Last week, the Edinburgh chap and family drove from Edinburgh down to Caterham, in Surrey. In order – so we thought – to complete as much of the journey as possible with the children sleeping, and to miss the M25 rush afternoon traffic, we awoke at 02:00.
A quick cup of coffee to blow the cobwebs away, then we loaded everyone into the car. We set off at 02:30. Less than a mile from the house, we drive through a cutting in the road. High banks, no houses, not much street lighting.
A shadowy figure on the pavement. Small, pink. “Was that a kid?” I said. My spotting-out-of-place-people-on-pavements taxi driver’s instinct still honed after all these years in office jobs. My wife’s response still a little sleepy, but I decided to stop the car, and reverse back.
There she was, a small girl in pyjamas and a dressing gown. No slippers or shoes. 200m from the nearest house, at 02:30.
“Are you OK?” No response.
“Where are you going?” “To <name of school>.”
“What’s your name?” She told us her name, and her age.
“Where have you come from? Do you know where you live?” No response.
It was at this point that I decided to outsource the matter. Not only was I concerned for the girl’s safety, but I also had my family to consider, and any complications that may have arisen had we done the natural thing, and bundled her into the car to drive her home. I rang the local police operations room, and a pair of officers showed up a few minutes later.
Obviously the police have to do their job, which includes collecting information on people who are reporting issues to them. Still, I was glad I had my wife and my own children with me. A man alone in the middle of the night finding a girl would have been infinitely more suspicious. I couldn’t have not done anything though, and would have acted in the same way even if I had been on my own. Some things you have to do something about, even if it’s not strictly any of your business.
The school term had started only the day before. She must have woken up, and thought it was time to go to school. Although that doesn’t explain the pyjamas. Maybe she was sleep-walking.
One can only imagine the reaction of the parents, who’d left their house such that their seven-year-old could get out (probably in response to all the hysterical “fire safety” ads that have been on recently). The arrival of the police van, a knock on the door (and nobody wants a knock on the door at 03:00). “Hello, it’s Lothian & Borders Police here, we’d like to talk to you about home security. Oh, and here’s your daughter.”
We arrived at our breakfast waypoint at 07:30. I wonder how many times those parents checked that little girl’s bedroom in the intervening four hours.