I really did think that it was Bobby’s hand I held on to as I waited patiently in the checkout queue. I guess I didn’t look carefully enough. A single glance told me that the child I was holding on to was small enough to be Bobby, with the same dark hair and wearing a red duffel coat. He even sounded like Bobby, with his chattering monologue about a puppy I had not promised to get him, but he was convinced would be wrapped in paper for Christmas.
Sadly, it turned out that it wasn’t Bobby at all. A woman screamed in my direction, dragging the store manager in her wake, like a ship in full sale, her brown handbag flapping as she hurled abuse it in my direction.
“That’s her…the child snatcher!”
Her complexion was an ugly shade of purple, and I could perhaps understand why her son, which, at that moment, I didn’t think was her son, had chosen to stand quietly next to me and weave his fingers in mine. In his place, I might prefer me to be my mother rather than that whirling dervish.
All eyes in the sales queue pivoted round, on stalks perhaps, eager to witness, at first hand, the capture of a child snatcher. The woman in front did a careful mental inventory of my appearance. She scrutinised the faded grey wool coat with a green hand knitted scarf woven around my neck. She would have loved to a better look at the colour of my eyes, and would have been delighted if I had taken off my hat so she could see my hair. It appeared she was planning to be able to pick me out from a police line-up if asked.
“Don’t be ridiculous! This is my child!” I insisted. Then I took a careful look at “Bobby” who wasn’t Bobby at all. The little doppelganger solemnly looked up at me with blue eyes. Bobby’s eyes are unmistakably brown.
The woman had her mobile phone out, stabbing at the numbers with a vicious finger. There were more than three numbers punched in, so I sighed with relief that she wasn’t calling the police.
“Mr Oliver. Mr Oliver.” A disembodied metallic voice hovered around the ceiling. “Mr Oliver to Customer Service, please! Mr Oliver to Customer Service.”
Mr Oliver must have been the man held fast in the clutches of the doppelganger’s mother. He carefully extricated himself from her grip.
“It seems to me, Madam, that this is just a misunderstanding.” Before she could vomit another wave for verbal lava, he waved his hand around vaguely. “If she was stealing your child, she would hardly be standing in a checkout queue, holding a basket of Christmas decorations.”
The audience nodded sagely. Some of them seemed to be coming over to my side.
My mind did a stomach churning somersault. If this child I was holding on to wasn’t Bobby…then, where was he?
Released from the gaze of the line of shoppers, and choosing to ignore the still hostile glare of the woman now reunited with her son, I followed the store manager. Maybe there really was a child snatcher in the store. It just wasn’t me, but it was my child that had been snatched.
Mr Oliver reached the Customer Service desk with me trotting at his heels. I think he saw Bobby just a few minutes before I did. An overweight sales assistant, “Lisa - always pleased to serve” according to her badge, held Bobby at arm’s length. His face was daubed in chocolate, his eyes betraying his guilty deed. A pile of a dozen or so Advent calendars, the ones that contain chocolates in them spilled on to the Customer Service desk. They had been raided, quite thoroughly. The thin cardboard boxes with the smiling Santas had been torn open. The foil layers behind the windows had been ripped apart and the treasure within secreted away in a small four year old’s mouth.
Bobby had been careful only to eat the chocolates behind the doors labelled with the number 1. After all, it was just December 1st.
I couldn’t help feel a little prickle of pride that my son, my thieving son, plastered in chocolate, knew better than to open the Advent calendar doors at random.
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