I walked over to her, crouching down and reaching out to touch her little shoulder. As she turned to me, I asked her "Honey, are you lost?" I had barely gotten the words out when she leaned into me, collapsing into my arms as I reached out to scoop her up. She hid her face in my shoulder and sobbed "I don't know where she is... she said good-bye to meee..." and started to cry again. As I tried to soothe her, I asked her for her name. She hiccuped, "My name is Kira.... I don't know where my mommy is!" She clutched me tightly like a little monkey, wrapping her legs around my waist as if for dear life. Having worked at Borders before, I knew that they had a strict no-touch policy with lost children. I hated it because kids got lost in our megastore all the time, and I felt so cold and distant by refusing to hold them. I totally understand the policy, but it was awful anyway. I can only imagine how alone this little one could have felt had she been discovered by an employee, who then would have to coax her to the customer service desk when the poor thing was too frightened to move. I carried her down the aisles, thinking about what she was saying- her mother had said "good-bye" to her? Did I have an abandoned child on my hands? As I considered this, I panned the store for an appropriately panicked-looking parent and sure enough, a woman came running to me with that mixture of fear and anger on her face... the expression of a parent who is so relieved you're not dead that they're now ready to kill you for making them worry. Kira went right to her, crying "You said good-bye to me, mommy!" and the mother, thanking me and taking her little girl, said "No, you wandered away from me when I told you to be still." I'll be honest- I wanted to smack the woman for letting it happen, taking into account the size of the store (huge), the amount of time that had passed (enough to regret), and the little girls insistence that her mother had told her good-bye (wtf), but I simply smiled, said "You're welcome" and left.
How amazing would that be? To find and comfort lost and frightened children, and bring them safely home? (I know, I know, it's been done. But don't act like Denzel's "Man on Fire" is more interesting than me. Psh) As I've mentioned before, seeing the films Changeling and Gone Baby Gone affected me pretty heavily because they opened my eyes to horrors that, for some reason, I didn't believe possible. I've always thought myself a realist, but apparently I was still too optimistic about humanity to believe that anyone could actually harm a child on purpose (Out of sheer wickedness, like the child rapist and murderer from Changeling... which is a true story, by the way).
I still go back to that sentence that I spoke so unwittingly: "I wish I could find lost children all the time." Can I have that job? Like a nonprofit bounty-hunter, but way, way different. It's like Derek Zoolander seeing his reflection in a spoon... suddenly everything becomes really clear and you think, "Wow, I'm (insert talent, obsession, or the one thing that you have going for you... ridiculously good-looking), maybe I should do that for a career!" Maybe not, but I just watched Zoolander so it's still right there at the front of my mind. Work with me.