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As I rifled through the racks of dresses on sale, hastily searching for my size, I was aware of a commotion across the store.

Looking up, I experienced the same feeling of dread suffered by any parent who has attempted to do a spot of shopping with a child in tow. It started in my stomach and rose, leaving a metallic taste of bile in my mouth.

Grabbing the last bargain dress in my size, I ran across the shop, heart sinking at the size of the queue ahead of me. The voices behind the men’s T’shirt section were getting louder. There may even have been a shriek.

The cashier was in no rush. Despite my best attempts at willing her to go faster, she languidly passed her scanner over each bar-code in a daze. There were five people ahead of me. The voices had moved from the men’s T’shirt section to the pants. They were turning to shouts. 

Reasoning that I’d be two more minutes, tops, I told myself my three year old’s dad was more than capable of dealing with a public tantrum. Even though it was very public. Even though it was getting louder.

My legs jiggled as the nervous energy took over every inch of my body. Why wasn’t the cashier going faster? Sighs of impatience behind me, as the other hot and flustered customers started to clock the commotion on the other side of the store.

Minutes passed in slow motion, as the fluorescent lights shone down, illuminating every tired pore and dark shadow on my face. A bead of sweat dripped from my lip, leaving a salty tang in my dry mouth. The shouts were definite screams of anger now. There was a man’s voice, sounding panicked. Rising.

Paying for my dress (it wasn’t worth the wait, but I’d got that far), I flung the bag under my arm and ran as fast as I could to the pants section, following the noise. I ignored the concerned tuts and whispered judgements of the gaggle of customers passing the scene.

As I got closer, I searched for my tall husband. My stomach flipped as I realised he must be crouched on the floor, trying to placate our screaming child. Maybe she’d crawled under the clothes rails? I felt sick.

Rails of pants parted like the Red Sea, the shrill sound of a toddler’s tantrums filled my ears. And there, kicking and screaming before me… was a little boy with thick black hair and glasses. Not my child. Both parents stood over him, waving toys and sweets in his direction.

The relief was like a glass of water to the lips of a traveller in the desert. Palpable, swooshing over me leaving immediate calm.

I was safe this time. Some other poor bugger had to deal with it.