There is an expression that everyone has their 15 minutes of fame. Well today I had my 15 minutes of hell. I drove back to where Leonardo has his bi-weekly tennis lesson to collect him at 6.15. I was coming from an interview for an article I am writing about Emirati women. Fatima, the girl I had just interviewed, was one of the most charming and interesting young women I have ever met, but still I left in good time to collect my gorgeous son.
I got to the tennis court at 6.15 on the dot. There was no sign of Leo. The other class has already started. Rhida, the coach, runs a tight ship. “Check the basketball courts,” came the advice from the other mothers.
I was already worried. Rhida and I had talked briefly when I left Leo. I warned him I may be a few minutes late to collect him. “He always just stays around the court,” said Rhida. And he does. In the two months since lessons began Leo has always just hung out next to the court, endlessly hitting a ball against a wall, no matter how long he has to wait, sometimes for 45 minutes if one of his sisters has their lesson after his.
This evening he was nowhere to be found. I looked everywhere. A whole gang of lovely Lebanese mothers were galvanised into action and scoured the place. Rhida even abandoned his tennis group to join the search. I thought I was going to cry the whole time; the only thing I could think about was my little boy and how I longed to hold him. I imagined all sorts of awful things. He is so trusting, he would probably go anywhere with anyone who told him I had sent a message to collect him. But as the Lebanese mothers kept saying: ‘this is a very safe place’.
We alerted the security guard and a few minutes later he came to find me with the news that Leo was waiting for me at the main gate. I have no idea why he decided to head over there, he has never even been there before. I rushed there to find him happily collecting old rusty nails from the ground. He didn’t seem remotely pleased to see me as I threw my arms around him and hugged him.
“He told me he was waiting for his mummy; that she drives a Volvo and her phone number starts with 050 but he couldn’t remember the rest,” said the jolly man at the gate who was keeping him company.
Telling someone here a phone number starts with 050 is a bit like living in New York and saying a number starts with 212 or 0777 for a mobile in England.
I took him back to meet the Lebanese mothers and to put Rhida’s mind at rest. He was greeted like a returning hero, even though he’d only been gone for 15 minutes. He seemed a little confused by all the attention.
“I didn’t quite miss you,” he told me in the car. “The tennis was great.”
For 15 minutes I more than quite missed him. And he now knows my phone number off by heart.
Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2009