She groggily sat up in the stiff airport chair.
“Sophie?” she asked again, more urgently this time. No response. Suddenly panicked, she sat bolt upright in the stiff airport chair as her eyes furiously scanned the bustling airport lounge, desperately searching for her child. Still no sign of her five year old daughter. She began to run…
Claire had always been a shy and private person, so entering the huge airport hall that morning had filled her with anxiety. As crowds jostled around them, Claire grasped her daughter Sophie’s hand more tightly.
“Let’s go, then”, Claire said.
Sophie gave no response, but instead gazed absentmindedly around the hall. After giving a resigned sigh, Claire gave up their bags, shepherded Sophie through security and sat down in one of the rigid airport chairs, yawning and fussing all the way.
After some time, Claire, raised her head and squinted at the departure board which seemed to blur before her eyes due to the extreme heat and her exhaustion. With an exasperated sigh, she turned to Sophie and informed her of the delay.
“And whatever you do, keep your hearing aids in!” Claire insisted.
The minutes ticked by as Sophie watched the departure boards flick through the endless list of flights, while jumping up and down in her seat, much to the annoyance of her tired and harassed mother. As Claire tried in vain to keep her child entertained, the huge throng of people ebbed and flowed around them.
Whilst Claire yawned loudly, Sophie began searching her mother’s bags for toys, all of which were absent because of the frantic, disorganised packing the night before. Sophie shook her mother’s arm.
“Mummy, you got to play with me”, she whinged as Claire mumbled dissent.
“Just try to sleep, we’ve got a long wait yet”.
After trying this several more times, Sophie began to look around the building. Its walls were dreary and grey, with colourful shopfronts; they seemingly tried to make the space more welcoming. Intrigued by the array of colours, Sophie continued to stare. Turning her head, she caught sight of a shimmering object through the crowds. Not quite able to make out what it was, she slowly rose to look a bit more closely, but then caught sight of her mother next to her, who had, some time ago, slumped in her chair, chest rising and falling with the regular rhythm of sleep.
Standing now, Sophie wavered between staying with her sleeping mother and going to explore the shiny object, which seemed to draw her towards it. Curiosity or being good? Curiosity won.
Just as she was about to reach her goal, a cascade of people flooded through the doors, sweeping Sophie up with them and engulfing her in a wave headed towards the exit.
Only metres away, Claire slowly awoke, seeing the hearing aids lying abandoned on the table beside her. Her daughter had disappeared.
Frantic, Claire leapt to her feet, all traces of fatigue erased from her mind, and began turning on the spot, twisting her head in all directions, desperately searching for her child. The hall suddenly seemed to have increased tenfold in size as Claire began to run, bags lying abandoned by the drab, grey chairs.
“Have you seen her?” Claire gasped to anyone who would listen.
“Can’t help. I’m about to catch my flight.”
“No, I haven’t, sorry.”
Breathless, Claire finally reached the desk. The attendant rose and smiled and tried to calm Claire down, but friendly faces couldn’t help her now.
“Sophie!” Claire stammered, hands scrabbling in her coat, searching frantically for the passports.
“Slow down, darling. What exactly happened?”
“Sophie, she’s gone; she has hearing difficulties, she’s blonde, short, five years old!” Words cascaded form Claire’s mouth as she tried to put her terror into words. Shaking, she thrust the passport across the desk, whose attendant was no longer smiling, brow now furrowed with concern as she picked up the telephone.
Claire turned and slumped to the floor, the heat slowly becoming unbearable. People flowed around the huge hall, which now felt so big, in an endless cycle of entry and departure. The minutes seemed to run into hours as Claire gazed around in desperation, hope slowly ebbing away. Why did I fall asleep? How can I call myself a mother?
Announcements calling for Sophie echoed through the vast space, but Claire knew they would be no use. Sophie was helpless, practically deaf without her hearing aids, and Claire had no idea where she was.
Tears streaming down her face, Claire began to pace the shopfronts, hoping against hope to find Sophie, attracted to the array of colours, but as she passed more shopfront after shopfront, she only became more desperate, and hopelessness threatened to consume her.
Just as she was about to give in, to let desperation win entirely, she glimpsed it. That sliver of pink in the toy shop. Not daring to believe, afraid she would fall into the trap of lost hope, Claire broke into a desperate run. Storming through the entrance, Claire almost fell to her knees as she lifted Sophie into her arms.
“Look what I got, Mummy!” Sophie exclaimed, oblivious to the terror she had caused her mother while thrusting the golden, fluffy bunny at her face.
“Oh, Sophie” Claire sighed as countless emotions flowed through her: relief, anger, happiness. She pressed her daughters face to her chest, tears rolling over her cheeks. A sob made Sophie look into her mother’s eyes.
*This is 45 minutes.
“What’s wrong, Mummy?” she asked, tiny innocent face unaware of her mother’s stress.
“Don’t you ever run away like that again” Claire sobbed, pulling Sophie into an even tighter embrace.
The announcement for their flight ripped Claire and Sophie out of their small bubble of relief. They gradually rose and made their way back to the seat where a flight attendant had watched their bags, on to whom Claire poured her thanks and gratitude. She turned and took Sophie firmly by the hand.
“Now stay close to me” Claire said, sighing with relief as they made their way to the plane.