On the infrequent occasions in which I head outside of my 15,000 souls town of Sablé-sur-Sarthe, I often make a beeline towards the train station and grab a seat headed to the city of Le Mans.
(The former walled Plantagenet city of Le Mans, for those who are unaware, is most well-known for a motorcar race held in June known as the 24 Hours of Le Mans, in which drivers from all over the world race NASCAR-style for 24 hours straight. Lots of Brits descend on the city in groups and drunkenly buy rounds at the cafés.)
During a recent outing in Le Mans, I was minding my own business walking around the city's relatively calm streets when I came across something which caught my eye. In one of the parked cars, I saw a baby sleeping peacefully in the passenger's side front seat. All would have been right with this scenario had a responsible adult occupied either the driver's seat or if someone else had been sitting in the back.
Except the baby was alone.
My deeply-ingrained Floridian instinct to never leave live creatures trapped in hot vehicles for a prolonged period of time raised a red flag at the situation and, for some reason, I began to panic over this unknown baby. I don't know why I panicked because the child's full rosy cheeks and calm demeanor signaled that she seemed well-cared for and relatively healthy and, quite frankly, it really wasn't my problem if someone had abandoned their child in a car.
And yet, I worried. I couldn't believe that someone would simply leave their child in a car. Was the baby even a real child? It seems silly to think about it now, but in that moment, my brain recalled stories about people who actually went out with realistic baby dolls and cared for the dolls as if they were real children. Had I somehow encountered one of those fake babies resting in the car seat?
I observed the child more closely, paying attention for any vital signs of life: a chest that heaved delicately, a muscular twitch in the face or the hands. Her tiny fist wriggled for a few seconds, which clearly meant she wasn't a doll.
Unless it was a remote-controlled doll? Nah, I reasoned, that's just stupid.
I found myself rooted to the pavement next to the car. Questions arose in my mind. Where was her mother? When was the mother coming back? For how long had the kid been in the car alone? Should I let someone else know about the seemingly abandoned baby? Who could I even tell?
Luckily, my questions were answered after a couple of minutes. Across the street, I spotted a blond woman who dragged her young son by the arm and they walked in the car's direction. I smiled with relief.
"Oh, good. I was worried about the baby," I said to her.
Rather than reciprocating my smile, she stormed towards me, glaring. She yanked the keys from her purse and fumbled finding the one to open the car's doors. Within seconds, I had the privilege to listen to a frustrated mother's explosive tirade.
"I'm getting so sick and tired of this!" she exclaimed. "Every week, this happens to me! I have to come every Wednesday to that building--" she jabbed a raised index finger, keys jangling loudly, to the building adjacent to where we stood "--and this is the third time now that I've had to rush back to the car. My kid's asleep and it really made no sense to wake her up if I was only going to be gone for a few minutes."
She wasn't apologetic with her words. She was angry. At me.
"I'm a mother with three kids! And with no help at all! I can't do everything on my own!" she fumed. I looked at the son's blank face and wondered where the third child could have been and if the kids' father was out of the picture. My latent Fight-or-Flight response kicked in and I backed away from the mother and son. My intention wasn't at all to reprimand this woman. For reasons I can't understand, I just stuck around to make sure the baby was going to be all right. Upon the mother's return, the situation was now effectively out of my hands.
"Right. Well...have a good day, Ma'am," I responded awkwardly.
In a rather un-French fashion, she didn't return my civil reply of bidding someone good-bye, which in turn irrationally pissed me off.
Fine, lady. I thought to myself. I won't care about your kid again. In fact, see if I ever care about another human being again! I'm going to become a cold, heartless, insensitive bitch and then I'll be able to watch those smarmy Sarah McLachlan ads about abused puppies and kitties and NOT feel a damn thing. I'll show you! I'LL SHOW YOU ALL!!!
In retrospect, I realize now how much of a creep I must have looked standing next to the car and gawking at the lone child. I also feel fortunate to be a woman because given the context, had I been a man, I probably would have been accused of being a perverted baby snatcher and been beaten over the head with a purse.
In all reality, I probably won't stop being an overly sensitive empathetic gal, but I do need to toughen up and not get involved in other people's business.
Especially French mothers who leave their kids alone in cars.
Barb the French Bean