Safety First

It had been a fun-filled day. My sister Emma and I, along with her kids, had gone to the mall to indulge in retail therapy. Emma had rented a tandem truck-shaped stroller from guest services, and the kids were happily pretending to “drive” around the stores. Our last stop was at a fancy-pants makeup counter; Emma wanted to buy an overpriced eyebrow pencil. As she chatted with the salesgirl, I kept the kids entertained by bouncing the stroller like a roller coaster. Just as we were entering a loop-de-loop, the mall’s fire alarm went off — the loudest, most skull-rattling sound I’ve ever heard.

Okay, no problem. Keeping calm, I wheeled the kids back towards Emma, who was still chatting.

“Ready to go?” I asked tightly.

“Yep, I’m just about done,” Emma replied, as she swiped her debit card on the machine. The kids had their hands clapped to their ears, and they weren’t freaking out – yet. Neither was the salesgirl, whose nonchalance was unnerving. Like a tired turtle, she handed Emma her receipt, and with the fire alarm blaring and security guards hurrying around, she asked:

“Would you like a bag today?” Not waiting for an answer, she grabbed a sandwich-sized gift bag and casually dropped Emma’s makeup pencil inside. Maybe the alarm was a regular occurrence for her; in my mounting anxiety, I admired her insouciance. After a bored “have a nice day” from her, we started briskly walking through the maze of purses and perfumes, maneuvering the kids towards the nearest exit as the alarm did its best to deafen us. Finally, we made it to the exterior door and found a polite poster informing us that this exit was locked and “temporarily closed. Please use the south side exit.”

The alarm drowned out my cursing, as we headed back the way we came, shopping bags jostling and kids hanging on for dear life. With my heart hammering loudly and my palms sweating, we passed the salesgirl again, who was calmly texting on her phone. I imagine she’d exit the building once flames started melting the cash register. Finally, we found an unlocked door and burst outside into the fresh air, where we were greeted by not one but two fire engines. Maybe this wasn’t the false alarm we thought it was.

As we calmed down and checked on the kids, (who were marveling at the fire engines), I watched as three people tried to walk into the mall while the alarm was still blaring. Does nobody pay attention? I’m not the most observant person (I once described our grey mini-van as a “long blue taxi thing”) but a fire alarm is hard to miss.

“Did that salesgirl hear the fire alarm?” I asked Emma.

“Yep,” she replied.

“And she still asked if you wanted a bag?”

“She’s really dedicated to customer service,” Emma deadpanned.

I burst out laughing, relived to be away from the alarm and the world’s most blasé sales associate. I was proud of how we had handled the situation, and proud of how calm the kids had been; amazingly, they had been silent. They didn’t cry or scream; they simply sat in the stroller and helped us find the exit. But why had that first door been locked? How can a door be out of order? Flagging down a fireman, I told him about the locked door, and he thanked me, before barking at an oblivious shopper as they tried to enter the mall.

We returned the stroller, and Emma and I bought the kids ice-cream as a reward. On the way home they chatted about the “best shopping trip ever!” There had been noise, fire trucks, and ice-cream – what more could kids want? If only there had been a good-looking fireman for Emma and me to drool over!