It’s dark and I’m running down the little path, my heart palpitating, my palms clammy, my eyes seeking, seeking. I pass adults on cycles, dog and their walkers, guards slouched over lathis, and then in the distance, floating through the dark I hear two crystal clear voices. Mine, my heart sings out. They are. Mine, that is.
It is the first time I’ve let the kids go to the park alone, no shepherding and chaperoning them. And this doesn’t come easy to a victim of much, much child abuse. In my mind, a predator lurks in every corner. And yet, at 5 and 7 my brother and I were playing hide and seek across 10 houses and two streets. Yes, that was 25 years ago and in another time and place. But my children have a right to that freedom, that independence and that time away from mama.
I spent a couple of days agonising over it. Maybe I should give them a mobile phone so that I can stay in touch, I think to myself. But the very core of me rebels against that idea – either I let them go without that dog’s leash or I continue to guard them. The free spirit won and I chose to let them live a little.
The start was inauspicious. They wanted to take their cycles but the OA’s fancy geared cycle was parked in front of theirs and they ended up buried under a pile of metal. I dug them out and threw them out of the house unceremoniously. Only to realise they were still in their flipflops. Get back in and wear your shoes, I called out and disappeared to get them a bottle of water.
I came back to find them gone. Had they worn their sneakers? Wouldn’t they need water? Who would keep an eye on the bottle as they played? Ours is not the safe environment of a high rise. It’s an open but gated community of sorts with many an opportunity for strangers to slip in and out.
I decided to get some work done since they’d gone and sat down in front of my laptop. It was dark when I looked up and my page was still blank. Where were my babies? And then because sunset wasn’t enough, there was a power failure.
I dashed out of the house into the pitch black, leaving the door wide open in case they came back while I was out hunting for them. And then I began to run to the park, gimpy knee forgotten. Which is when I saw the two figures come floating through the darkness. Blurred at the edges, chatting away in the clearest, dearest little voices. What struck me before all else was that they’d managed to come to a consensus as to when it was time to come home and were sweetly and carefully skirting the edges and heading back together.
I called out and they started. Then a squeal of delight and two sweaty, dirty little bodies flung themselves at me. Mama was here and now it was her job to look out for traffic; they could throw caution to the winds. I felt a surge of pride and satisfaction.
So I put all misgivings aside and gave them the line my mother was given before me, and her mother before her, ‘Next time, be home before the street lights come on.’
A generator roared to life and the street lights came on. We walked home hand in hand.