This is not a happy story.
It happened on Monday but since then I’ve tried not to think about it too much. Perhaps writing will excise my anxiety.
Before I begin, let me say that the baby is fine. This is not a happy story, but it could have been worse…
At a quarter to seven on Monday evening, two minutes from home, an old woman shouts at me as I walk down the road. There is something in her voice. Distress.
“Are you alright?”
“Come!” she wails, pointing to the entrance to a block of flats.
I hear shouting now.
I run into the building. There’s a staircase immediately to my right. At the top, there are two children. They’re about the same age as my kids—eight and five maybe. They’re quiet, wide-eyed. Scared. Behind them, I glimpse their mother. Simply put, she’s hysterical; she’s screaming. “My baby! My baby!”
At this point, I fully expected to find a dead infant. I race up the stairs and enter the hallway. What I see, instead, is the mother trying to break down a door. She’s running at it, hitting it with both hands, kicking it.
“I phoned the cops,” says a woman standing in an open doorway—a neighbour. “They’re locked out somehow. Baby’s inside.”
“Is the baby okay?” I ask.
“I don’t know. She’s freaking out.”
I try to calm the mother down, to get information, to stop her scaring her children. I’m not sure she understands me. She’s middle-eastern, her English is not very good. Her phone rings. “My husband,” she says. Then she drops the phone to the ground, unanswered, runs down the stairs only to run straight back, attacking the door with renewed, desperate fists. I try to calm her again. It’s no use. I don’t know what to do.
Someone mentions a ladder. “If we can get to the window…”
I have a ladder. I leave them. I run home. I get the ladder from the garage. On the way back, I hear sirens. As I get to the flats, a fire engine pulls into the complex. I feel a bit stupid carrying my little ladder. But I’m relieved. What would I have done? Climb up to their window, break the glass? I have the sudden horrible vision of the overwrought mother climbing up a rickety ladder, cracking the glass with her fists.
I follow the fireman into the building. The mother falls to her knees in front of them. The decision is quickly made. Fifteen seconds. They have a battering ram. Five hits and the door is breached. The fireman enters with the mother. Ten seconds. “The baby is okay,” comes the shout. The firemen, now joined by a policeman, look at each other. What just happened?
I hang around, talk to the children and grandmother, answer their phone and speak to the husband. What else can I do?
Later, I walk back to my own family, ladder in hand, heart still racing.
Turns out the baby was not in any imminent danger. The family had somehow managed to lock themselves out, with the baby still inside. How? I don’t know. We have the feeling that the mother overreacted. But then, she was looking after a grandmother, two kids and a baby. I know how hard that can be. Who knows what day she had?
I’ll visit them over the weekend. Bring them some cake or something. I suspect that social services may be called in. I feel for them. I worry.