No matter how hard it is for me to believe, I’m not writing this blog in Dublin. After after all the lockdowns and non-essential travel rules and five kilometre and three kilometre limits and how small our lives became since March 13th last year, I’m now on a family holiday overseas.
Maybe it’s only a week long city break, but getting onto our flight on Sunday morning was a journey to a new and bigger world. And when we arrived, looking out of the taxi window as we raced deeper and deeper into the city with the high rises and multiple motorways and apartment blocks on all sides, it was almost overwhelming.
Any unease slipped away quickly, too much to do, too much fun. I had checklist of sights to visit that I’d been scheduling and rescheduling for excited weeks in advance of this holiday. My fourteen-year-old son and ten-year-old daughter had their respective priorities – a visit to the zoom, a tour of the football stadium. My wife was just happy to be out and about and take everything in. Added to all of this, there were the exotic, delicious bakeries, wonderful meals and the simple joy of being a family out discovering a new world together.
Today was the visit to the museum where I’m now typing this blogpost on my phone. I won’t say its name, but you’ll know the one I’m talking about. Hundreds of years old and encompassing art, history and science and all fully refurbished and modernised over the last decade, it’s the biggest museum in Europe. The various permanent exhibitions alone are three times the size of Dublin’s national gallery. Add to this all the temporary exhibitions, the cafes and restaurants, the in- house art-house cinemas and the gift shops, it is its own little universe that’s famous not only as a museum, but for its immense and endless network of escalators.
We made our way inside just after nine. Evidently we weren’t the only ones who’d thought of rediscovering the museum since it reopened. It was already filling up. As we rose up on the first thread of the spider’s web of escalators that stretched out above us, we grinned to each other like fools. We weren’t in Dublin anymore, Toto.
Our first stop on stepping off the escalator were the spoils of colonisation. We marvelled at fully reconstructed ancients temples and halls of statues. My daughter, happy to be at my side, indulged in giddy flights of fancy imagining life in those days. My wife let it all wash over her. My son was quickly impatient. After the third room of ‘old stuff,’ as he called it, he began straying further and further ahead of us. I’ll admit I wasn’t really paying attention, there was too much to see, but my wife said that she’d go ahead with him. I waved her on and agreed they’d meet us at the top of the next escalator.
But when we got to the end of that wing there were not one or two, but three escalators heading each in a different direction upwards. I phoned my wife, but the museum walls played havoc with our mobile coverage. Her voice stuttered in and out in bursts of static before the call cut out. Still, I thought I’d heard enough to know to take the centre escalator.
They weren’t waiting for us when we reached the top so myself and my daughter made our way through the gallery of stunning paintings from the 1800s. We took our time, expecting to see them ahead of us at any minute as the exhibition winded around corners. My daughter was starting to tire soI kept her entertained by getting her to count the paintings of noblemen on horses. She’d reached twenty eight by the time we reached the next bank of escalators.
No one was waiting for us.
The phone network had improved a little and my call got through to my wife immediately. She was little breathless, even had an edge of panic in her voice. Our son had run on ahead, saying he’d spotted me. She asked me repeatedly if I could see him. I couldn’t.
I tried to calm her down and work out where she was on my museum map, but the museum was even bigger than I had imagined back at home and the signage was useless. From everything my wife said, it sounded like she was in either the Asian wing or the temporary ceramics exhibit. Over the phone I heard her shoes pounding off the marble floor. Her voice was growing high pitched as she called for my son. Unnerved, I told her that he’d be fine. She told me to shut up, said she could see him and hung up.
I found a few sweets in my pocket to keep my daughter quiet and led us to more escalators. Tossing a coin in my head, I headed in what I hoped was the direction of the Asian wing. Instead we reached an exhibit of contemporary German Expressionism. I dragged my daughter whining through the exhibition not seeing my wife or son anywhere and not seeing the art either.
My phone network stuttered in and out of life. Calls only held up for a few seconds at a time before being cut off. Her words were mangled. ‘Can’t find him and -’ ‘- I think I saw him -’ ‘- battery low -’ That was the last call I got from her.
I cursed our packing. We’d only brought one charger and last night I’d commandeered it. Tired and frazzled, I tried getting help from the museum staff, but they were no use. The stab vested security guards looked right through us, eyes peeled for terrorist or criminals, not lost tourists. The exhibition staff were kids, barely out of secondary school, and didn’t know their way around the museum much better than me. They sent me in three different directions. None of them got me to the information desk.
With my daughter crying and dragging on my arm, I ran through room after room of art and history and science. I saw none of it. Heading up an escalator that I was sure I’d been on earlier, I heard my wife. She was on an escalator heading down on the far side of the exhibition hall. She was on her own, her back to me, shouting our son’s name. I called to her just as she left my eye line. She turned and saw me. Her face was pale, pinched with fear.
I lost sight of her. By the time I’d managed to find an escalator back downstairs, she was gone. I was out of breath, not sure what to do until I heard a faint cry. ‘Dad!’ At the far end of a football pitch sized temporary exhibit on contemporary science fiction art, my son was heading upwards on an escalator waving his arms frantically at me.
‘Wait! Wait!’ I ran, yanking my daughter after me. She wailed, tripping and falling. Tourists stared at us. I pulled her into my arms, but she was too heavy. It was too slow. I saw my son – my beloved son who wouldn’t talk about anything other than Star Wars and still liked to be hugged even if he always twisted himself around to pretend I was choking him – trying to get down the up escalator as crowds held him back. He was crying.
I shouted. ‘I’m coming! I’m coming!’ My daughter struggled in my arms, screeching into my ears, overwhelmed. I couldn’t keep running. I couldn’t lose my son. I sat her firmly down on a bench. Gripped her by the arms so tightly that it must have hurt her, but she shut up and listened. ‘Don’t move. Wait here. Okay?’ She nodded, face pale.
Looking back every few second to make sure she hadn’t moved, knocking through crowds of tourists, falling and getting up again, I got to the escalator. My son was already was lost from view. Should I wait here for him? Go up?
I looked back. My daughter wasn’t on the bench where I’d left her.
Breathless. Heart pounding. I ran.
I cried out as I reach the empty bench. Idiot. I was an idiot. I had been in such a hurry.
I hadn’t seen the escalator right in front of where I’d left her.
I ran up it after her.
That was eleven hours ago. I’m so tired. My phone battery is almost dead. None of the security guards or staff will listen to me. The other tourists make wide circles around me. My feet are sore. My voice is hoarse. I can barely shout anymore.
I haven’t seen my son since earlier.
My wife, I saw her once a few hours back. She was in an automated skyway. I was on a escalator below. She pounded on the glass but the crowds pushed her on till she was gone.
My precious daughter. My wonderful daughter. I haven’t seen her at all. But I’ve heard her. I’ve heard her crying, calling for me, calling for her mother. I’ve run and run and run towards her but never find her.
The museum is closing soon. The halls are emptying out. But I can’t seem to find my way out. Soon we’ll be the only ones here. Soon the lights will go out, but the escalators will never stop. They’ll go on forever.
I wish we we’d stayed within five kilometres of our home.
I wish we’d stayed within three kilometres of our home.