I saw him leave his parents’ side, a mischievous smile playing about his lips. Glancing back over his shoulder to see if his absence had been discovered, he quickly disappeared into the crowd. I followed. I adore little boys. I love their bright, inquisitive eyes, their fearlessness, their sense of adventure; their strong little legs and cuddly bodies.
A small, sturdy child with a smooth cap of red-brown hair, he picked up the pace. Scooting behind an ice-cream van, past the end of the tug-o-war and a large, boisterous group playing volleyball, he circled towards the children’s playground. At the Jumping Jack house, he veered off and trotted purposefully towards the sand pit. Keeping a distance between us, my eyes pinned to his retreating back, I followed.
The little tyke’s father looked up briefly, but he and the boy’s mother were totally engaged in animated conversation with local dignitaries who had come to open the annual Guildford Summer Celebration. They paid no attention whatever to the whereabouts of their wayward son.
A crowd of thousands had gathered to enjoy the summer sunshine and afternoon festivities. A bright array of canvas-covered stalls displayed art, homemade crafts and produce. Beside the large, tiered band stand, dancers were stepping out a lively Irish jig. A karaoke concert was being set up. Games of chance and skill and races for young and old alike were in progress across the wide, grassy stretch of parkland. As food vendors competed to tempt appetites, the warm summer air fairly sizzled with the combined odors of barbecued salmon, hamburgers, hot-dogs, cotton candy, popcorn and caramel apples.
No-one noticed the small boy with reddish-brown hair who, having slowed to a brisk, purposeful walk had once again changed direction and was heading towards a thick screen of trees and bushes at the edge of the park. No-one, that is, except me.
Even at a distance, I could see the grove of trees was alive with birds and squirrels fussily going about their business. I could hear their noisy chirpings and chirring. The boy I watched kept moving, intent on where his thoughts were taking him. He didn’t look back, but marched steadily on. I smiled. He’s mine, I thought. Mine. So precious. He could not, would not escape.
Despite the baseball cap I was wearing, I could feel the hot sun scorching my head, my face and neck. My heart raced; sweat trickled down my spine. It was time to make my move. I quickened my pace, rapidly closing the distance between us. As he entered the wood, I walked faster – faster.
I chose my moment. I pounced.
“Got you, you little munchkin!” I whispered in his ear.
He turned, his eyes widening in surprise. “GRANDMA!” he yelled joyfully, and flung himself into my arms. His welcoming smile could have lit up New York. I hugged him close, delighted to be the caregiver of this intrepid three-year-old explorer; happy to provide his parents, part-organizers of the summer celebration event, with time to focus on its smooth running success.