It’s a Saturday morning late last year, November or December, I don’t quite remember. It was looking to be a great day, with the sun already streaming in. It’s about 8am at Orange Grove markets, and the place is already busy; people are everywhere. I’m out the front of our stall with a plate full of samples, and as usual I’m doing my best to actually leave some for the customers. Nick, one of the boys from the coffee stand comes past, and says urgently, “Have you seen Sam?”. With a mouthful of food I shake my head as he pushes past me and keeps going. I don’t know a Sam and have no idea what is going on, so I continue pushing my wares on unsuspecting vegetarians as they walk past.
Sometime later, maybe 20 or 30 minutes, an older European bloke grabs my arm in the crowd; “Is that your car?” he asks, pointing to the butcher mobile parked in the middle of the market. I nod and he tells me, “We have a problem.” The penny still hasn’t quite dropped for me as we get to the car. The older man is already apologising as I look in the window. His severely autistic son, Sam, is sitting in the driver’s seat pretending to drive the car. My keys are in the ignition, the windows are up, and the doors are locked. I pause, swear under my breath, and think of the worst case scenarios; boy overheats in car, boy starts car and does untold damage to the 30 or 40 people in the direct vicinity of the car. I swear again. By this time his Dad is screaming at Sam to open the doors, and I’m looking for something to break the window. The market goers are no longer looking at meat and vegies but instead watching the scene that is unfolding before them. With brick in hand I try to communicate with Sam but his Dad tells me that it won’t work; there is little communication at the best of times. Meanwhile, Sam seems to be having the time of his life; rifling through the car he has found my stash of chewing gum. He is chewing each piece a few times then pushing it into the air vent in the dashboard. He is into the second pack of gum before I even notice. His Dad is now beside himself, he continues to apologise over and over. I brush it off as I watch the third pack of gum disappear into the crevices of my car.
My trusty old Ute has a mind of its own and twice before in the four years I have owned it, I’ve been able to open the passenger door when the car is locked. As a last resort I check the door, and, as you have guessed by now, it opened. Sam quickly slammed the door shut on my hand, and this time I swore out loud as I entered the car from the passenger side. Sam, not wanting to share the small space with me, dived out the driver’s side at a rate of knots. With his Dad grabbing him by the shirt they disappeared into the crowd. And suddenly, as quickly as it had started, it was over. For a few moments I pondered what could have been, and then got back to selling meat.
I rang Dad on the way home to tell him of the event. In his typical dry style he said, “I told you to always take your keys out of the car.” After hanging up the phone, my thoughts went to Sam’s family, and the challenges they face each day. Strong people no doubt.