Yesterday I lost Belle in a wood for 25 minutes. I know it was 25 minutes because Belle timed it. Not in a ‘I’m going to get lost on purpose and see how long it takes my stupid mother to find me way’ – she happened to have her ipod with her, so was able to anxiously check the time as we tearfully searched for each other’s bodies amongst the leaf mould.
We were at Blaise Castle, driven outside by the two-hour window of sunshine in an otherwise wet week to do something wholesome. It was just the two of us, and when we came to a fork in the path Belle decided she wanted to go exploring. “I’ll just see what’s up this way,” she said, “then come back and catch you up. Walk slowly!”
I walked slowly for about 20 metres then sat on a rock to wait for her, trying not to look like a suspicious lady in the woods on her own waiting for a small child to grab and take back to her hut. I waited for what felt like about two hours but was probably about three minutes, and then went back to look for her.
I walked up the path she had taken, but after only about 30 seconds it came to a clearing, with four separate paths leading from it. Brilliant. You couldn’t write that. I chose the one I thought Belle would have taken and had a quick nose but couldn’t see her. I shouted her name, casually, like I might just be calling out for a puppy that has temporarily scampered away. No one wants to be the parent that has lost a child in a wood.
I went back the way I had come, unaware until an hour or so later that Belle had instantly forgotten saying she would catch me up. Still no sign of her. I pressed on, thinking maybe I would find her waiting at the castle at the top. I didn’t.
By now I was beginning to get a little worried, especially whenever I looked to my left at the steep and sharp drop down into the valley below. I tried to push the images of her lying face down in a stream from my mind, and considered asking for help. I didn’t. Every time I thought about saying ‘I’ve lost my daughter’ out loud tears started welling up.
Instead I decided to walk back to the car, which was only actually about five minutes away, to get my phone. If she was feeling lost, I reasoned, she would either come back to the car or she would ask for help, and someone would call me. (A bit like when someone called me at a festival to tell me they had her, and I hadn’t even realised she was missing. Except better, because at least this time I wouldn’t sound surprised.) Back at the car too I could take off my cream fur coat and sunglasses and wouldn’t look quite so ridiculously out-of-place in a damp wood should an emergency situation occur. (You have to think about these things).
I arrived at the car but there was still no sign of her. I stood for a moment, my phone clutched to my chest – partly for warmth as I was now minus coat and partly so I could phone Boyfriend hysterically if I’d not found her in a few minutes and stand crying in the car park until her came and found her for me. I was in two minds at this point. Heading back blindly into the wood to look for her seemed pointless – we could follow each other around for hours – yet just lounging around by the car seemed heartless if she were actually lying in a ditch somewhere. (‘Well officer, I did consider the possibility that she might be hurt, but figured someone would find her eventually and bring her to me’)
Fortunately I was spared any further internal moral debate. Far on the horizon, on the other side of the field, I spotted a tiny figure wearing what looked like turquoise jeans and a panicked expression. (I couldn’t see her face obviously, but there was something despairing in her gait.)
I ran, (yes ran), across the field, (casually), calling her name. As I got closer I was sure it was her and relief set in as I realised I wasn’t going to have to tell my mum I had lost one of her grandchildren. Eventually she saw me, (although it took a while as she was probably looking for the fur coat), and she began to run as well. There was a brief Chariots of Fire slow motion film moment, and then there she was, arms around me, sobbing.
“I thought you were hurt!” she cried.
“I thought you were hurt!” I cried back.
She rummaged in her bag and pulled out her ipod. “I was looking for you for 25 minutes,” she confirmed, always keen to emphasise the drama of a situation.
“Well I’ve found you now,” I said, “Let’s go home.”