Maurice began the day like any other. He awoke in the same drab gray bed sheets. He sipped the same bitter black coffee, and greeted the slight drizzle outside with an inexpressive glower. His polished black shoes slapped the sidewalk with a dead rhythm, and his frown deepened when a dull puddle splashed onto his long slacks. Something felt odd about this day. Maurice did not like that odd feeling. It made him uncomfortable. The same cement buildings towered above him, the lampposts and street signs had not moved. Yet with the clacking of his feet he acknowledged this obscure sense of peculiarity that seemed to hover around him like a gnat. The door to the law firm swung open with a familiar ding. His mahogany desk was empty but for a stapler and a laptop. His faded chair slumped with tiredness. Hours passed and his keyboard clicked with an air of annoyance. The peculiar feeling only grew with time, forming a tight ball in his chest.
“What is it?” Maurice muttered, sagging in his uniform office chair.
Just then, as if in response, the door dinged — accompanied by a rush of wind that ruffled his hair stiffened his spine. A small girl appeared breathless, dressed in a bright pink polka dotted top and blaring white pants. Between gasps she made out a few words, “sir… you… you must help . . . its — I’ve lost Taffy.”
Forgetting everything, Maurice rushed from his seat flustered. He croaked out, “Who—who is Taffy? Where are your parents?” She responded with a worried look and glanced outside across the street. Tucked into a corner, a neglected building speckled with small blinded windows hid in the shade. In all his days walking up and down the street, Maurice had never seemed to notice this building nearly cowering among the surrounding edifices. Squinting, Maurice struggled to make out a sign. Stepping outside into the newly-arrived light, he made out what it said. Orphanage, it read dispassionately. Maurice looked down at the pink mass below him, his eyes crinkling in understanding. Her unbound hair only reached his torso.
“Well, we must get you back then,” he said with a sad smile.
“No!” the girl said defiantly, “we must look for Taffy. He’s gone missing and we must find him, no matter what.” Without waiting for a response, she darted through the door and seized his right hand, pulling him down the sidewalk. He had no choice but to follow, two of her strides fit into one of his. The girl’s worn shoes slap the sidewalk with a rowdy pitter-patter as she negligently splashes through puddles, gleaming against the sun.
“Where are we going?” he asked incredulously, not sure exactly why he is going along with her quest. Surely the orphanage must notice she is missing. But something about the determination in her step or the childlike frenzy in her demeanor eases that tightening ball in his chest. “And who or what is Taffy?”
“Taffy is my mouse, he’s run away. And Aunt Molly won’t help me look,” she said, her arm extended behind her. “And we’re going to check each corner and alley until we find him.”
“Well then, to Taffy we go,” Maurice laughed for the first time that he could remember. He could not bear to drag her back to the dreaded orphanage just yet. Maurice remembered his bleak childhood, filled with too many children and not enough space. The beds were creaky and cold, and the mattress a slab of rock concealed in a drab green cover. Awakening him from his thoughts, the girl careened around a corner into an alleyway. She seemed to brighten up the space like a small sun.
“Look for a small white mouse with big ears and soft fur,” she exclaimed.
“Alright,” Maurice smiles, scouring the trashed ground, not letting go. Furtively, he glances up and down the alleyway. Once they have looked everywhere they could, the two enigmas venture down the next alley. They explore —looking for Taffy— until his slacks are stained and soggy up until his knee.
“It’s time we return back now, okay?”
“If you say so” the girl says somberly, “I guess Taffy truly is gone.” She clutched his soaked legs and whispered into the fabric, “Thank you.”
“Well,” Maurice ponders for a moment, “maybe Taffy has returned back to his home.” Hope set a glint into the girl’s eye as she glanced upwards. Tentatively, he wrapped the girl in a hug, wondering how something so small could make him feel so complete, if for but a fleeting afternoon. After a moment, the pair made the quick trek back to the cowering building. Maurice knocked on the dilapidated door, drooping on its peeling frame. The knocks were answered with a half shout and half whimper of relief.
“Oh my god where were you, I was worried sick thinking you were hurt – or worse,” cried a disturbed woman. Her hair was wild and her clothes were thoroughly rumpled. “Either that or you were playing your sick hide ‘n seek game.” As if remembering the man at the doorway, she turned to him and sighed. “Thank you so much for bringing her back safely, I cannot thank you enough.” There were children shouting in the background over a tv, and plates clattered in the kitchen.
“I’m just glad she’s alright,” he said, eyes crinkled once again.
“Well, she’s a troublemaker but an angel nonetheless,” the woman said.
With a decisive nod he turns back towards the rain-polished street and takes a step forward onto the cracked sidewalk, feeling as though he had just tripped on a rainbow. The door closes with a screeching creak. Yet before the door could boom shut he called out, “Wait, I could use some company.”