A Penguin Comes to Tea

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Shelley pushed the cart along the aisles of the small grocers’ store, trying to pass boring things like dog food and shampoo on her way to the items she needed, so that her son Trevor would not reach out and grab interesting-looking things from the shelves and cause trouble for her. He was getting too big to ride in the seat of the cart, but it kept him from wandering along the aisles and knocking into things. Only the previous week he had punched a packet of kitchen towels and sent the whole stack tumbling down. Shelley was sure that the staff kept a watch out for her and moved their breakable items to safety ahead of her destructive son.
“Out!” cried Trevor, bouncing up and down, rocking the cart and swaying from side to side.
Honestly, he’s just like a tornado, thought Shelley as she mentally listed off the things she still needed. She opened a packet of cookies and gave one to Trevor who stuffed half of it into his mouth and then began to cough. She would rather have given him a carrot, but they had to be weighed first, and she did not want to be accused of shoplifting, not after the last time when Trevor had grabbed a tomato from the pile and bitten into it. Shelley had been so distressed by the cascade of falling fruit that she had not noticed the bits of chewed tomato all over her son’s face, but the store manager had noticed.
Well, it was their own fault, she thought, pausing to look at the bottles of salad dressings. They should have a crèche or a play area for children so that mothers could shop in peace, like they had in the larger stores in the big malls out of town, only Shelley had no way of getting out there, so she was forced to shop in this dump, which was probably going to be torn down soon, it was so old and decrepit.
“Out!” cried Trevor again, sounding triumphant, and Shelley looked down to see him standing in the cart, reaching towards a shelf, with the cart about to roll away from underneath him.
“Trevor!” she shouted, and lifted him up just as the cart banged into a bag of flour, sending out little white puffs, like smoke signals.
“Look at what you’ve done! I told you to sit still! Now you’re going to have to hold onto the cart and walk with Mummy.”
She took one of his hands and clamped it onto the cart, then began to move forward, thinking she could probably leave some of the items from her list for next week. It was getting far too busy and noisy in the store, anyway; she could hear several people shouting up at the front.
As she reached the end of the aisle she saw somebody running past, carrying a large bag and waving something in his hand. It almost looked like a gun, which would not have surprised her, given the sort of people she often saw in the store. Thinking this, she slowed her steps and peered around the edge of the shelving, just to be sure that everything was alright.
Everything was not alright.
Three men with black hoods over their faces stood surrounding a terrified cashier who was fumbling with the till. Two of the men held guns, and the third had a large sack which he was filling with the contents of the till. The ones with guns were looking around the store, shooing the other customers away, most of whom were sobbing and rushing for the doors, except that a fourth hooded man stood at the door, and would not let them pass; instead he was waving them behind the bakery counter and making them lie on the floor.
Shelley drew her head back with a gasp and reached down to grab hold of Trevor, except that he was no longer at her side.
Her heart thumping, she looked up and down the aisle, but there was no sign of her son. Where could he have gone? Not towards the cash desk, surely?
She poked her head round the edge of the shelf again and saw that the men had pushed the cashier down to the floor and were now ransacking the second cash register. Didn’t this store have an alarm or something? Why was nobody doing anything?
Thinking that Trevor must have gone the other way, Shelley raced down the aisle to the back of the store and looked both ways, but all she saw was frightened shoppers clutching each other, sobbing and punching their phones.
“Did anybody see a little boy?” she whispered, not wanting to draw attention from the burglars, but nobody was interested in her; everybody was too concerned with their own safety.
Which way should she go—towards the candy and the front of the store, or back towards the freezer section? Where would Trevor have gone? Did he even have the mental capacity to make a decision? He usually just responded to whatever was in front of him. He could be anywhere.
Shelley could feel her chest heaving as her breath turned into sobs. She forgot about the guns and the danger to herself. The only thing that mattered was finding Trevor and keeping him safe. She doubled into the next aisle and raced towards the front of the store, reasoning that was where the greatest danger to her son lay, and thus where she should start her search. She ran past boxes and boxes of cereal—goodness, would this line never end—and then saw the hooded men shoving another quivering employee onto the floor, but she no longer cared if they saw her.
One of the masked men looked up and barked at her to stop and lie down, but she ignored him and looked around the front of the store, calling, “Trevor! Where are you?”
The masked man moved towards her, and one of the other men looked up, distracted from his loot collecting, while the man by the door turned his gun in her direction. Suddenly, out of the corner of her eye she glimpsed her son’s familiar green t-shirt and faded brown shorts near the specials counter, and she saw his pudgy hands reaching out to grab what was in front of him. She automatically cried out.
“Trevor! Don’t touch that!”
Trevor jumped at the sound of his mother’s voice, and his hand, so close to the coloured object in front of him, shot out and pushed against the tall stack. It gave a momentary wobble, like the start of a slow dive, then a cascade of cans toppled onto the floor, rolling in all directions and setting off secondary avalanches from the nearby displays.
Shelley gasped, watching the destruction her son had caused, wondering if she would ever be able to pay for the damage, and then she noticed that one of the masked men had tripped over the rolling cans and one of the other customers had jumped on him and was struggling to take hold of his gun.
One of the men at the register fired his gun, shattering several bottles of vinegar which sprayed glass onto the floor, and made the air thick with the acrid stench of white vinegar, and the people lying on the floor began to wail. At that moment the outside door burst open and two police officers clad in protective clothing dashed into the store, sweeping their guns ahead of them.
Shelley saw nothing of the arrest, the recording of statements, the administration of first aid and the reassuring calls to friends. She just hugged her son, giving thanks that he was safe and that for once, she would not have to account for the damage.



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