City life can be exciting. It can also be noisy and tiring. The streets were filled with bumper-to-bumper traffic honking its impatience. The sidewalks were no less crowded. The masses pushed forward in an endless stream and I moved with them, telling myself that I loved my job. I was quite unconvincing. The subway entry was a block ahead and I slowly eased my way to the right.
I saw them, as I reached the edge, tucked into the recess of a storefront and occasionally buffeted by the coats and bags of pedestrians. The oldest, a boy, might have been five. The girls were not more than two or three. Their parents were probably inside the shop. How could they leave these little ones outside? I was unaware that I had stopped until I heard angry voices behind me. Where were their hearts?
I squeezed into the entryway and the throng continued. The shop window was stacked with displays of delicate crystal and china, effectively blocking a view of the interior. I crouched down and addressed the boy.
“Are your parents inside?”
He shook his head.
“Is someone you know in there?”
I’d better check the store anyway.
I opened the door, guided them in and stood transfixed. There was no sign of china or crystal within. Comfortable old chairs formed a conversation group. To the side, an ancient trunk stood open revealing wooden blocks, trucks and trains. A small table sat to its left, where two vintage dolls were already enjoying a tea party. The children forgot their woes and delightedly ran towards the toys.
Was this an antique store? It seemed out of place, more suited to an obscure backstreet than a teeming business district. Why had the window displayed china? What was that delicious smell?
A wizened old man in a turban came through one of the doors at the back of the shop, carrying a plateful of cookies.
“Welcome. I hope you’ll join me for a little snack.”
The children were momentarily distracted by the cookies. He let them help themselves and sat the platter down on a small trunk that served as a coffee table. He seemed to produce juice boxes from nowhere. The children happily settled next to the toys. He gestured towards the chairs.
“I thought this was a china shop.”
“If you are looking for some hand-blown glass, you will find it two shops down. He observed the children for a moment. If you are looking for someone customizing mothers rings, you will find him three shops after the glass store. But I know nothing about a china shop.”
He glanced at the children again.
“They are not my children. I was looking for their parents.”
“If you say so.”
Why was I sitting here? I needed to help the children. I should find their parents or call authorities to care for them. The chair was so comfortable and the cookies delicious. Perhaps just one more. The office could live without me for a bit longer.
Eric pulled at my sleeve. Lucy and Anna waited just behind him.
“We want to go home now.”
The grandfather clock said 6:30. Where had the day gone? When had I learned the children’s names? I searched my bag, but there was no sign of my cell phone.
“I need to make a call.”
“Just go through the door on the right, my dear. Everything you need is there.”
The children raced ahead of me though the curtained door. The curtains flew back around me and I became entangled. I looked back for help, but the shop had begun to erode. I turned towards the children, but they had disappeared into a swirling white cloud.
“Wake up, Mommy.”
I pushed back the sheet and looked at those three small faces. Sun filled the room and birds chirped in the maple tree outside.
“She’s awake, Dad.”
An unshaved man holding two cups of coffee came through the door. He placed one on the bedside table and planted a casual kiss on my cheek.
“Thought you could use this.”
He smiled and I smiled back. I wanted to stay forever. It felt like home.
Sometimes people ask how we met. At a baseball game, I tell them. That’s John’s story. No one would ever believe mine.