In the back of the bookstore, she plays with floppy polyester animals, while I look through picture books. We are the only ones in the children's department. I look over to her often, reassuring myself that she is still here. But then I look and she is not. She's probably just behind that shelf, having found another toy to personify, I think, but then she isn't behind that shelf... or behind that one... or that one. I start to circle and say her name, but she isn't here nor there. Not anymore. I turn around. I need to get to the double doors at the front of the store. Make sure she doesn't leave. I shout her name as I run. My head spins, searching. Dizzy and disoriented, I can hardly hear over my heart as it bellows like a kick drum. Then I see her beside the magazine racks. She stands so small. With four pink fingers in her mouth, she is crying and whispering, "Mumma Mumma Mumma."
I pick her up and hold her. I'm so sorry, I tell her, while I carry her back to the children's department. There I teach her what to do when she loses me in unfamiliar places. Stop and shout, "Mumma!" I say. We practice and practice, while both our bodies slowly return to homeostasis.
But those little ones, those little South American ones, crying at the border, taken from their mothers and fathers by strangers.
I've never been a refugee. Never had to flee. I can still live in my familiar. However, I can imagine the disappointment and rage they must feel. To travel on foot, while their young children cry to be carried and fed, given a drink and a bed. To finally reach the "safety" of the border -"asylum", only then to discover that America is not the land of the free, but the land of the afraid.
If I had not found my child one minute after she went missing, I may have crumbled. And if someone with a uniform and a gun had taken her from me and promised to give her back only once I returned to my country, I also would have signed my own deportation papers. I would have boarded that bus or that train or that plane. Then I would have waited and waited and wept and waited, not knowing when I would see her again. All the while, my little girl would forget me, lose trust and hope, spending all her days confused and melancholy. Stranded thousands of miles away, broke and broken, I wouldn't sleep or eat. Eventually, I wouldn't be able to wait. I would start searching and then I would probably die in some disgusting prison, waiting, waiting, weeping and waiting, regretting that I ever believed that this was my neighbor and savior, and not some psychotic narcissistic stranger.
I believe that when a child is lost in an unfamiliar place, she should be able to stop and shout, "Mumma!"