulfed her face, a sign perhaps of limited customers. She coughed again, trying to be as quiet as possible.
"Are you alright, dear?" The old man behind the counter gazed at her with concerned eyes.
Lucy nodded, stifling a sneeze.
"Have a good browse, and if you need help with anything just let me know." The man's eyes were warm and gentle.
"Thank you," Lucy smiled. She stood for a moment, drinking in the quirky little shop. The third one that day. She was amazed at how much could be crammed on the shelves, how many nick-nacks were piled one upon the other. How the shop itself could look so small but have so many corners and passages.
How were you supposed to find anything in a place like this?
Lucy wandered the aisles, lightly touching antique chairs or statues of animals. She paused at the old-fashioned lamps and grinned at the sagging sofa, which reminded her of her old Grandma's.
She was looking but not at the same time. A nagging in her mind, a deep down longing for an old loved toy, her subconscious searched without her acknowledgment. Why was she wandering through these old shops? She didn't allow herself to think but a pull kept her going.
“What is it you're looking for, Miss?”
The shopkeeper was behind her. Startled, she stepped back and then relaxed underneath the gaze of his kind, knowing eyes. He seemed to know she was looking for something specific.
“Nothing really, just looking,” She waved her hand aimlessly and embarrassed, tugged at her sleeve. The old man said nothing but he didn't move.
Lucy looked to the floor and then up again at the man.
“This is going to sound silly,” she said, red blossoming on her cheeks. “But you're right. I'm looking for something. An old toy actually. My favourite little teddy bear.” She felt herself gabbling and stopped to take a breath. The man waited patiently for her to continue.
“Years ago, when I was thirteen we moved to the other side of the world. My mum did a lot of sorting out of toys and books, and everything else we had. She's the type to consider certain things tatty or rubbish, if she doesn't like the look of them. Even if she must know when her kid is still playing with that toy, or still attached.”
Lucy paused and stared at the shelves around her, the treasure that had once been somebody else's pride and joy.
“Well, anyway, she took it upon herself to take a bunch of our toys to a charity shop, without telling any of us kids. And when we found out we realised she had taken our favourite toys! The ones that were left behind weren't even the ones we really played with.” Lucy choked back a lump in her throat, “I'll never quite understand why she did that. She denied it for years too.”
The old man nodded. Lucy knew he understood what she was saying.
“I've kinda been thinking about that teddy of mine on and off ever since. And since I've been back here in the U.K. I find myself entering shops like this and looking. I don't know why, it's such a long shot. I mean hopefully, my Ted is being loved right now by some other young child.”
Lucy trailed off, her eyes were shining and wet.
“I understand young 'un. Especially when somethin' is taken from you without your say-so, it's hard to let go.” The old man offered her a tissue.
"Take as long as you like here. Make sure you check every nook and cranny.” He nodded at her again and then padded back behind the counter and busied himself with a box of books.
Lucy watched him go and then immersed herself in the shop, determined to leave no corner unchecked. She took her time, drinking in the atmosphere, the peacefulness of the place. As she searched Lucy at turns stood on tiptoe, crouched low to the ground, and sat in the bean bags and chairs dotted about the place. Absorbed in the items she was discovering. The odd customer came and went, the bell over the door jingling softly. Lucy was oblivious to the other people around her.
At length, she turned a disappointed face back towards the door. Cold air was blowing in now, and the blue sky outside was turning darker. She had checked everywhere. It was time to leave, empty-handed again.
Despite it being an obvious long shot Lucy felt let down. She had been sure about this shop, a tingle as she had passed the doorway had made her think this time it was going to be different.
Lucy sighed and headed to the door. She turned her head away from the counter, not wanting the old man to speak to her. She just wanted to leave. As she turned she saw the shopkeeper's eyes, and he winked as her gaze passed over him. She chewed her lip and went to pull the door open. Her eyes fixed upon a spot to the left of the door. Something was tucked down on a little shelf behind the door.
“Oh,” She stopped, her heart fluttering. Bending down for a closer look she saw a grubby, tiny, teddy bear. A pink bow around his neck.
“Oh,” She gasped. “Ted! My Ted.” Lucy picked him up, knowing it could be any old Ted, one of thousands of the same Ted she had once had. But simultaneously she could feel it was her own Ted. It was something she could not describe. She just knew.
“I can't believe I've found you, Ted.” She whispered softly, nuzzling against his worn fur.
She had never been able to let the idea of him go, and now years later here was her special toy from her childhood.
“I'm never going to let you go again,” Lucy whispered, as she paid the smiling shopkeeper and slipped out into the night, a warm glow in her chest.