At the fun fair, you grin, hair strands already escaping your pony tail, wisping wildly around your small face. You pull your hand out from mine and run straight for the monstrous, orange, inflatable slide. The rainbow striped dress you insisted on wearing flails out from under your green spring jacket.
Oh no, I think. That is too high for you. My chest tightens as I shuffle after you. I adjust the weight of your baby sister on my hip. If I put her down, she will toddle off.
You slip off your black runners, hand-me-downs from your cousin, and just as I am about to yell at you, I realize the other kids are taking their shoes off too. The sign says No Shoes Allowed, but you cannot read yet.
You place your runners neatly to the side amidst the jumble of footwear. Words stick in my throat. You push yourself through the swarm of kids. Smaller and younger, I lose sight of the top of your head. I call your name. Again, louder. Shriller. I start towards the crowd but quickly stop, realizing I can’t get to you.
The slide is too high. My neck muscles tense.
You will panic. My mouth becomes dry.
I will need to come and get you down.
I sigh, exasperated. I call your name AGAIN. My brows furrow, my breaths quicken.
I untie my laces, slip off my shoes. I imagine you at the top, frozen, lips pulled down into a grimace, searching frantically for me. What will I do with the baby? I will have to take her up with me when I come and get you. Everyone will have to wait, and watch. Will I bring you back down the stairs? Will I have to slide down with both you and your sister? Is that even allowed?
I watch you climb up, up, up. Rhythmically, one foot in front of the other, never looking back.
I start to push my way to the front of the crowd, still lugging your sister on my hip. At the top, you turn around and barely glance at the crowd. You move quickly, plop onto your bum and push off with no hesitation. You sliiiiiide all the way down.
You run over to me, eyes wide, slightly out of breath. “I did it!” Your voice is whispered, shaking. “I’m going again.” Braver this time.
I exhale and my breaths start to even. You climb again, more confidently. You wave at me from the top. I’m grateful my fears didn’t stop you this time, from learning what you can do. I wonder about the next time. I place your squirming sister on the ground and as she starts to pull me, I follow her lead.
Lina Lau writes creative nonfiction and lives in Toronto, Canada. Her work can be seen in Hippocampus Magazine, carte blanche, and Little Fiction Big Truths. It was also longlisted for the 2019 CNFC/Humber Literary Review creative nonfiction contest. Find her on Twitter at @LinaLau_.