It was supposed to take 15 minutes, tops.  "Best laid plans" I would think later.

Headed out of town the next morning, I dropped by the mall after work to pick up two things before going home to start dinner.  Landing a close parking space, I mentally fist-pumped my lottery win–maybe it would only take 10 minutes!  It was getting late and hurry marked my pace.

Bag in hand with my first purchase, I trotted to the other end of the mall for my second.  I was stopped in my tracks by the stranger with crazy eyes–they expressed volumes before I even heard his first word.

"You've gotta help him!"  Crazy Eyes gestured to the appendage at the end of his hand, and it was only then I noticed a small child, wide-eyed and speechless.

My confused expression must have begged more information or maybe there hadn't been time enough yet to ask.  "He lost his mom…you take him to security and I'll go find his parents!" Crazy Eyes had a plan, a strategy, and he wasn't asking, he was telling.  "No" was not an option.

I took the child's hand and asked the man his name.  "I'm Victor and I think they were in Nicole Miller, he said the name 'Nicole' so I'll start there."  In my mind's foggy places I thought "But there's not a store named Nicole Miller here," but it was too far out of reach to process.  

Victor could fill a door frame and his obsidian skin was sharp contrast to the child's alabaster.  He had a kind face, animated by his current mission but I wondered if his stature and differences had frightened the child.  Was this why Victor appointed me his helper?  Had he racial profiled me or was it simply that mothers look like mothers even without their kids?

Victor darted in one direction and I set out in the other.  The Little clutching my hand hesitated, so I squatted down to look eye to eye.  Although Victor had referred to him as "he," I wasn't sure.  Painted toenails and a wide headband seeded my doubt. 

"What's your name?" I started.

"Thomas."  He was a boy.

"Oh!  That's my son's name!"  Thomas stared blankly and it was odd that didn't coax a smile.

"Can you tell me your parents' names?"  Blank stare.

"Are you here with your parents?"  Nothing.

"Do you know the name of the store you were in?"  The same.

"Did you come here in a car?"  He shook his head no.

"Bus?"  No.  "Taxi?"  No.  "AIRPLANE???"  Blink blink.  

"Do you know your phone number?"  The lights were on but no one was home.

I was beginning to think he was deaf or special needs in some way.

I tried again where I started.

"Honey, can you tell me your mother's name?"  "Merila."  Progress!

"What about your father?"  "Johann," and then the lightbulb flashed–

"DO YOU SPEAK ENGLISH?" and his face illuminated and he shook his head no.  "Are you from another country?"  Smiling, he bobbed his head up and down.  "Where?"


Bless his heart, what we had here was a failure to communicate! {bonus points, name that movie}

Now, armed with understanding for the reason behind our communications breakdown, Thomas looked hopeful.  I spoke slowly and reassuringly that we'd find his parents and that I knew they were looking for him.  What he couldn't translate in words I prayed he'd translate in heart, that he was safe and I'd stay with him until we found them.

I vacillated between confidence and doubt; what if Victor wasn't looking for his parents; what if I had become an accomplish in some type of twisted kidnapping?  Crazy thoughts I shooed like flies.  

We reached the Info Desk, manned by a teenager.  "This little fella is lost," I began, retelling my last 15 minutes.  I asked if there was some way to signal an Amber Alert throughout the mall; she looked at me like I was crazy and said, "I'll call Security."  Where's Paul Blart when you need him? I mused.  

While we waited, I tried to prompt Thomas to identify the last store he was in by showing him a brochure with all the stores listed.  He said it began with "M" (I wasn't sure if that's what he meant, but it was all I had) so I pointed to all the "M" store names.  He said "yes" to Mori Luggage and Gifts.  

I was Super Sleuth.

About this time Mall Cop arrived, a barely 20-something.  I explained to him our story and he muttered something about calling other security people and I wanted to scream DON'T YOU PEOPLE HAVE A PLAN IN PLACE WHEN CHILDREN GET LOST?!!   When I asked if there was a way to message all the stores he said "We can't do that." Getting absolutely no where but with frustration mounting, I asked him to walk with me in the direction I had first met Victor and Thomas, towards Mori.  

And then I spotted the familiar–

…animated, excited, wild and crazy victorious eyes–Victor!–and for the first time he flashed a toothy Cheshire grin.

"I toldja I'd find 'em, didn't I tell ya I'd find 'em?" more declaration than question.

Thomas had already wrapped himself around his mother and was happily eating a pretzel with his sister.  

"Thank you," she began in German-flavored English.  "Are you Merila?" I presumed the answer.  "That's his sister's name, I'm Nicole," and puzzle pieces clicked into place. Merila was happy he hadn't mentioned his other sister.  

Nicole explained her surprise that Thomas had wandered–"I thought he was with Johann, Johann thought he was with me…he never does that!"  They had moved to Chattanooga recently from Germany to work with the new Volkswagen plant, still under construction and slated to begin production next year.  

{Here, I wanted to beg for a position as VW's Social Media Strategist–heck, I'd be happy slipping my foot in their door doing just about anything–but I kept those thoughts in my head.}

IMAG0375 About this time, Johann appeared (shaken but relieved) and it was only then I realized Victor had vanished without a word.  I asked if I could get a picture of Thomas (do bloggers ever stop being a blogger?), disappointed Victor was gone.  Under a rain of gratitude, we said our good-byes.  

Heading to my final destination an hour after I arrived, amble replaced the hurry of my pace.  I found myself inexplicably grateful to have been chosen by Victor to help; that Victor had been the person chosen as Thomas' protector.  The "what-ifs" crossed my mind, and it was then and only then that I wondered…

…had I just entertained an angel?

{p.s.  Parents, if your littles can talk, PLEASE make sure they know and can share your cell phone number!  Nicole told me Thomas knew theirs, but he didn't tell when I asked.}

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