"Mmhmm?" came the absent reply. Heavily pregnant and in her early 20s, the child's mother scanned the shelves in the dingy bargain store, searching for the half-price soup that had been promised in that weeks flyer, but there was none to be found. Sold out already. What a wasted trip, she thought to herself. I'll have to get a rain check.
"Momma! I potty! Go potty!!" She yanked her mothers arm again, more vigorously this time, and began jumping up and down in frustration.
"Wha..?" the mother said, snapping out of her reverie. "You.. Oh, jeez. Okay, sweetie, let's find a bathroom." Taking her daughters hand, she led the two-and-half year old towards the back of the store where the bathrooms were located. She silently prayed that there wouldn't be an accident. They had been in a rush that morning and she had neglected to pack extra pants and pull-ups for the child who was only somewhat potty-trained. She also hoped that this wasn't a false alarm, borne out of boredom and her child's need for a change of scenery. Exhausted from the strain of carrying not only her late-second-trimester pregnancy but also a diaper bag (minus the aforementioned diapers) and a heavy winter coat as they had trudged through the snow to the local strip mall, she did not relish the idea of hanging out in a public washroom while her daughter dawdled.
The woman awkwardly pushed her way through the heavy door to the washroom, holding it open as the little girl skipped through the doorway and headed into a stall. She caught the eye of one of two teenaged girls who stood in front of the mirrors. It was a weekday, and these two looked, in spite of their psuedo-sophisticated air and heavy eye makeup, like they should probably be in a classroom somewhere, instead of sneaking cigarettes in such a depressing place as a mall bathroom.
Truth be told, the woman was a bit envious. She craved a cigarette like crazy and had indulged a few times over the last six months, feeling both guilty and relieved every time. It had been a rough winter, after the father walked out, and it seemed to her that the risk imposed to her fetus by the occasional cigarette was mitigated by the need to not break down crying twenty four hours a day.
"Momma.. Help," the little girl called forlornly from the stall as she struggled with her pants. Crouching down, the woman tugged the tiny denim pants and underpants down and lifted the little girl onto the toilet. The girls by the mirror snickered and whispered to each other. She tried to pay them no mind. Grunting, she struggled back into a standing position.
"Hi! Hi girls! I potty!" the little girl shouted proudly. The girls giggled.
After a few minutes, a faint tinkling noise could be heard, indicating that the bathroom trip had not been for naught. The little girl carefully lowered herself to the ground and shuffled her way across the bathroom, pants tangled up around the tiny snow boots on her feet.
"Oh.. Oh, honey. Come here. Let me pull your pants up. We're going to have to wipe your bum first." Setting the diaper bag that doubled as a purse on the counter, the woman began pulling items out of the bag until she came across an oblong plastic container, filled with hopefully at least one or two wet wipes. The toilet paper provided looked little better than number 2 sandpaper.
Cleaned and re-pantsed, the mother lifted the little girl up to the counter so she could wash her hands, then set her down and started tossing things back into the bag, before exiting the washroom. She thought about letting someone know that the mall's "No Smoking" policy was being violated, but it was getting close to lunch time, and then nap time and if these errands took much longer she knew she'd have a very cranky toddler on her hands. And cranky toddlers make for cranky mommies.
They made their way back to the grocery section of the store, where the mother grabbed a few staples.. Milk, bread, some arrowroot cookies, a couple of boxes of KD. Money was tight that month, and there was still a few days until payday, she thought, as the cashier rang up her purchases. In order to stay within budget, she'd have to stick to whatever could be covered by the forty dollars in her wallet.
Rummaging through the diaper bag, she reached down into the very depths of the bag, feeling around for her small leather wallet.
"Uhm.. Can you hold this stuff? I.. Um... Can't seem to find my wallet." A vision of the bathroom counter flashed through her mind. "I think I may have left it in the bathroom." An older, somewhat chubby woman with a slight suggestion of grey in her hair nodded. The woman grabbed the little girl by the hand and pulled her in the direction of the washroom. The child whined and resisted, too close to nap time, so the woman picked her up and kept going. When she burst through the door, there was no one to be found. Nor was any wallet. Dejected, she trudged back toward the cash registers.
As she approached, the cashier greeted her with a smile. She held up a small, black object. "Is this your wallet? Another customer just brought this to the customer service desk. She said she found it in the washroom."
Putting her daughter down, the woman sighed with relief. "Yes, yes. Thank you. That is mine." The cashier handed her the wallet and she opened up to pull out the two twenties and pay for the groceries.
It was empty. Tears sprang to the young mother's eyes.
"Mommy.." The little girl whined and fidgeted.
"Is everything okay, ma'am?"
The woman swallowed hard, trying like hell not to cry in front of the cashier. "Yes.. Erm.. No. I mean, no. There was forty dollars in here."
"I'm sorry, ma'am. There was no money when it was turned in." The cashier looked at her with sympathy in her eyes. Feeling the sob building in her throat, she mumbled an apology and took the little girl by the hand. They walked out of the story, leaving the few merger groceries behind. Outside, the woman sunk down onto a nearby bench and proceeded to let the tears of frustration flow.
"Yes, honey," the woman sniffled.
"Mommy, you sad?"
"Yes, honey. Mommy sad."
This was written as part of the Studio 30 Plus weekly writing challenge. This week's prompt is "Stolen". Visit them at www.studio30plus.com