Thursday, November 13, 2014


I was in Sydney, in the CBD, walking with my daughter, Melissa (she’s nine) when she said “Dad, the man in that shop was stealing things”.

I stopped and looked at her. “What shop?”

She pointed to a gift shop a few doors back.

We started back towards it. As we approached I told Melissa to keep walking and look straight ahead. I, however, looked in.

It was a small shop and there were two males inside. One was talking over the counter to a middle-aged, female shop assistant, the other was at the rear of the shop, his back to me. We walked past the shop and stopped. I told Melissa to wait there while I went in.

As I walked past the lady behind the counter, she looked at me; she was on her own and she was definitely anxious. A young man was at the counter, looking at various items that she had obviously got out for him. I nodded briefly to her to try and assure her that I knew what was going on and went to the rear of the shop where the other man was looking at things along the back wall.

I went and stood a few metres from him, pretending to look at things on the same shelf. With my peripheral vision I saw him slip something down the front of his trousers and cover it with his coat. I sidled up alongside him, still looking at things on the shelf.

“I would suggest you turn around right now and leave the shop and take your mate with you”  I said quietly without looking at him.

The man kept looking straight ahead, then turned and headed towards the front of the shop. As he walked past the other man, he deliberately brushed him with this elbow. This man then looked up at the sales lady, smiled, said “thanks very much” and followed the first man out.

As soon as they were gone, the lady came out from behind the counter. She was clearly distressed. “Thank goodness you came in” she said, “I didn’t like the look of them”.

“The one down the back pinched something” I said.

“Did he? I thought he was up to something - his friend was obviously just distracting me”.

I went with her to the rear of the shop and she immediately pointed to a spot on the shelf. “There – there was a clock right there”.

I told her I couldn’t tell exactly what it was he took but it didn’t look like a clock – it was something thinner.  She told me it was a digital clock – more or less like a small photo frame.

Suddenly I remembered Melissa, excused myself and headed out to the street. She wasn’t there. I went inside the shop next door thinking she had probably gone in to amuse herself while she waited. Nothing.

Back out on the street, I could feel the horrible dread that every parent knows when they can’t find their child. I went to the next shop and looked in but she wasn’t there either. And the next - same thing.

I started jogging now past shop after shop, then turned and went back the other way doing the same thing. Still no joy.

I was starting to feel a mix of fear and anger – fear for my daughter and anger that those two shoplifters had put me in this situation. I thought of my wife. What on earth was I going to say to her?

I ran across the road and checked the shops on that side. Surely she wouldn’t have tried to cross – it was a busy road – but I had to check.

I ran back to the gift shop in case I had missed her somewhere and she was now back there looking for me. The sales lady was on the phone – to the police judging from what she was saying. I stood in front of her and indicated that I needed to speak to her urgently. She asked the person on the other end to hold, then covered the mouthpiece with her hand.

“Sorry”, I said, “but my daughter’s missing. I left her outside when I came in before. She didn’t come in looking for me did she?”

“Blonde girl in a blue dress?”


“She just left”

“Did you see which way she went?”


I raced out of the shop and looked up and down the street both ways. To my right, about fifty metres away, I briefly caught a glimpse of the back of Melissa before she disappeared out of sight again, swallowed by the throng of pedestrians. 

I ran down towards her, pushing past people, apologising profusely, trying desperately to get a view of her again before she turned off somewhere. 

I must have gone a hundred metres - way further than she could have got in that short amount of time - before I stopped.  She must have gone into a shop or down a lane. I turned and started working back the other way, against the tide of pedestrians, looking in each shop and down each lane as I went. I was conscious that I was bumping a lot people but I just kept apologizing and looking sideways. I got all the way back to the gift shop and still hadn’t found her.

I could feel myself getting close to tears now from worry and frustration. This just didn’t seem possible. It was like she was playing some sort of cruel game with me. I stood outside the shop puffing and sweating, trying to think what to do. Instinctively, I headed back in the direction I had just come from. It was the only direction that made any sense to go. I had definitely seen her. 

I pushed and shoved and looked in all the shops yet again until I got to where I was before. I ran across the road again, nearly getting run over in the process, and repeated the procedure along the other side of the street.

I was really heaving now. The physical exertion plus the mental stress was getting to me. I was standing with my hands clasped behind my head, looking wildly up and down the street, seriously close to panic, when a voice behind me said “you looking for your daughter?”

I turned around. It was a street hobo, a homeless man. He was wearing a long trench coat and was unshaven and dirty.

“You’ve seen her?” I said.

“I seen a young blonde kid in a shiny blue dress, if that’s her. She was just over the other side there lookin’ lost”

“When? How long ago?”

“Two minutes ago – she was just there”. The man pointed directly across the street. “I was sittin’ here on this bench. I seen her clear as day”.

“Where did she go? Did you see?”

“Well, yeah. A lady came along and she went with her”

“A lady? What lady?”

“I dunno, just a lady”

I moved close to the man and grabbed the lapels of his grubby overcoat. He smelled bad but I didn’t care. “Where did they go? Please….”

“Whoa!” said the man, raising his hands, “I’m just telling you what I saw. I don’t know nuthin’ else”

I let go of him and raised my hands myself. “Sorry - sorry mate, this is just getting a little bit desperate. Can you tell me what this lady looked like?”

The hobo pushed me away and started to wander off, muttering to himself. I walked alongside, pleading with him to describe the lady. He pushed me away again, so I got round in front of him and blocked his way.

“Mate, this is serious – tell me what the lady looked like. Tell me!”

The hobo suddenly went red in the face and started screaming.  Foam started coming from his mouth and bits of it flicked into my face as he went in to a melt down.

I tried to calm him but anything I said only seemed to make him worse. 

He was starting to stagger around wildly and was getting dangerously close to the traffic so I reached out to pull him back.

When he saw my hand coming at him he stepped backwards into the road, straight into the path of a car. Someone screamed as the car hit him and flung him into the air. He crashed into the car’s windscreen, bounced over its roof and landed heavily on the road.

The car screeched to a halt and the driver got out and ran back. It was a young woman. People just stood around in shock so I went over to see if I could assist.

The young woman was crouching down next to the man who was moaning and bleeding from his mouth and nose. “Call an ambulance” she said to me. “Have you got a phone?”

“Ah, yes”.  I fumbled around in my pocket. “Whats the number?” I asked stupidly.

“Triple zero - ring triple zero” she said.

“Yes, of course - sorry”. I tried to enter the code into my phone to unlock it but my hands were shaking so much I couldn’t do it.

“Here, give it me” the woman said, holding out her hand. I passed her the phone. “What’s your PIN?”

I went blank. “Ah….sorry, hang on.”

“Its OK” she said. She looked at the other people who had now started to gather round.  “Can someone please ring triple zero and get an ambulance here?”

“Hi Dad. Is that man alright?”

The familiar voice jolted me. I turned around. Melissa was standing right behind me, staring gravely at the injured man, seemingly oblivious to the trauma she had caused me.

I stooped down, pulled her close and shut my eyes. A huge wave of relief surged through me and everything suddenly changed, everything suddenly became clear.

I crouched down alongside the woman and started to take a closer look at the injured man.

The woman tried to fend me off.

“Its OK” I said to her quietly.

I put my hand on the man’s shoulder. “Its OK mate, there’s an ambulance on the way, you’re going to be fine. I’m a doctor”.

Author's notes:
Yes! Three days, three stories. This one was a struggle I must admit. Several false starts and I came close to giving it away. But I stuck with it and it came out.

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