Last Saturday evening I was walking down the creepy stretch that leads from the train station to my flat when I was accosted by two little girls in distress.
“Have you seen our Kater?” the older asked.
“Kater” means male cat. I hadn’t seen one.
The little girl bit her lip. “I am in so much trouble. So much trouble.”
“What does it look like?”
“Like any Kater!” she snapped.
It was a quarter to nine. The girls had big brown eyes and dark hair. The older one was about seven and the younger one no more than four.
“It’s all my sister’s fault,” the older one blurted out. “She started messing and ran away.” She smacked her little sister over the head. “It’s all your fault!”
“Hey!” I said. “Don’t do that! You are NOT allowed to hit.”
The younger sister didn’t flinch but stared ahead with her big brown eyes.
“Look,” I said. “Can you tell me what happened?”
“We went to the shop to buy the Kater,” the older girl said, fighting back tears. “And then my little sister started messing and I went after her and now the Kater is gone.”
I got the impression she was not taking about a cat.
In fact, she was talking about a “Karte,” which means “card.”
“Did you mum or dad send you out to buy the Karte?”
“Yes!” she cried, more hysterical. “Our mum did. I can’t go home. You’ve no idea the trouble I’ll be in.”
“What kind of card is it?” I asked. “What is it for?”
“For a mobile phone!”
The little girls had lost a top-up voucher.
“Did you buy it in the shop at the station?” I asked.
“And have you checked the pavement?”
“We can’t find it. Please help us. I’m in so much trouble.”
“Okay,” I said. “Have you already looked across the road, just outside the station?”
“No, it’s too dark, we’re scared.”
It is dark and scary there. It’s dimly-lit and there are bushes. Once my heart almost stopped when a man emerged suddenly from urinating in the hedge.
We crossed over and began to scour the pavement. It was full of cards advertising taxi companies.
Suddenly the younger one pointed at something that looked like a receipt and picked it up.
“Is this it?” I asked.
The older girl snatched it and said. “I can’t see. I need to find some light.”
We moved under the dull glow of an orange street lamp.
It was a top-up card. For €10.
“Brilliant! Well done!” I said to the littler girl.
They were not as relieved as I’d expected them to be.
“Where do you live?” the older girl asked.
I told her I lived at the end of the road.
“Can I take your hand?” the little one asked.
I paused for about half a second.
“Sure,” I said and she clutched it.
I was trying to weigh up my chances of defence against a kidnapping charge. Circumstantial evidence was not in my favour.
“Will you take us up the steps?” the older girl asked.
“I’m sorry, I don’t understand you. What steps?”
“In our house.
“In your house?”
“Yes. Please, please, please. I’m so scared. The monster has already killed the lady.”
“The lady who used to live there. She’s dead because of the monster.”
“There are no such things as monsters.”
“Yes there are!” the two girls shouted, infuriated.
“No they’re not,” I said. “They are only in stories. So they can be in your head, but not in real life.”
“The worst monsters are in Romania,” said the younger girl.
“I’ve seen the monster,” said the older one.
“Oh really?” I asked. “What did it look like?”
“What was its hair like?”
She moved her hands apart as if she were making clouds in the air. “Like this.”
“And what colour eyes did it have?”
“You see,” I said. “Sometimes people just tell you stories to frighten you. It doesn’t mean they’re real.”
She was unconvinced.
“Please come in with us.”
“I can’t come into your house,” I said. “I’m sorry.”
“PLEASE” they both cried.
They came to a stop outside an apartment block.
“Is this where you live?”
“Yes,” they said. “Please, please, please don’t go.”
They clung to me.
Suddenly a woman’s face popped out of the window.
She had a pony-tail and she was staring at us.
“Is that your mum?” I asked them.
“Look,” I said loudly, pointing up at their mother. “There’s mum, everything is okay. There’s no need to be frightened””
The woman continued to watch us.
“Look,” I said, even more loudly. “Hallo mama!” I waved stupidly.
She didn’t budge.
Neither did they.
“You have to go inside now,” I told them.
“You have to come with us. PLEASE.”
“I can’t,” I said. “Look, your mum is right up there. You’re safe now!”
They held onto me.
Their mother was still at the window.
We were in a stand-off.
“Okay fine,” I said.
They pushed open the door.
Inside the entrance hall was a concrete staircase. A few steps led downwards to an open cellar, which appeared like a gaping hole.
I could imagine a monster there.
Their mother came to the door. I turned as fast as I could, pushing the two little girls gently in front.
“Thanks,” the woman with the pony-tail called after me.
I rushed out of the building and when I got home, I thought about whom they had got their stories about monsters from. And why the woman with the pony tail had not budged from the window. And about what my curfew was when I was seven. And about what will happen the next time they cling to a stranger on the street.