The hum of the bus engine gradually came to a halt. Upon command, the doors opened. A crowd of young children poured out the doors, anxious to escape. One of the young children, however, didn’t share the youthful energy that her classmates exhibited. She hid behind one of seats, analyzing the explosion of children that raced to their homes. Once most of them left, she felt free to run her way off the bus.
Her home wasn’t far from the bus stop the school district placed. She only had to walk one block before she reached her destination. The young girl’s pace was awfully slow, but she arrived home safely after five minutes each day. Today was no different. She savored the scenery as she walked, letting her mind run free with each step. Once she was turning arrived home, she chirped “Hello, I’m home!” to the door before opening it.
The room that greeted her lacked any signs of life. Usually, her father would be waiting for her. He’d be right in front of the door, asking about her day and lifting her up in the air. Instinctively, she dropped her backpack to the floor and started walking further inside. “I should be quiet. He could just be napping on the couch,” she thought in a hopeful manner as she slinked across the hall. The living room was conveniently next to the front door, making the child’s trip very short. When it was in sight, she could see couches, a polished side table, her mother’s collection of vases…, but neither silhouettes of life nor any snoring. He wasn’t there.
The young girl’s feeling of distress grew. Her next thought led her to the main bathroom. No presence detected. Perplexed, she then decided to head to the kitchen. However, once she got there, the only thing she noticed was a bowl of mangos on the counter. There were no notes of a sudden absence on the fridge or any familiar people in sight. She then fiddled with one of her curly strands of hair and looked down at the floor. “The only rooms left are the bedrooms. He never goes there except to sleep and talk to mom…” she pondered as she cocked her head side to side. She then shrugged her shoulders and crept to the bedroom.
She arrived at there in a matter of seconds. She attempted to open the door, but it wouldn’t budge. The child could feel her stomach drop. “Hello?” she meekly called as she knocked on the door. No answer. Feeling frustrated, the little girl banged on the door and repeated the same statement. “Y-yes?” an exhausted voice called out from the other side. “It’s me. Are you ok? You sound tired,” Mia bluntly replied as loud as she could.
There was an awkward silence following that, ending with the sound of a door opening. A tall figure appeared out of the door. There were bags around his sharp eyes and a weak smile on his face. His posture hinted at a tense situation as well. “I’m fine, little one. Just a normal day at school,” he explained with a small smile. He then knelt down and gently pats Mia’s curly hair.
The little girl looked up to him with a small, innocent smile. However, she still had doubts that were ushered to the back of her mind. “I understand. Can I go outside for a little bit?” she asked while cocking her head to the side. Her father replied with a small nod and the words “Yes, but make sure to get back before dark. We wouldn’t want you lost” before retreating back inside the bedroom.
Once she heard the door close, Mia dashed out of house. She continued running until she was at the driveway. She then slowed down until she was at walking speed. She put her fingers to her lips and let a sigh escape them. “Ok, Daddy’s not feeling well. What can I do about that?” she thought while rocking her head side to side. As she reached the end of the sidewalk, the perfect idea came to her. “Flowers! It works for me, so it must work for him too,” she mentally exclaimed along with snapping her fingers.
Feeling satisfied with her realization, she switched from walking to skipping. However, after skipping a few blocks, she slowed down to a stop. “I have no idea where to get them,” Mia thought while pursing her lips together. The little girl crossed her arms together and pouted. “Well, I’ll walk until I find a place. I’ve never been this far away from home…, so I’ll start exploring now,” she concluded after a few moments frozen in thought.
She started to walk straight onward, albeit with hesitation. Her walking speed was slower than before, her gaze shifted periodically from the scenery to the ground, and her hands were tightly clutching her arms. When she wasn’t looking at the pavement, her eyes carefully scanned for any park or hiking path sign. After two blocks, she found her spot: a little forest grove by the freeway. “If I remember what I did to get here, I should be able to get out,” Mia assured herself before trekking deeper in the forest.
When she found a decent place to rest, Mia brushed the ground with her hands before gingerly sitting herself down. She scrutinized each wild flower as she plucked it. When she finished with that spot, she’d slowly get up and brush herself off once again. Afterwards, she’d walk to the next spot to look for more flowers. After doing a few times, the little girl had a fistful of dandelions in her hands.
The young child was so absorbed in her picking that she failed to notice how much time had passed. When she entered the forest, the sun was still high in the sky. However, after she was done picking flowers, the sky had already taken on hues of orange and red. “Huh...I wasn’t here long. How come…?” she thought with a small frown. However, she eventually felt no need to tackle her question. Instead, she shrugged her shoulders and attempted to trace her way back. This effort failed. To Mia’s dismay, she had no idea where “back” was.
To her, the forest now felt more like an intimidating maze than a friendly place. The trees were draped in dark hues. It was as if there wasn’t any light bouncing off them. They huddled together like a crowd, casting a thick shadow on the ground below. They were almost four times as tall as the young girl standing before them. The girl knew exactly how she ended up here. However, knowing how she got here doesn’t translate to being able to navigate her way out. The forest was like any other to the child: dirty, bug infested, and full of trees. How could she be able to find her way back through this?
It was only now that the panic started bubbling up inside of her. Various thoughts swirled in her mind: What if she never returned home? What if she was caught by a swarm of mosquitoes? What if she was eaten alive? She shook her head at the images her lively imagination projected. It was difficult to hold back her urge to cry. She broke down in seconds flat. In the midst of her sobs, she failed to notice that she was no longer alone.
Another young girl, meanwhile, was quietly walking through the forest for an evening stroll. She was relishing in the silence before a sudden influx of noise disrupted her concentration. She was attracted to the cries like a moth was to a streetlight. Her presence was anonymous to the crying child until she was right behind her. “Boo,” she whispered, her lips inches from the girl’s left ear. The girl flinched and squeaked as a response.
Once she calmed down, she started erupting in a bout of nervous laughter. “H-hi,” she stammered in the midst of her laughter, giving the stranger a “deer caught in headlights” look. The other girl ignored her shock, opting to heartily laugh instead. “Pfft, calm down. You can stop treating me like an alien. I’m friendly. Come and see!” she exclaimed with an eager grin.
The nervous child’s posture relaxed upon hearing those words. “Really? Could you, ah, help me? I am very lost,” she sniveled as she walked closer towards her. “Of course I can! This is my place. I know it backwards, forwards, and maybe even sideways. You’re lucky you met me, that’s for sure. I’m Tiana, by the way,” she explained as she grabbed the girl’s right hand and shook it firmly. The nervous girl made no complains about the sudden action verbally, but the way her pupils enlarged hinted at her discomfort. “Oh, I see,” she responded hastily after Tiana let go of her hand. “Shall we start looking then?”
Tiana scowled at her suggestion. “Someone is hasty, isn’t she? Well, I’m not helping you until you tell me who you are. I said mine, so you should say yours. It’s not fair otherwise,” she huffed while pouting and crossing her arms. The lost girl nodded as she cleared her throat. “I suppose you’re right. I’m so sorry about that. I didn’t mean to be rude...really. My name’s Mia,” she clarified with a small smile on her face. Tiana grinned warmly in return as the two of them started to walk deeper into the forest.
Despite Tiana’s confidence, the two children wandered aimlessly in the forest. The shadows from the trees grew darker as they walked. This is coupled with the pockets of orange, red, pink, and yellow poking out from above. They crossed at least two forks in the path before Tiana threw her hands in the air and started grinding her teeth. “I can’t believe it! I don’t even know where your house is! Why didn’t I think of that?” she exclaimed while pacing back and forth.
Mia failed to reply with words; she only fidgeted with her long, curly hair while looking at the ground. “Hey, where is your house? That might help,” Tiana asked. She then went up to Mia and tipped her head up, staring intensely at her dark brown eyes. Mia quickly darted her gaze away, intimidated by this sudden attention. “Well, it’s by...um...a playground with a red slide and a bakery with yummy smelling donuts. I like to eat there sometimes,” she replied.
Tiana tapped her foot and hummed while Mia continued to describe the area surrounding her house. After a while, Tiana zoned out of Mia’s babbling and snapped her fingers. “I’ve got it!” she boastfully declared. Right when Tiana spoke, Mia stopped talking instantly to listen to her “revelation”. “We’re not lost anymore?” she asked, a smile lighting her face. Tiana nodded her head in response. “Thank you so much, I really am in y-” Mia started to note before she could feel pressure from her left wrist. As it turned out, the pressure came from Tiana; she had grabbed her arm and started running forward, leaving Mia to be dragged awkwardly along. The rest of the words she was going to voice evaporated into air.
The curly haired child straightened her posture when Tiana started slowing down. She had almost tripped twice while running alongside her guide. It didn’t help that Tiana’s hair sometimes tickled her skin; her long locks bounced up and down as she ran. However, she was able to survive the journey scotch-free, much to her delight.
When Tiana finally stopped running, she let her companion go and started panting heavily; Mia collapsed to the ground and panted as well. The redhead felt out of breath; she wasn’t used to running so far at once. However, she had reached her goal -the entrance of the forest-, so it was worth it. “Hey...why don’t we wait on taking you back home? It’s not even dark out. I’m sure they won’t mind, right?” Tiana airily suggested in between taking breaths, “Let’s play! I’m soooo bored”. Mia sighed and was about to give her reply before she realized something was missing: the dandelions she picked for her dad were gone. “Oh dear oh dear oh dear!” she mentally panicked as she feverishly scanned the ground.
Noticing that Mia didn’t reply to her, Tiana turned towards Mia before noticing her friend crawling on the grass. “Uhhh...did you hear me? Helloooo?” she groaned before kneeling beside Mia. They were now at eye level. “I heard you, but...I have a problem. I dropped the flowers I picked in the forest,” she sighed bitterly as she continued to stare at the ground. “You know the flowers aren’t important, right? It’s not going to kill you to leave them be,” Tiana sighed as she pulled Mia up by her arm. Mia pouted and crossed her arms in response. “You don’t understand. Those were for my dad. I...I...really wanted to give him those,” she confessed angrily while her eyes started to pool tears.
Tiana shook her head. “If it means so much to you...we’ll find even better ones. Come on, my house has a great garden. We can find something for him there. It’s close to where we are now,” she chirped as a huge grin broke out on her face. She then attempted to dry Mia’s face with her thumb before starting to move. The sudden warmth from Tiana’s hands allowed Mia’s posture to relax as she starting following her guide to her house. She was going to voice her concern over staying out too late beforehand, but she didn’t care now. If dawdling at dark is the price she’ll pay for getting something nice for her dad, then so be it.
The two of them walked straight down the sidewalk for two blocks before they arrived at their destination. The house’s front garden was quite beautiful indeed; it was filled with blossoms of all colors and shapes. The ones that stood out to Mia were the lilies on the edge of the yard. They had yellow petals with black spots that curled on the ends, and a white center with brown on its tip. Tiana looked back at her approvingly as she started picking some of the blossoms. However, she had only picked three of them before she could hear someone shouting close by. “Tiana, where were you? You were gone late again. I swear, do I have to tie you to this house in order to keep you safe?” the stranger yelled in a feminine, yet fierce tone.
When Mia turned around to see this new person, the first thing she noticed was how much she looked like Tiana. She had Tiana’s facial structure, almond shaped eyes, and auburn colored hair. However, she was at least five years older than her and it showed. Her presence hovered over Tiana’s like a person does to an ant. She also had gaudy, cat-eye glasses that shone like a magnifying glass in the sun.
Tiana looked back at the newcomer with a bit of fear in her eyes. “Sorry sis, I was letting this cute girl pick things in the garden for her dad. I found her in the forest,” she said with her voice shaking. Her sister pressed her glasses against the bridge of her nose and sighed. “Oh, if that’s the case that’s all-...wait, did you say she was picking flowers from the garden? You know how mom feels about that!” she chided as she dragged her younger sister by the ear. Before she went inside, though, she looked back at Mia and told her “Hey, I’ll get you home, all right? I’ll just get this little troublemaker inside”. Mia nodded as she held the three lilies she picked in her hands.
She could overhear one voice shouting and the other pleading from outside. Minutes later, two figures appeared outside: Tiana and her sister. “She wants to talk to you before we head off,” the older of the two girls explained as the other stepped forward. Her face was red on her left side, but the expression she wore was calm and collected. “Next Saturday, let’s play at the park by your house, ok? If you’re not there, I’ll be sad,” she confessed in a cool tone. “Yes, let’s!” Mia beamed awkwardly as Tiana toddled back in the house.
Mia then looked up at the older woman. Her expression was neither scornful nor amused; it was simply blank. “Well then, where are we going?” she asked politely to Mia before brushing the child’s shoulder with her fingers. “13412 Cherrywood Street, right by the park with the red slide,” Mia replied shyly while still keeping her eyes on the other woman. The stranger nodded and muttered something before signaling for Mia to follow her. The two of them walked together until they reached a small red car in the garage. Its shape reminded Mia of an egg. “It’s getting late, so I’ll be driving you home. I think I know where it is, but you may have to help me,” her ride explained.
They situated themselves in their seats quickly. The older woman was careful not to scratch anything when she started up the car; Mia was careful not to injure her flowers when she got in her seat belt. The two of them stared at the window blankly before the square faced woman started to pull her car out of the garage. “Is driving scary?” Mia asked innocently once the two of them were on the road. Without even turning to look at her, the other woman replied: “Yeah, it is. I just got my license a month ago, so it’s an...interesting experience. No worries though, I’m careful when it comes to this”. Mia stared at her, wide-eyed, as the other girl continued driving.
The rest of the trip was fairly quiet. Neither party talked much. They instead focused on looking at some random object; Mia stared at her flowers while the driver focused on the road. In around five minutes -and two instances of making a wrong turn-, the two of them arrive at their destination: 13412 Cherrywood Street.
The two of them quickly got out of the car and rang the doorbell. In seconds flat, an elegant woman with black hair, curved eyes, red lipstick, and graceful posture came out of the door to greet them. “There you are, Mia! Your father is outside looking for you,” she sighed. The woman tried her hardest to conceal her panic with a small smile. It failed, however, and the smile broke into a frown. “Do you know how much trouble you’re going to be in?” she scowled as she dragged the young girl inside. “Sorry mom,” Mia sighed as she looked down and walked further inside the house. Afterward, Mia’s mother bowed the other woman politely.
The elder woman and the teenager awkwardly stare at each other when Mia was no longer visible. “Thank you so much for bringing her back. Both of us were so worried. May I ask who you are?” the mature lady said in a sincere tone as Tiana’s sister smiled sheepishly and scratched her head. “I’m Kate Suon, m’am. My little sister brought her to my place and claimed she found her in a nearby forest,” she explained bashfully. “Oh, I see. I am Lena Kamil. My family and I moved here a little while ago, so we’re not too familiar with the neighborhood. I do know the city, though,” Lena replied with a small smile escaping her lips. Kate nodded attentively. “I would be happy to show around sometime. There are quite a lot of lovely areas around here. However, I have to head back home, so I thank you for being so kind about this. I am so sorry for this mess,” she noted with a small, sheepish nod. However, she heard the words: “My family and I are forever in your debt. Please feel free to come again sometime,” from Lena before she closed the door behind her. Kate then walked towards her car and went on her way.
It only took Lena a few seconds to grab the desired number from her contacts list before she could start her call. The call was lead straight to voicemail. “Hey sweetie, it’s me. Anyway, some nice girl just dropped Mia off. I think her name was...Kate? Yeah, it was Kate. You can start heading back. We can think of a punishment when you get back,” she noted in a slight slur before hanging up and putting her phone away. Mia was hiding behind one of couches, listening to what her mom was saying. “Does this mean I’m grounded…? I didn’t mean to stay out so late, honest. I ended up finding a nice friend who offered to take me back…” she whimpered while staring at Lena with her large, honey brown eyes. Lena sighed as she replied with “We’ll talk about it later, honey. Your father will be coming back soon”. Mia nodded as she plopped off the couch and started walking towards her.
When she was close enough, Lena scooped up Mia in her arms and gave her a tight hug. “Never ever wander outside so far away ever again, got it?” she asked in a concerned tone. Mia whimpered while holding on to her tighter. Seconds later, the sound of a door opening was heard. “Hey hey, is that my little girl I see?” a voice resembling a wind chime asked as he took off his shoes and joined the two girls in their hug. “Hi, daddy. I got something for you. A nice girl helped me find them,” Mia noted once the group hug broke out. She then ran towards the living room to fetch the lilies she picked. When she came back, she presented the yellow and black flowers to her father. “Are these for me? Awww, how precious. I’ll get them in a vase right away. Thank you, my little girl,” he beamed as he took Mia into his arms and threw her into the air. Afterward, he told Mia to run upstairs so that he and Lena could have “parent time”. She understood and went upstairs immediately.
Lena gave her husband an unamused stare once the coast was clear. “We’re going to have to watch her more closely, you know. She just went off with a random stranger without any hesitation and even went to her house. She could’ve been mugged or kidnapped. I think we should ground her to her room for a month. She needs to learn that things aren’t completely safe out there, especially at dark,” Lena sighed as she ran her fingers in her long hair and looked at her lover with a huge amount of concern.
Her husband shook his head. “I do agree that she should be more careful, but it’s too rough to lock her up in her room for a month. How about we let her off with a warning and force her to have one parent come outside with her next time she wanders off?” he suggested while waggling his finger in the air. “You always spoil her, Abir. She’s not going to learn if we don’t punish her.” Lena sighed bitterly while crossing her arms. “And you are always making things difficult for her. She just got lost. It’s not her fault. She probably was scared,” Abir rebutted with a sigh. Lena was about to say something, but Abir shook his head once again. “Give up, love. Let’s go easy on her this time. If she does it again, we’ll do it your way. Happy?” he responded before giving Lena a peck on the cheek and walking off.
Lena frowned slightly before climbing up the stairs and heading right to Mia’s room. When she opened the door, Mia was lying on the bed and staring at the ceiling. “Sweetie? Next time you go out, make sure to tell us. It’s dangerous outside, you know, so the best option would be having one of us accompany you. You’re not getting punished, ok? I know you were just scared,” she explained as she sat on the bed.
Mia lifted herself up as she stared at her mother. “Oh, good,” Mia replied weakly as she slowly got up and moved closed to Lena. The two of them looked at one another before Mia started to speak again. “If that’s true, then can I go somewhere on Saturday? I promised someone I’d meet her there,” she asked while smiling happily and staring intensely at her mom. Lena lept off the bed before answering her daughter’s request. “We’ll see,” she responded before shutting the door behind her, leaving Mia in her room once again.