By Anne Hill
Perth, Western Australia
Many years ago, I became ill at school. I suppose someone must have asked me if I was OK to get home by myself, and I must have said that I was. I wasn’t. My head ached fiercely, I wasn’t thinking very well, and I boarded the wrong bus. I still recall the feeling of panic that hit when I realized we were going the wrong way. I got out at the next stop and walked back to the street where my bus usually turned off, and set out walking.
I was only nine years old, I was sick, it was a blazing hot day and I soon found myself in unfamiliar territory. I tried to retrace my steps,
but nothing looked familiar. Finally, I saw a little corner store, and went in to ask for a drink of water and directions. The storekeeper was talking to a chocolate salesman, but, confronted with a small girl in school uniform, in the middle of the day and clearly distressed, he asked me kindly what was wrong. In the face of such unexpected sympathy, I lost what little self control I still had and sobbed out my story.
In those days, we didn’t have a telephone at home so there was no way to contact my mother. The chocolate company salesman offered to take me home. I remember my mother’s expression of horrified confusion when she answered the door and saw me with a strange man, having clearly been driven home in his car. He explained how we’d met and we both thanked him gratefully before he left. Inside, I clung to my mother in relief and told her my story. With the benefit of my own experience as a mother, I understand why my mother was furious with the school. At the time, though, I begged her not to talk to my teacher because I thought it was all my fault.
When I was calmer and feeling better, Mum said I should have asked the storekeeper to ring our neighbor (I hadn’t even thought of that), and she asked me what I was thinking of to get a lift with a stranger. “But Mum, he’s the CADBURY MAN!” I said in surprise. Not trusting a man who sold chocolates made as much sense to me as not trusting Santa Claus! People who sell chocolates couldn’t be the sort of bad people she had warned me about. As far as I was concerned, he was a hero who had rescued me when I was a damsel in distress.
Mum helped me write a thank you letter to the company, although we didn’t know the rep’s name. We also tried to thank the storekeeper, but I must have been well and truly lost. We drove through the neighborhood streets, but never found the store. I can only hope, that in the unthinkable event that my own son is ever in such a situation, he will meet someone equally generous and concerned.
Available in The Best of HeroicStories, Volume 1.