The baby was in his stroller in the mall, the biggest mall in the city that attracted thousands, especially during weekends. There were couples holding hands and giggling, friends hanging out and having fun, the old trying to understand what the noise was all about and the serious shoppers who hardly smiled. But everyone was busy. A few sat at the restaurant, sipping cool drinks and talking gaily.
The music was an old love song, dimming the voices. Still the baby slept in his stroller, blissfully dreaming of milk and candies. When the stroller moved, the baby didn’t wake up. He didn’t notice that the hand and face was different. The strange hands took the stroller to the second floor before picking him up. The baby’s face settled on a smooth material and soft chest, the thick smell of the perfume intruded and roused him up. He looked at the face holding him. That wasn’t his mother. Then he opened his mouth wide and began to scream with all energy. The woman holding him smiled nervously and began to pat his back. It didn’t work. The cries began to attract attention. She immediately brought out a feeding bottle from her bag and put the nipple in his mouth. He sucked tentatively, then rejected the milk. It was cold. The woman hugged him close. She stepped on the moving staircase and descended to the last floor. She walked past the security woman who was sitting on a yellow plastic chair and went into the big car park.
The security woman, Ruth was bored. The task of standing for hours while people walked in and out was one that encouraged boredom. She usually played a game as she stood there, trying to determine the personalities of the people who walked in. They were always the same. She could tell when a married man brought his mistress to shop, the guilty boyfriend and his angry girlfriend, the husband and wife on a tight budget, even the young ones who came in just to take pictures. The first bites of hunger were beginning to gnaw on her stomach and her mind was trying to decide between buying snacks with juice or going out to buy bole, roasted plantain with fish when the woman passed with the baby.
She looked absentmindedly, then paused. There was something about that baby. Something was at the back of her mind but she couldn’t place it. Meanwhile the woman got to her car and opened the back door. She put the baby in the back seat and was moving to get into the drivers seat.
Suddenly, Ruth remembered. That morning, a couple had walked in with that baby. She remembered them because she had watched the husband struggle to get the stroller out of the car as the wife watched impatiently. She could see the woman’s arm getting heavy from carrying the chubby boy so she had gone to offer her help. The wife had looked at her disdainfully and snubbed her open arms. Ruth had left angry and gone back to her post, wondering how somebody so rude could have such a handsome baby.
Ruth began to run to the car. The woman was already driving away. She took a detour and moved to the west side and stood directly in front of the car. The woman stopped the car, frowning. She pulled down the window and stuck her head out.
“What is it?” she asked impatiently.
Ruth motioned to the security guards at the gate. Two of them began to walk towards her. She walked to the woman and peeped into the car. The baby was in the back seat, still crying.
“Is there any problem?” the woman asked again.
“Please step out of the car madam.” Ruth said and stood politely by the door, her eyes on the ignition.
“What is wrong with you? I need to leave now. As you can see, my baby is hungry. Get out of my way.” The woman said.
“Madam step out of your car. I will not repeat myself.” Ruth said fiercely.
The woman switched off the ignition and came down, muttering angrily.
The two guards came up to her. “What’s happening here?” asked Peter, the youngest guard there asked.
“What nonsense is this? What kind of embarrassment is this? Is this how you treat your customers? I want to talk to your manager.” The woman shouted.
Ruth ignored her and turned to Peter.
“This woman has stolen this baby, I know the….” a wild slap interrupted her. The woman grabbed her shirt and began screaming.
“Are you mad? How dare you insinuate that I stole this baby? Do you know who I am? Do you know who my husband is? Where is your manager? Call him…” she directed at Peter.
“Madam calm down.” Peter said, trying to placate her.
“Don’t tell me to calm down. This woman must be fired for this. Call your manager here.” she still held Ruth by the collar.
Peter placed a phone call and briefed Mr Nyebuchi.
“He’s on his way madam” he told her as he dropped the call.
He took Ruth aside and asked “are you sure? See this woman will make sure they fire you oh. Better apologise now and let her go before manager gets here.”
Ruth smiled wanely. A small crowd had gathered around, watching intently.
Mr Nyebuchi hurried down, his short fat frame jiggling up and down as he walked fast.
“What’s going on here?” he asked even before he reached them.
The woman turned to him.
“Are you the manager?” she asked.
“Listen, you are going to sack this woman here. She has insulted me.”
“What did she do?” Mr Nyebuchi interrupted.
“I was leaving to go and feed my hungry baby when she stopped me and accused me of stealing my own child. Can you imagine?”
Mr Nyebuchi took a deep breath.
“Madam, right before they called me here, I received a call from my security on the fourth floor about a missing baby. It seems this two incidences are related. You’ll have to wait while I call the other couple looking for their child.”
Ruth could see the woman’s heart beat faster. She smiled inwardly and leaned on the car beside the side window so she could keep an eye on the baby.
The couple arrived. It was the rude woman. She rushed to the car and peered in, heaving a sigh of relief as she saw the baby in the back seat, now sleeping. She turned to the other woman, the kidnapper, and gave her a slap. The other woman reeled.
The rest happened quickly. The kidnapper was kept in the security room awaiting police custody. The relieved couple took their baby and went to the car. The mother couldn’t stop kissing her sleeping baby. The father watched her happily.
It took ten minutes before the wife remembered. She went to Ruth who had gone back to her post.
“I…i..i..want to apologise. I know I treated you shabbily this morning. But..you saved my baby…” tears rose to her eyes and spilled down her face.
Ruth smiled. “You don’t have to apologise madam. I understand.”
“Thank you so very much” the wife said and hugged Ruth.
Of course Ruth was offered some compensation. She refused it.