The first place I search for Mum is Sainsbury’s. It’s the first shop that pops into my head. Maybe she needs ingredients for a cake or something. Though the last one she baked stirs up images of a smouldering mount Vesuvius. She forgot the eggs. I whip through the supermarket to the beep of the checkouts, panning every aisle, even the frozen food section. But she’s not there.
Next is Boots the chemist. Second on my list of Most Likely Places to Find a Mother. Perhaps she’s decided to do her greys, having not dyed them in ages. The scent of lavender in Toiletries reminds me of her perfume and persuades me she might’ve been here earlier. But there’s no trace of her. Finding Mum isn’t easy.
Where could she be? Trying to recall where I found Mum last time is like looking up a definition in a wordless dictionary, and I wonder how long it’ll take me to become like her. I give Marks and Spencer’s a shot. Lately, she’s had an unfortunate penchant for their leopard print leggings. Her once smart dress sense now borders on the comical. After hunting through the manikins, fitting rooms and café, I head for the exit.
Outside, the wind stings my face and I pray Mum has a coat. The lampposts light up one by one, casting pointy silhouettes on the pavement. I trudge down the high street to the final yells of the market traders and peer through the shop windows, expectant.
Growing up, Mum never knew what I was up to, in a time when parents were too busy to entertain their children. I was left to my own devices, playing, stealing, fighting. Now with the roles reversed, it feels like I’m the parent and she’s the child. Should I expect her to come home for dinner like she used to?
I find Mum at the back entrance of the shopping mall accompanied by a security guard. With a pale face, recessed eyes and fallen cheeks, she looks haunted. The security guard tries to converse with her but his efforts are met with wordless responses. She no longer speaks. Her means of communication reduced to facial expressions and gestures.
‘Hi, Mum,’ I say, and she smiles, revealing a flicker of recognition. My body thaws.
‘Do you know this gentleman?’ The security guard studies the pair of us.
She nods her head.
‘I found her here looking lost and confused.’
‘Thanks,’ I say. ‘It happens sometimes.’
‘Well, good evening, then.’ He touches the brim of his peaked cap and frowns. Frowns like the doctors did when they said there was nothing they could do for her. When they said months not years.
‘Let’s get you home to a nice cup of tea.’ I put my arm around her. She locks eyes with me and I can see the words she wants to say without hearing them. And I want to tell her it’ll be okay.
Image: Wikimedia common Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Marks and spencer Briggate Leeds.