by Stephen Bradley
“Where is she?”
His father shrugged his shoulders in answer. “Where did you leave her?”
“I left her right here. I said to her, ‘why don’t you have a wander around Marks and Spencer while I go to the checkouts and pay for this stuff?’ and I haven’t seen her since.”
“She does this all the bloody time. I’ve lost track of the amount of times I’ve been shopping with your mother, turned around and found I’ve been having a conversation with myself or a complete stranger because she’s vanished.”
Shoppers streamed past the two men from all directions, pushing shopping trolleys, carrying wire baskets laden with ready meals and attempting to control or drag bored kids whose only interest was the check-outs and their colourful array of tempting sweets.
“Have you tried phoning her?” his father asked.
“And she’s not answering. She probably doesn’t hear it in here. Look, you stay here and I’ll go and have another look around. What gets me is how quickly she can vanish when your back is turned when she walks so slowly nowadays. I found her two aisles away in Tesco’s earlier on when I went to get some beer. I can’t have been gone more than two minutes.”
His temper slowly rising, he stomped off towards the ladies department in search of his sexagenarian mother.
He walked up one aisle and down another; he zigzagged back into the gents department and back again into the ladies department. He even walked through the children’s section as far as the cafeteria but could see no sign of a light footed 77 year old woman wearing a red summer jacket. He doubled back past an array of colourful blouses and prayed she wasn’t in the underwear section. Women’s underwear may be magical stuff when the woman was still in them and you were trying your damnedest to free her from her under garments in a fit of beer fueled passion, but were equally things to strike fear into any man when arranged with military like precision in a lingerie department.
He could still recall years before attempting to buy a girlfriend sexy underwear and having to walk nervously past the shop three times before building up the courage to enter its silk and lace world. He was the only bloke in the shop; was greeted with the sidelong glances of the women shoppers and was served by a bemused yet professional middle aged shop assistant whose first question after, ‘can I help you sir?’ was ‘what size is your girlfriend?’
He remembered catching himself just in time, his hands moving automatically towards his chest to form two cups and instead in answer pointed rather embarrassingly to another shop assistant and said, “About her size.”
No, the last place he was going to go was the lingerie department, especially in search of his mother. He’d look . . . well, he’d look odd. Instead he stood on the opposite side of the aisle adjacent to some printed summer dresses and standing on tip-toe tried to scan the lingerie department over a display of white lace bras. If she was there he couldn’t see her. He breathed a sigh of relief.
Where the hell could she have got to?
He trudged back towards his father, getting more irritated by the second.
Surprisingly his father hadn’t gone walkabout as he was wont to do on a shopping expedition and was where he’d left him, next to a display of gent’s regular fit trousers selling at £29 a pair. He was chatting to his neighbour, Mrs Stewart.
“Well?” asked his father.
He shook his head in reply, the frustration plainly visible on his face.
“What’s wrong luv, have you lost your mummy?” teased Mrs Stewart.
He didn’t find the childhood reference funny. His patience was wearing thin and his temper was starting to get the better of him.
“Have you tried to phone her?” he asked his father.
“Yes, but she’s not answering me either.”
He rolled his eyes and cursed under his breath. “I’m going to have another look around.”
His second search proved to be as fruitless as the first. He returned to his father, but his frustration quickly turned to relief when he saw that it wasn’t Mrs Stewart standing beside his father but his mother.
“Where were you?” he asked, his voice a mixture of anger and relief. “I’ve been searching for you all over the place.”
“I bought a pair of shoes,” she replied smiling and indicating a large carrier bag in her hand.
“A pair of Nike’s are they?”
“Nothing. A bad joke. Come on. Let’s go home before we lose you again.”
She gripped his arm for balance as they walked slowly towards the car park.
Stephen graduated from the Open University with a degree in History and currently volunteers at a nature reserve in Belfast where he tries to give the impression that he knows what he’s talking about.