For like, five minutes. It felt a lot longer than that, though. No worries, she’s safe and sound.
Namine and I spent the day cleaning the apartment. As much as you’d like a six year old to help, they often don’t. That was the case starting out, but Namine did help me with cleaning the living room, her room, and she put away all her laundry. She even put away her own dishes — she has a set of drawers for her cups and bowls — and all the silverware.
After the apartment was clean, we needed to run to the store for some ice. (I’d been putting it off for a couple days, resigning myself to just sticking a gallon of water in the fridge, but it’s not the same.) So I told Namine to get in her wheelchair and wait for me by the door, as she’s done many times before.
Waiting impatiently by the door, Namine kept yelling for me. “Just a minute!” I’d yell back. I really wanted to finish helping Jessica in the kitchen before I left, and I saw no reason why Namine could not sit there for another thirty seconds. Namine quit yelling, and I thought nothing of it.
Having finally finished cleaning the kitchen, I walked into the living room. Namine was not waiting for me in the hallway; she was nowhere to be found. Nor was her wheelchair parked where it always is, and this alarmed me.
I hadn’t heard the door open. Namine can open the screen door herself, but it’s not easy for her yet and it noisily bangs against her wheelchair as she gets past it. So calling her name, I ran into her room first — Namine was not there.
I called to Jessica, asking her if she knew where Namine was. “Isn’t her wheelchair in the hallway?” she responded, as she walked into the living room. We both came to the same conclusion: Namine had gone outside, on her own. We ran outside. Jessica took off in one direction, and I sprinted in the other.
I found out today just how loud I can yell. In fact, the word “yell” doesn’t do justice to the amount of noise I made. I wasn’t screaming — not at first. But as I sprinted down the sidewalk, hoping to see Namine’s wheelchair in the distance, neighbors came out of their houses at my thunderous calling.
Much is often made of my mom’s singing voice. “She can sing in church without a microphone,” people have said. And it’s said in jest, but it’s no jest. My mom has very powerful vocal chords. I suppose I can consider it confirmed that I did indeed inherit those vocal chords myself.
Thanks to my calling, neighbors took off in cars, all searching for a little girl in a wheelchair. I stopped sprinting at the street corner, still calling and yelling despite my inability to breathe. I did not see Namine in any direction, so I sprinted back.
Jessica was also just getting back at the apartment when I arrived. We both wanted to check inside the apartment one more time — just in case we’d missed her — before we took off in our car to search for her on the streets past our neighborhood.
Our calling summoned forth a tiny voice behind our closed bedroom door.
"I'm here! I'm in your room."
After Namine came back out of the room, Jessica yelled and cried, shaking at the anger and relief which she felt. I reflected: Namine had not left the apartment. We hadn’t known where she was, but my greatest fear had been unsubstantiated — Namine knows not to leave the apartment without us, and there is no reason to fear otherwise.
Namine explained to me later: “When I was waiting for you, it started to rain. The clouds looked like they were going to thunder and lightning, so I hid in your room.”
I told Namine that while it was a good idea to get away from the door, the bedroom was not much better. It would have been ideal to get to a room with no windows, and in our apartment, the only room that suited that description was the half bathroom. (If she had done exactly that, we also would have seen her, since the half bath is past the kitchen.) I also told Namine that she should always let us know where she was going.
She agreed on both counts, and promised to do so in the future.