Missing

Once there was a young wombat named Benson, who lived in a tidy, warm wombat hole with his mother and his two aunts, Lillibet and Moss.

One morning after breakfast, Benson was getting ready to go to the park when his mother said, “I’m sorry, Benson, I can’t take you to the park after all.”

Benson said, “But it’s Alejandro’s birthday, remember? I’ve even got a present for him!”

His mother said, “I’m sorry, but there was a big thunderstorm over on the other side of the creek last night, and lots of animals had their homes damaged. I have to go and help organise food for them, and find places for everyone to stay.”

Benson looked so disappointed that his mother said to Aunt Lillibet, “Lillibet, do you think you could possibly take Benson to the park instead of me?”

Aunt Lillibet thought about the park, which would be boring, and the weather, which was perfect, and all the children who would be at the park, which would be annoying, and wearing her new hat with the marshmallows and snail shells on it, which would be fun. “Yes, all right,” she said.

The park was full of young wombats and their mothers and grandparents and aunties. Everyone looked at Aunt Lillibet’s hat with surprise, and she was very pleased. Benson ran off to give Alejandro his present, which was a drawing of two dancers. Alejandro loved it. Then they both went to the slippery slide to play with Mick and his sister, Bonnie Lou.

Benson’s friend Rodney came, with his mother and his little sister, Ada. Rodney gave Alejandro an excellent present. It was a long, long ribbon tied to a stick. It made beautiful loops and waves when Alejandro twirled it around, and when he danced, he could twirl it around himself like a waving sea.

Aunt Lillibet found a tree that no-one was sitting under and she sat down and closed her eyes for a quiet nap. Then Rodney’s mother, Polly, came up and said, “I’ve left Ada’s hat at home. Would you mind watching her and Rodney while I run home and get it? I’ll only be five minutes.”

Aunt Lillibet woke up and said, “Mmmpf? Yes, all right.”

Polly hurried off. Ada sat down under the tree next to Aunt Lillibet and started looking for flowers to make a daisy chain with. Aunt Lillibet closed her eyes again.

Benson and Alejandro had a go on the see-saw. Then Alejandro’s baby brother, Quentin, suddenly started crying. Not really crying, more like bawling his eyes out.

Aunt Lillibet woke up again and said, “What? Is that a fire engine?”

Quentin’s mother, Amelie, said, “No, a bee stung poor little Quentin on his foot.”

Mick’s mother, Delia, said, “I have some ointment at home that’s excellent for bee-stings. Why don’t you bring him back to my place and we’ll put some on his foot?”

Amelie thought that would be a good idea. She asked Aunt Lillibet, “Would you mind keeping an eye on the children while we’re gone? We’ll only be five minutes.”

Aunt Lillibet thought they couldn’t take that screaming baby away fast enough. “Yes, all right,” she said. Both the mothers hurried off with Quentin. Aunt Lillibet closed her eyes again.

Benson came running up. “Can you push us on the swing?” he asked.

“No, I’m much too busy,” Aunt Lillibet said. “I’m watching all the children, Mick and Bonnie Lou, and Alejandro. And Rodney and Ada,” she remembered.

“That’s a lot of watching,” Benson said.

Aunt Lillibet thought so too. “It’s…” she counted on her fingers, “… five children altogether.”

Benson said, “Don’t forget me.”

“I meant six,” Aunt Lillibet said. She looked around the playground and counted. “One, two, three, four, five. Only five! There’s one missing!”

“Did you count me?” Benson said.

“Wait, I’ll count again,” she said. “You, and Mick, and Alejandro, and Rodney, and Bonnie Lou – that’s five!” She ticked each one off on her fingers. “Ada! I’ve lost Ada!” she said. She jumped up and looked around the whole playground. There was no Ada anywhere.

“Quick!” she said to Benson. “Get everyone to look for her! She could have fallen into the creek and drowned! She could have climbed up a tree and fallen out and hurt herself. She could have been taken by a pack of wild dogs!”

“Aunt Lillibet,” Benson said calmly.

“Don’t just stand there!” Aunt Lillibet said. “There’s a child missing! What if a herd of tigers is roaming around, looking for a child to eat? Or there’s a bear behind a tree, just waiting to snatch her up and carry her away to its lair?”

“Aunt Lillibet,” Benson said, “it’s okay. Ada is right here. She’s holding your hand.”

Aunt Lillibet looked down. There was Ada, holding onto her hand, wearing a very pretty daisy chain on her head.

“Oh!” Aunt Lillibet said. “Where have you been? You shouldn’t have been hiding from me like that!” She sat down, feeling quite shaky around the knees.

Just then Polly came back with Ada’s hat, and Delia and Amelie came back with baby Quentin, whose foot felt much better.

“Thank you for minding the children,” they said. “Were they any trouble?”

“No trouble at all,” Aunt Lillibet said.

“I knew they’d be fine with you,” Delia said. “You’re so calm and experienced.”

Benson opened his mouth to say something, and Aunt Lillibet glared at him, but all he said was, “Is it time for the birthday cake yet?”

“Definitely,” Amelie said. She brought out the cake. It was covered in pineapple and pawpaw and mango cream. All the children rushed over, and they sat under the tree and ate every bit of it, except for one extra-large piece that Amelie saved for Aunt Lillibet.

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