In the morning I go to Greensborough Plaza and there’s a kid coming up the travelator opposite mine, all alone, crying for his mum; I turn and walk back against the pull of the treadmill to get him because I know that he’s me, the child version of me, transported from the past to the present. I know it the same way I’d know a recording of my own voice, found by accident on an old cassette. We meet at the top of the travelator and block the stream of women in big floral dresses. On one knee I’m looking down at my chopped-up brown hair and mouth half full of baby teeth. Snot runs down my upper lip and sucks back up my nose. I can smell No-More-Tears shampoo.
I say, ‘I know your Mum.’
My little face is wet. ‘Where’s my mum?’
I lie to myself. ‘She’ll be back soon.’
Who’s going to take care of me? I think about raising myself. Cornflakes in the morning, no sugar on top. Bedtime at 6:30pm. There is no one I can ask for help.
I buy myself a Happy Meal. There’s a set of Day-Glo play equipment squashed into the corner of the food court. My cheeseburger sits half eaten on its wrapper next to my Big Hero 6 toy: a robot that looks like a sad balloon, still wrapped in plastic. I watch myself climbing through PVC tubes and forcing my way down narrow slides.
The iPhone buzzes on the faux marble tabletop. It’s our sister. I think about her waiting in Mum’s empty kitchen, that painful panic frown on her face. I think of everyone else waiting at the church, all those uncles and aunties. I imagine they’re standing under open black umbrellas, even though through the food court’s massive arched windows I can see nothing but sunshine. I eat two fries. I turn off the iPhone.
By the time I realise I’m just following myself we’re already in the confectionary aisle of the supermarket on the lowest level of the plaza. My little fingers are touching brightly coloured plastic wrappers.
‘Where’s the Polly Waffle?’
A purple and orange wrapper, a chocolate-coated log with a centre of stale air. I tell myself, ‘I don’t think they make those any more.’
My little hand slaps at lines of perforated boxes. A Flake hits the scuffed linoleum.
‘Polly Waffle! Polly Waffle!’
I say, ‘They don’t have them any more.’
My little face looks superheated, my jaw retracts into my neck and my eyes push out tears.
People are staring at me. I try to get a grip on my squirming body, but it doesn’t work. I’m too afraid of hurting myself. My breath comes in heaving gulps between sobs.
I’m yelling, ‘They’re gone. They’re gone.’
My mum yells, ‘Tim.’
She marches down the aisle with smooth skin, pastel-purple eye shadow and a David Bowie haircut. She scoops me up and with one poisonous look she says, ‘You leave my child alone.’
I’m left standing there. I tell her I’m sorry but she’s already disappeared around the corner.