I arrived at our local cafe to meet my wife for our weekly session of cross-referencing our calendars. Our respective schedules can change quite drastically from one day to the next (one of the many exciting quirks of a life in the performing arts), so without these sessions our lives would very quickly descend into chaos. Near the top of the list of our biggest fears as parents is to be standing in the kitchen at about 4:30pm on a weekday shouting, “No, YOU were supposed to pick her up!” back and forth as we scramble for car keys and phones and the school’s office number and our self-respect.
With us on this particular morning is our darling three-year-old daughter. Our eldest was at school. On Mondays, there is a yoga class held opposite the cafe in a lovely, glass-fronted room that overlooks the sea. It’s a bit pretty. My three-year-old likes to peer into said room through the glass while the three or four women do their class. The yoga women think she’s adorable; she’s like their little yoga mascot. My wife and I finish our calendar session and say a fond farewell, safe in the knowledge that the next week is mapped out to within a nanosecond. She goes outside, gives our daughter a kiss and leaves. After a moment or two more I finish my coffee, make my way to the counter and pay while exchanging some pleasant small talk with the staff, some of whom babysit for us from time to time. We’re not regulars at this place. We’re part of the furniture.
I walk outside and go and squat beside my daughter who is still gawking at the yoga women, her nose squished against the glass. I tell her we have to go now. She asks if we can go to the park. I tell her that we’ll have to wait until it stops raining. She’s happy with that. So I proffer my hand, she takes it and we wander happily back to the car. We are just arriving at the car when I hear a female voice behind us, “Sweetie. Sweetie?”
I recognise the voice, although the slight quiver in it sounds odd.
I turn around to see a woman I recognise as the yoga instructor approaching us. She looks concerned. She is not looking at me at all. She is bending down and trying to get my daughter’s attention. “Sweetie, where’s your Mum? Where’s Mummy, sweetie?”
Oh dear. The penny drops quickly, like mercury. Oh dearie, dearie me.
I adopt my friendliest smile, “Oh, it’s ok. I’m her dad.”
By this stage I am helping my daughter into the car. The yoga instructor ignores me completely. She is wringing her hands and trying to manoeuvre herself between me and the car door. She speaks again to my daughter, this time with more urgency and insistence, her voice starting to crack, “Princess. Where’s mummy? Where’s your mummy, sweetie?”