Henry squinted at the little sticker beneath the bell switch. "Ring for Service". He had never been to the police station before and felt uncomfortable. He glanced nervously around and pressed the switch. A man, dressed in a crisp, dark blue uniform, carrying a sheaf of multicoloured paper, took his place on the other side of the counter.
"Can I help you?" He didn't look as if he really wanted to help.
"I've lost something, I thought someone might have found it and handed it in," Henry replied.
A single bushy eye brow lifted a fraction. The man took a pencil, selected a rose pink sheet and stood ready to write down the details.
"What have you lost, sir"
"I've lost my laughter."
"Hmm. If you could just give me a description of it."
"Well, it's hard to describe…How do you describe laughter?"
"Well, let's see. Is it a quiet tee hee kind of laugh? Or a loud ho ho perhaps? Or your average ha ha maybe? Does it come from the mouth in a polite titter? Or is it a deep throated belly laugh? Is it a snorting kind of laugh? Does it make your eyes water or your ribs ache?" asked the policeman. He was wondering whether Bill was still in the office. Bill was much better as describing things.
"Well, I think it is not so deep as a belly laugh. It is not a quiet tee hee or a loud ho ho. A touch of ha ha perhaps. It is just my laugh. Sometimes my eyes water and occasionally my ribs ache," replied Henry. The policeman scribbled a few notes on the form.
"When did you realise that you had lost your laughter? Think now. Can you remember when you last laughed?"
This was a difficult one for Henry. He had laughed often in the past, but just recently Henry found very little to laugh about. He had recently lost his job and when he spoke to his wife and children, he heard the hopelessness in his voice.
"Wait, I think I remember when I last used it. It was in a children's playground. I often go there just to sit. I don't have much to do since I lost my job. There were children, chasing autumn leaves. Running about and splashing in puddles. They laughed and I laughed. You know how it is."
"You don't think that you left it on the park bench where you were sitting?" asked the policeman helpfully. "People leave all sorts of things on park benches."
"No, I went back to check. It wasn't there." Henry felt sad. The park had been empty. The leaves, soggy and sad were pasted on the ground by the rain.
"Have you noticed anything else that has gone missing apart from your laughter? Perhaps you have had a break in."
"Well, I haven't seen any joy for a while, now that you mention it. Hope - I haven't seen that for a long time. Yes, I think my joy and hope are missing. And peace too - that's definitely gone." Henry looked up at the policeman, his eyes sorrowful.
"Well, sir. I have to tell you that we have had a rash of burglaries recently. Lots of people are reporting these kinds of things missing. It seems to me that our burglar has a keen eye. He takes things like laughter and joy, and leaves behind things like misery and heartache. But we have some good news for you. We have our best man hot on his trail. We will catch him soon."
Even as the policeman spoke, the telephone on the desk trilled into life.
"Uh huh….yes?….uh huh…really?…uh huh….you don't say?…..Well, we will get right on to it." He turned to Henry with a big smile.
"You will be pleased to know the thief had been apprehended. On Friday there was a shoot out on Calvary Hill. Our man, despite taking a serious injury, handcuffed the thief. It seems that the bag of stolen items broke open. Your laughter was in there, along with everyone else's, and the missing joy, hope and peace. It will all be restored to you. You might need to fill in a claim form…."
Henry wasn't listening. Deep down inside, like a volcano erupting, his laughter poured out. Not the quiet tee hee kind, or the loud ho ho kind, but a deep joyful laugh that made his eyes water and his ribs ache.