Back in 1989, when our daughter Lauren had still to reach her second birthday, Maureen and I were shown a glimpse of hell. The tiniest sliver.
We lived in an upstairs maisonette next to a busy main road in Chelmsford. It was August, or thereabouts. I did a good chunk of the childcare in those days, facilitated by my early rise and finish as a milkman. Maureen worked at Essex Cricket Club, on the catering side.
She prefaces the incident with the recollection that she brought home a spare punnet of strawberries; and went downstairs to ask whether it was wanted by Doris, our neighbour. “I’ll leave the front door open, Kev, to save taking a key – so keep an eye on Lauren,” she said. “No problem,” I replied.
I don’t recall what I was doing. The memory is that at some stage, I realised Lauren had gone from my sight. She would roam freely around the apartment, exploring and playing, so I checked every room, without panic.
That had changed, as I scrambled downstairs, and outside, to find Maureen chatting just inside Doris’s residence. “Have you got Lauren?” I said, more hopefully than I have ever spoken, before or since.
Maureen’s eyes widened. “No.”
Without stopping to discuss, we ran around to check the small garages and lawn area behind the flats, and then back to the road, scanning the pavements in each direction. Anxiety rocketing, we rushed through to the adjacent car park. Many of the cars had gone home, and I could see across to a quiet road that bordered a row of houses.
A woman stood 60 yards away, holding a child. It looked like our little girl.
We ran over, relief mushrooming as it became clear that Lauren was the child. Free as a bird, she had trotted happily along a route she would have known, towards a house where Maureen held another job, as a child-minder. Luckily for all, Lauren had kept to the pavement, and had encountered a kind human who had waited with her, talking.
Our gratitude could have filled a football ground. There were no recriminations, just joy at the outcome. Few dark thoughts about what could have transpired, as it had not.
Fair to say, though, that the future is never known.