I’m not afraid.
I just have ants crawling on my insides. My heart goes thumputy-thumputy-thump-thump-thumpty-thump. I remind myself to breathe properly. My hands get hot and sticky. You’re nearby I know – nothing to be afraid of. Which is why I’m not. I look for you everywhere, turning around and around and around, looking underneath things and around people. I start walking, because you can’t be far. Thumputy-thump-thumputy-thumputy-thumputy-thump.
Thump-thump. If I’ve walked away, what if you look for me where I was and I’m not there? Thump. I turn. But I heard you say you were hungry. Turn back. Thumpty-thump. I might be a bit worried now, for you. In case you can’t find me and get scared. My eyes burn and I can’t decide: keep going to the food place; go back where I was when you went away. I bite my lip so hard. I might’ve cut it. I go back. There’s a raspy noise and I realise it’s me, breathing. I try to stop it but I can’t. I can’t find where I was either. I know it was near a table of t-shirts but. . . so many people! More than there were before and all in my way.
I wonder if I might be sick, but it’s just those ants inside me biting, making my tummy hot and hurting and strange. I stop again. My face is wet. I stare around but no-one cares. The ants are in my throat now, stopping me talking. Stopping me finding you I’m sure.
I see you!
Thumputythumputythumputy! I run over ready to grab you tight and never let go— only you’re gone when I get there. Where did you go? Why would you leave me again? Why haven’t you found me yet? I don’t like being alone in these crowds, ants on my insides and not enough air. My nose is itchy now, and I scrub at my face with my sleeve. Look around again. Still don’t see you. Thump. Thump-thumpty-thump.
I find something to sit down on. Watch people go by. None of them you. I’m not scared. I’m angry and bored and tired and miserable. My ants have retreated a bit. My breath sounds like crying but it’s not. Why would I be crying? I’m angry you haven’t come back.
Thumpty-thumputy. I leap up, ready to run to the voice but remember when I walked away before. I couldn’t find my way back. I shout instead.
People turn and stare but I don’t care. I climb up on the thing I was sat on because you wouldn’t be able to see me on the ground. I stretch about crazily, trying to see you. Thump, thump, thumputy-thumputy-thump. There! I jump and you catch me. I might be crying now, I’m laughing so hard I can’t tell. You kiss me, tell me off, kiss me again. I don’t ever want to let you go!
Later, when the fear – I can say I was afraid now – and the relief and the anger have eased, we sit holding hands. Calm. Never wanting to got through that again. You ask me what happened, and I go to explain. My mouth opens, closes, I start to speak and stop. I don’t have the words, and I don’t want to think about it. How foolish I feel now. I have to try though, for you. I tell you about when I was a child and got lost.
You don’t understand. Whenever I get scared, especially if people I’m out with vanish, I am that child again, lost and alone and not knowing what to do. The feelings I have, the way I think. . . it’s panic, pure and simple. Mostly it doesn’t happen any more; I can control my reaction, or make sure I know if people are wandering off. Sometimes it still overtakes me though.
Sometimes I am— maybe always will be, little girl lost.