11/10/2015
Something something to men's wear, please...

I was just one year old when I was first lost in a mall. As the story goes, my aunt let go of my hand and lost track of me completely. Of course I have no recollection of this, because I was just a year old, but I could just imagine the panic my parents had when they realized I had vanished and was strolling around somewhere at Ever Gotesco Grand Central. Or that I was crying somewhere, in some corner, at Ever Gotesco Grand Central. Maybe some stranger would have taken me and my life as I know it would be completely different.

But, well, I was found, and I am back in the loving arms of my parents. I'm sure of that because I'm still easily able to get my birth certificate online. That would have been awkward and confusing, realizing that my parents are not my actual parents, and that they were the ones who found me crying at a busy mall in Caloocan and took me away. Not that I'd be able to go back and trace the evidence myself; for one, the Grand Central has since closed down after a pretty big fire. But I digress.

The second time I got lost in a mall, I was around eight, or nine, or ten. All my life, up to that date, I vowed never to be one of those kids who would be crying when they realized they can't find their parents anymore. But, alas, I had to be in a toy store, and I had to have a thing for Micro Machines at the time.

I liked toy cars as a boy. Typical boy, you might say. I had slightly different ideas, though. I did not just take the car and go "vroom vroom" with it. I had to build an entire city around the car. I accumulated lots of cars, lots of Happy Meal toys, lots of things that could pass as buildings. There were people, too, also collected from all of those other toys. It made sense to me like an eight-year-old would. This is my city, I would declare. And now I will destroy it with an asteroid. I would throw a ball at it and boom! Disaster strikes. Fire trucks and police cars would come to the scene. The survivors would grieve over the dead. And a few months later - well, minutes in this case - the clean-up would be done, and standing on the site of where the asteroid struck is a memorial.

I had a thing for Micro Machines precisely because they were actual buildings. It would be the centerpiece of my city: a sprawling car repair complex with a gas station at the bottom and a repainting area (that did no repainting at all), and I could easily fold it! I already had, by then, a truck stop (complete with a T. rex's head, made of rubber, that would be its sign) and a car wash building. Sure, I only got four cars out of it, but the buildings and their details was a delight as a kid.

I decided to check out the Micro Machines aisle at the Toy Kingdom at SM Southmall. Which one would be great to have? I could ask my parents to buy this, and maybe ask Santa Claus to give me that. I spent some time there, and then my parents were gone. My sister was gone. I went from aisle to aisle, hoping I didn't suffer the fate of those crying kids. But, well, crap, I was that kid now. As if on cue, I cried.

And, of course, a security guard found me.

"Nawawala ako!" I sobbed.

I, of course, remember none of the specifics, not just because it's a long time ago, but because I was lost! What else am I supposed to think about? I remember the security guard bringing me to the staff of the store, who then brought me to the department store across the hall. Yep, they brought me out of the store, where my parents likely are, and took me to another store, where my parents likely aren't. Typing this in now, it doesn't make sense to me.

But it did when I was that crying, blubbering kid, knowing that he's just like every other kid who strays away from the pack and gets lost in malls and is stupid and annoying and bad. I'm a bad boy. Now I won't get that Micro Machines set I wanted for Christmas. The mere act of crying is making me nervous, even. I had the reputation for being a cry baby at school, and that always meant you disrupted classes and are, therefore, a bad boy. I really won't get that Micro Machines set I wanted for Christmas. It must have been such a crisis of confidence in myself. I must have not forgotten them because of I was young and I was lost. I'm sure I repressed all of this in shame.

The staff led me to the customer service section at the department store. I've always been fascinated by it when I was still not one of those kids who get lost. That's where you hear the in-store announcements, although I never quite knew what they were saying. A bell would chime, and a muffled voice would some on. Something something to men's wear, please, something something to men's wear, please. Again, something something to men's wear please, something something to men's wear, please. Thank you. Then the bell would chime again, and that was that.

"What's your name?" one of the ladies behind the counter asks me.

I give my name.

"Anong pangalan ng mama at papa mo?"

I don't call them that, but I give their names anyway. I knew their names. I was the smart kid in class, after all. One last chance to redeem myself.

Having gotten the necessary information, the lady swerves towards the counter and turns on the magic microphone.

Calling the attention of Henry and Kaye Batallones, calling the attention of Henry and Kaye Batallones...

There I was, seeing the microphone at work, from behind the scenes. That was enough to put me at ease.

Well, that, and all the papers behind the counter. Who would have thought the customer service counters looked so messy from the perspective of the people who worked in it? I was occupied enough to try to figure out what those might be, but I didn't poke around and look at what they actually are. I was already a bad boy. I should not be any worse than I already am.

A few minutes later, I was reunited with my parents. So began my road to redemption, one which included stories to relatives about how I got lost in the mall - and how it's my second time. But, yeah, the first one wasn't my fault. I was just one year old!

This Saturday I was at the mall. I don't get lost now, no. I'm 26. I go to malls by myself now, drive myself, park myself, do errands myself. I got a haircut and was heading to the clinic to have my persistent cough checked. (I'll be taking antibiotics for a week. And flu medicine too, the kind that gets you really sleepy, which is a good idea for a weekend, but not for the Monday that follows.) Along the way, I saw a security guard escort a girl, perhaps around ten. He had his arms wrapped around her, and they were walking slowly. She had this blank stare on her face, but she didn't look distressed or anything. Still, I bet she was lost in the mall, separated from her parents.

I stopped walking and watched the pair. Neither was talking. If she's lost, then wow, she's quite calm, I thought. But, again, I wasn't sure if she really was lost. I had to have proof. They should be going to the customer service counter... right... there, right across where I was standing.

True enough, they go to customer service. And so the cycle continues. What's your name? Who are your parents? And then an announcement will be made over that magic microphone.

Then again, it's 2015. A lot of things have changed, if not everything. I was twelve years old when I got my first mobile phone, and I shared it with my sister. I don't know how early kids wait before they get mobile phones. Smartphones, even. Tablets. Nobody wants Micro Machines anymore. They want tablets, smartphones, the ability to play a game or watch a movie wherever they want. And, I don't know, do they get it when they turn ten, eight, six years old? Is it a baptismal gift? A first birthday gift?

This lost girl, maybe she doesn't have a phone, otherwise she would have called her parents and asked where they are, told them that she's lost, hide the fact that she now believes she's a bad girl with no redemption in sight. Maybe the ladies behind the customer service counter would have asked the girl if she knows her mom's phone number. Maybe they would've made a phone call instead, thinking, why does this girl not have a phone? Come to think of it, I did not hear an announcement as I walked to the clinic.

And your responses...

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