Dedicated to my parents, the people in my life who promised to always be there for me, and never once broke that promise.
I was about to step into the elevator when I thought I heard a girl crying for her mother.
It was a little girl, standing near the entrance of the hospital lobby, all alone. Brown shoulder length hair, eyes all swollen and puffy, clad in a sweet pink dress. While passers-by clearly saw her there, all they did was just patronize her with a glance, and then, quite literally, passed her by.
I made my way out of the elevator, went up to half-kneel in front of her and gave her my warmest smile. “Hey sweetheart… I’m a doctor,” I took hold of her hands. Still wailing though, she could at the very least recognize that I was a doctor from the white coat and the stethoscope draped over my neck. “Let’s find your mummy okay?” And sweetheart, pleeeeease don’t cry anymore , my hand reached for the tissue paper in my handbag. You’re spoiling your beautiful face every time you cry!
She stopped sobbing as I gently wiped her face. That’s a good girl. What’s your name sweetheart? “Alice,” she sniffed.
Okay Alice, first let’s go look for a policeman to help us find your mummy ok?
“Princess,” Daddy said one day while carrying me around a shopping mall, “can you see that uncle over there.. There! That one who’s wearing a cap and a nice dark blue uniform?”
He’s a policeman, Daddy said. Daddy also said that policemen are good guys.
I remembered asking Daddy, why are they called the good guys?
“Because they go after the bad guys. They protect us from the bad bad people. And next time if you get lost, you cannot find your way back, or if you cannot find Daddy, you must find a policeman okay?”
“Next time if you get lost, remember to look for a policeman,” I told Alice after she gave the security officers some of her details. “Tell them that you are lost and you can’t find Mummy. You must give them your Mummy’s name, and where you last saw her also, okay? They will help you find your Mummy.” Her small head bobbed in understanding. Her hands were tightly clutched around the cup of Milo that I bought for her while the officers were talking to her earlier. Shortly after, her mother’s name was blaring through the public address system.
We sat at the benches nearby. Her gaze was glued to the ground, legs hanging from the edge of the chair.
Sweetheart? She looked up to me and for the first time I saw her eyes. By that time she had stopped crying for quite a while, and the tiny sparkle you’d find in the eyes of any sweet little thing had returned to those beautiful brown eyes of hers.
Are you scared?
She gently nodded her head. Don’t be scared, I smiled, Mummy will be here shortly, I pushed a lock of hair behind her ear. I promise.
I know how scary it feels.
That fateful morning, of all mornings, a policeman could not be found.
I must have walked and walked and walked down the aisles in that huge but familiar supermarket, without realizing that Daddy wasn’t behind me anymore. I went back to where I last saw Daddy. I walked the entire supermarket. I even tried calling for Daddy as loud as I can.
But I couldn’t find Daddy. I couldn’t hear his voice, his footsteps… Nothing.
I suddenly felt so small. So tiny in that crowd. So little. I was just 6 years old. Everyone seemed so tall, so big. When Daddy was around, Daddy would protect me from all these other big people. But Daddy was not there
I felt so… unsafe.
Daddy will come for me, I said to myself. Daddy promised that he would always find me.
So I sat on that long bench near the gift redemption counter. That bench where Daddy would always sit while Mummy and I went to the nearby stalls to look at the cute little trinkets and tiny soft toys. Daddy would always sit there patiently waiting for us to choose our earrings and necklaces. Sometimes Daddy would even doze off while waiting for us.
Daddy always keeps his promises. Daddy always comes back for me.
Daddy will find me, I reassured myself again as I swallowed back my tears, fearing that anyone who saw me crying might kidnap me.
“But how do you know Mummy will come back for me?”
Because Mummy loves you soooo much, and she would do absolutely anything to find you, wouldn’t she?
She looked thoughtful after hearing that explanation. There was a small smile carved over her face, though brief.
“I’m scared Mummy will scold me,” she mumbled. Her fingers interlocked as she pouted her tiny lips. Across her forehead, small wrinkle painted worry all over her face. I held her tiny hands in mine. Mummy scolds you because she is very very scared of losing you. Could you imagine how frightened she is right now when she can’t find her little Alice? What would she do without you?
Later when she finds you, tell her that you’re sorry, okay? Big girls say sorry when they make their Mummy or Daddy worried.
I remember watching what seemed like thousands of people passing by, and soon I got so tired of looking out for Daddy. Daddy, why don’t you come quickly? Where are you?
Pray, pray, just pray. Daddy said before when we are scared, we must pray. Daddy said that Jesus listens to little children praying. And I know Jesus will answer my prayers.
So I put my hands together, closed my eyes and bowed my head.
Jesus, I’m sorry for not following Daddy. I really didn’t mean to get lost. I’m sorry that I didn’t listen to Daddy when he told me to tie my hair this morning. I promise I won’t do it again. I’ll be a good girl and listen to Daddy next time. I promise I promise I promise. Just help Daddy find me.
Please help Daddy to find me. Please, I want to see Daddy again.
I promise I won’t cry if Daddy scolds me. It’s okay if Daddy scolds me or canes me for walking away. But please help Daddy to find me. I really want Daddy. I love my Daddy, I love my Daddy. I’ll do anything You want me to do if you help Daddy find me.
I really want my Daddy.
“Alice!!” A semi-hysterical woman came running towards our direction. Her curly hair was all in the air like the typical TV shampoo ads, and the way her arms were flailing everywhere made it seem like her hands might just fly off her body. The sweetheart jumped off the chair, screaming while running towards her mother. The mother bent down and swept Alice up into her arms in a single act. “Where were you?? Do you know how worried Mummy was?” the mother cried while squeezing her tightly.
I’m sorry Mummy, I’m sorry… I promise I won’t go missing again..
The mother walked up to me, her face smeared with tears of joy and gratitude. Doctor, thank you so much! I smiled back, and was in time to ruffle little Alice’s hair before she and her mother hurried off.
As both mother and child disappeared around the corner, a familiar face resurfaced. My mind went back to that fateful day, that fateful moment when as soon as I said Amen, I opened my eyes, and there, at a distance, was Daddy, walking and stopping, tip-toeing over crowds of people, bending and dodging oncoming shoppers, looking for me.
I was so happy, yet so remorseful. So relieved, yet terribly guilty.
Daddy saw me. He didn’t run over like Alice’s mother, he didn’t glare. Instead, he walked over towards me, calmly, steps well-paced. Daddy smiled at me. That handsome smile that always made me feel so happy and so safe. That “Daddy’s here, everything’s going to be okay” smile.
That smile that reminded me that I meant the world to him. More than the world.
“Hello princess,” Daddy picked me up and looked me in the eye. “Did Daddy make you wait a long time?”
I remembered nestling my head on his strong burly shoulder. I remembered Daddy asking me whether I was scared when I couldn’t find him. I remembered Daddy asking me whether or not I would like my favourite MacDonald’s ice-cream. I remembered all the many other questions Daddy asked. But I also remembered that then, I didn’t say a single word.
Because I felt so sorry and so guilty for making my Daddy look for me, for making him search high and low for me. The small 6 year old girl who got missing and couldn’t find her Daddy by herself.
Daddy? “Yes princess?”
I’m sorry that you had to find me.
Daddy stopped walking there and then. Daddy gave me that kind warm smile again, kissed me on the forehead, and whispered loudly,
“Princess, Daddy promised to always come back for you… Remember?”
“And Daddy will always, always come back for you. No matter how far you are, no matter how long it takes, Daddy will never stop looking for you.”
I remembered that indescribable feeling, that feeling which words could never express, so clearly even till to this very day. I buried my head into Daddy’s shoulder and sobbed and sobbed and sobbed. I remembered Daddy’s slow stroll back to the car, softly humming the song Daddy would always sing to me when I cried, Daddy’s big palms gently patting me on my back to soothe me.
In the nick of time, I managed to scramble into an empty elevator as those tears, those very same tears as the ones I shed on that fateful morning over my Daddy’s back, came streaming down uncontrollably again as the elevator doors closed in a fortress of solitude for me, with Daddy’s promise ringing ever so audibly in the stillness of the ascending lift.