It’s over in a second. One minute she’s there, and the next…
The fairground hubbub seems to fade away, and my vision grows cloudy. And in the silence there’s just one word, flashing like a garish neon sign before my eyes and drumming in my ears.
Gone… gone… gone.
I spin round quickly, scanning the faces of the people around me, not knowing what I expect to see. Some reassurance perhaps? A kindly face that understands the situation immediately, and signals ‘she’s there, right over by the candy floss stand, don’t worry’.
But everyone is intent on their own enjoyment, their smiling faces flecked by pulses of red, green and violet as the lights adorning the carousel go round and round.
And she’s gone.
Panic seizes me, my mind freezes, and I begin to push my way through the crowds. I only looked away for a second, but that’s all it’s taken. She was there a moment ago, munching her toffee apple, clutching a bright yellow balloon on a string and giggling at the clown on stilts staggering his way across the fairground.
That’s it! The balloon, find the balloon. Instead of looking down amongst the crush of bodies… look up.
I raise my gaze. And there it is, maybe fifty yards away but receding with each second, a bright yellow orb bobbing just above the heads of the crowd, acting as a marker buoy. I rush after it, barging into people who seem to purposely linger in my path. There are murmurs of annoyance behind me, but I don’t care. Whoever has taken her is moving with great speed ahead of me, perhaps knowing I’m in pursuit.
And then the balloon disappears. I stand in front of the hot dog stand, scanning the space above the heads milling around me. A growl of despair begins to form in my throat.
“Are you all right dear?” a woman’s voice asks me, from far away. “Can I help you?”
I glance at her, shaking my head mutely and moving on. No time to explain, every minute that’s wasted might be the minute my daughter is bundled into a car and spirited away – somewhere I might never find her. I can hear the woman calling after me as I run.
I glimpse a flash of yellow, high on the top of the ferris wheel. The balloon! I hurry past the Ghost Train and over to the picket fence surrounding the ride. I can see her in one of the cars, seated between a young couple — two abductors then, two wicked people.
Suddenly I’m calm. She’s in my sight again, and it’s as if I’ve surfaced from a great depth. The music from the pipe organ wells up again, and I hear snatches of conversation around me.
I know what I must do.
I make my way over to the ride exit gate, watching as the wheel slows, inching its way round, disgorging the occupants from each of the cars as they reach the bottom. It seems to take a lifetime for her car to crest the top and begin its descent. I rage inwardly at the people taking their time to alight, but I never take my eyes off her.
She doesn’t seem frightened; she’s laughing up at them, still licking her toffee apple, and I feel a surge of annoyance. What have I instilled in her, from the moment she was old enough to understand? I’ve said never to trust strangers, no matter what they promise or how friendly they seem.. And yet here she is, seemingly happy and contented in the arms of strangers, people with evil on their minds.
I begin to shake with something more than tension, as I watch them glancing at each other across the top of her unsuspecting head, with an almost conspiratorial smirk; their new acquisition.
Eventually their car comes to rest at the bottom and the man opens the little door, swinging my daughter up into his arms before turning to help the woman from her seat. I hold my breath. How brazen they are, so confident.
And I lunge.
Snatching my daughter out of his arms, I begin to race towards the the car park. The nightmare is almost over, we’ll soon be safe, and I’ll make sure I never let her out of my sight again.
But she throws one of her tantrums, screaming and hammering at my chest with her pudgy little fists. I squeeze her tighter, but her struggles cause me to stumble, and I almost fall to the ground as I hear the sound of running feet behind me. Someone grabs me round the waist and brings me to a sharp halt. It’s the man from whom I’ve snatched her, his face white with anger, and something else…
My daughter holds out her arms to him screaming “Daddy” at the top of her voice.
Everything seems to go quiet again. People gather around us in slow motion, their mouths moving, but with no sound emerging.
“He’s not your Daddy,” I choke, trying to hang onto her as he pulls her from me. “Your Daddy died…”
And then I remember.
Staring at the circle of curious, angry faces around me, the memories buried deep in some previously inaccessible place flood my mind. Eyes closed, I see it all again.
The lights of the truck heading straight for us, the squealing of tyres, the deafening crash that seemed to go on for ever as the car rolled over and over.
And the paramedics who pulled me from the wreckage… not listening to my pleas, not allowing me to stay in the car with my husband who was slumped over the steering wheel, blood pouring from his head.
Not listening to me screaming at them to leave my daughter alone, as they tried to extract her limp body from my arms.
She was taken from me.
And how I miss her.
Sandra Crook lives in Cambridgeshire, UK and spends several months a year cruising the French waterways with her husband in their dutch barge, Desormais. Links to published work, cruising reports and photos at http://www.castelsarrasin.wordpress.com.