© Forgotten

Sometimes mothers do something inappropriate to proof a point. Like the other morning when I deliberately took my six-year-old, tantrum-throwing daughter out of the car and drove away. Yes, I do know that is probably social security worthy, but I only drove around the corner, turned around and picked her up again. Plus I chose a very safe spot to do this. The tantrum, however, was gone.

But what happened to me as a child was easily one of the worst mistakes a mother can make. We were living in Germiston, Gauteng and went to visit family North of Pretoria. At a rough guess about 120km away from home. During the visit, it was decided to not make lunch, but rather to go to a restaurant in Pretoria North a suburb of Pretoria.

Since I was very small my dad used to ask me how we would drive to a familiar place. He still remembers the little-crooked finger that I used as a toddler to show him which way to turn. It was a game we played a lot. So by the time that at I was eight or nine, I had a fair knowledge of roads. When we left the farm to go to the restaurant, I was feeling very “grown up” and decided to drive with the women instead of with the men who had all the kids. The restaurant had parking areas on two different roads. The men used one and the women the other.

I whispered to my mother that I was just going to the ladies room as they were paying the bill. I walked out of the toilet and saw that no one was left in the restaurant. I quickly walked outside just to realise that they were gone. I have always been a fairly independent person and decided that since it only took 5 minutes by car to get back to the farm, that I would walk there.

But at that age, you have no understanding of how far a five-minute drive could be. I started out full of confidence. The first kilometre was going well. Even the two families that stopped and offered me a ride I waved away with a smile. I knew where I was going and didn’t need help. By the end of the second kilometre, I was sure that I was turned around. Suddenly I didn’t recognise the road anymore, the sun was starting to go down and I knew I wouldn’t make it.

So I turned around and walked back. By this time, I was crying as you might expect. About 800 meters back from where I turned around a small yellow bakkie (a South African way of saying a small pickup truck) stopped next to me. I can’t remember if he was young or old. I do know that he wasn’t very young, but I had no idea what age he was.

He told me that he had seen me walking the other way earlier and that I was obviously upset as I was walking back. By this time, I didn’t want to walk anymore and got in. My faith in my direction capabilities was completely shaken. So I told the man that he could drop me off at another one of my uncles. I was positive that I could tell him where that was.

We got to my uncle’s house only to find the house empty. The man decided to take me to the police station so that they could help me get home.  A very friendly officer drove me first to his house, where his wife gave me cookies and a cool drink. I think that was probably just to settle my nerves. I remember that they had this beautiful garden with a newly built swimming pool. There was no water in it yet since they were still in the process of having a dolphin picture added. I thought the dolphin was so cool.

Then the officer asked me if I think I could remember the road now. I told him that I’m sure I could. I even described the little dirt road you had to take because of the new road being built. On the first drive by I missed, but on the second time I got it! The sun was starting to draw water (an Afrikaans saying “die son trek water” that describes the way it looks when the sun starts to touch the horizon and light shimmers in the heat) as we pulled into the driveway of the farmhouse.

Now you might think that my mother must have noticed the fact that I wasn’t around. Unfortunately, she hadn’t, when my aunt told her that I was there with a policeman she wanted to know what I had done wrong. Her explanation was that all the kids drove back with the men and since they arrived first the kids were all gone playing on the farm and that she didn’t know that I had been left behind.

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Oh my goodness Sumanda....what a story! I can just imagine how your heart was thumping and your imagination going wild. This story is such a good example of how differently the world appears when you are young and how different it is when we are old. I love some of your descriptions, especially the sun going down  and 'drawing water'. You captured the feeling of terror and desolation so well! My goodness that would have been unforgettable and life shaping.

I must admit that this was a life changing event for me. It reinforced my reaction to go it on my own and added the sad element of knowing that I could only count on myself.