Melissa's face was ten years old, but it looked to her as if it was eight, and she found that extremely frustrating. Why couldn't she grow up a little quicker? Her sister was only twelve and already wore make up and shoes with heels but every time Melissa asked mum for some, mum just laughed. Laughed first, and then said no. An emphatic no. With her hands on her hips too. And that type of no definitely meant no.
Melissa wasn't only frustrated about her age, she was annoyed how her mum didn't take her seriously. In fact, she was annoyed about a great many things.
She was quite annoyed because the party dress her grandma had bought her was the wrong shape and, in Melissa's opinion, was far too babyish. Anyway, Melissa didn't like lilac anymore, and wanted to wear short skirts and black tights, not floaty, shiny dresses trimmed with lace and ribbons. And Melissa was also annoyed that grandma was living with them now, meaning that mum had less time for Melissa.
But she was also particularly annoyed about custard creams. She liked biscuits very much, and particularly enjoyed custard creams. They were Dad's favourites too, so Mum had always made sure that every time Melissa opened the biscuit barrel shaped like a beagle, there they'd be. Delicious custard creams. Melissa would bite off the top layer then lick away the creamy custard part, and lastly would crunch on the smeared lower layer. It could take quite some time to eat even one biscuit, and that was one of the things she really, really liked about it.
It was all because her mum was on what she called a ‘health kick’. She confided in Melissa that she was trying to lose a little weight to look good in her bikini on their summer holiday. ‘France without Flab,’ Mum said, over and over again. Mum wasn't just worried about her own weight though - that would have been alright - she was also trying to ensure the whole family only ate ‘healthy’ food. That meant no cakes and no crisps. It also meant NO CUSTARD CREAMS.
Add all that to the disappointment about Grandma's party dress purchase, and the fact she didn't seem to be growing up as quickly as she'd like, and Melissa reckoned she was a pretty unhappy girl. Perhaps not unhappy enough to run away from home, but unhappy enough for her to think about it. As we probably all know, a great many children do think about it, then calm down and realise they are probably better off staying where it is safe and warm and they are surrounded by people who love them. That’s exactly what had been going on inside Melissa’s mind.
Thinking not very seriously about running away was what Melissa did to fill the time when usually she'd be carefully licking the custard from her favourite biscuits. She considered where she'd go on her running-away-journey and what she'd take. When things got really bad she wrote her goodbye letter in her head.
‘Mum and dad’, it would begin. She wouldn't use the word "Dear" to begin her letter as she obviously wanted them to know how cross she was. 'Mum and dad. I am running away. I am taking some of my things like my hand-built bear and my rucksack and my saved-up spending money. I have made five peanut butter sandwiches and have taken a bottle of water. I would have taken biscuits too but there are none to take. That is one of the reasons why I am running away. I will get a job tomorrow and will come back to see you when I am a grown-up with a big car. Goodbye. From Melissa.'
It wasn't a letter she had ever actually written though, mainly because she was never very good at literacy and didn't know how to spell some of the words. She really didn't want anyone to laugh at her spelling even if she wasn't there to hear it.
One word she really wanted to learn how to spell was ‘mobility’. Perhaps that was an odd word for a girl like Melissa to learn, but there was a reason behind it. Melissa wasn't planning to actually run away on her own two feet (that would be too much like hard work and would take her ages and ages)... No. She had transport - her gran's mobility scooter!
Of course, Melissa knew she shouldn't take it, but she made it OK in her own head by saying it was Gran's fault for buying her a rubbish dress. Melissa was good at transforming excuses into logical reasons. Adults call it 'justifying', but Melissa just called it ‘making things fair’.
And when it came to the mobility scooter, Melissa was practically an expert. She knew where the keys were kept and, more importantly, she knew how to drive it. Or was it ride it? She was never sure of that one. Whatever the right word was, it would be a perfect vehicle to go away in. There was room under the seat and a basket for her things. It even had a rain cover. She could probably even sleep in it until she found somebody who would give her a job and let her sleep in their house.
Melissa's mind wasn't quite made up, but she had made some plans. Home wasn't always horrible: she did like her bedroom and the cat, and playing out in the garden... but she was cross as anything because the grown-ups just kept letting her down. Everybody knew that a life without custard creams just wasn't worth living.
That night she settled down to sleep, surrounded by toys her family had bought her, in a newly decorated room, and with a music player vibrating to the sounds of her favourite band. She was warm, she was well fed and she was safe and loved. That should have been enough for Melissa, and she should have realised how lucky she was... but it wasn't enough. Not enough at all.
Sleep was good, but it didn't last forever, and that night Melissa woke while it was still what she thought of as dangerously dark. Her clock said it was just after 3am, and there was a noise downstairs: a clanking kind of noise. A door. Squealing. She wasn't sure how usual it was to hear noises in the night at home because she was always asleep, but she knew that even during the day their house was quiet. That meant that, somehow, the night-time noises weren't normal - and definitely demanded investigation.
Melissa wasn't keen on waking up her mum and dad, mainly because she was still in a bad mood with them, but also partly because she felt if she caught a robber red-handed her parents might start treating her as if she was a bit more grown-up, and giving her more of what she wanted. For example, lots of custard creams!
Melissa got out of bed quietly and avoided the single creaky floorboard in front of her wardrobe. She crept downstairs and peeped over the rail into the hall. The sight she saw was quite startling.
Before I tell you what she saw, I think I need to digress for a moment. Do you know what digress means? It means going off in another direction. So... grandma, in case you hadn't remembered, was at that time living with Melissa and her parents. She usually lived on her own, but was recovering after having her hip replaced. Melissa knew that, though she wasn't really sure what it meant. What she did know was that gran couldn't do very much and had to sit or lie down most of the time, and could really only hobble around. That was why Mum was looking after her and why the mobility scooter lived, for the timebeing, in Melissa's hallway. Ok, so that's the digression over with. Let me tell you what she saw.
Grandma's mobility scooter wasn't in the hallway where it usually was. It was in the front doorway, and on its way out through the open door! Melissa shouted at whoever was taking it: ‘Get off. You're stealing! You're a thief,’ before she realised that the only keys for the scooter were still on the hook where gran always left them. She recognised the keyring because she'd bought it gran on her holidays. It was a fluffy pink hedgehog with ‘Love from Devon’ printed on a ribbon round its neck. The keys were still hung up, so how was the scooter moving, and who was moving it?
Melissa ran further to the door, and was thankful that mum had lined up her shoes and coat right next to the doorway ready for school the next day. She grabbed both as she ran down the driveway screaming at the scooter. What she hadn't done was to remember to take the front door keys, the scooter keys, to remember to tell her parents and gran where she was going, or even to shut the door behind her. But Melissa was ten years old, so organisation and forethought didn't always come easily.
By now, the scooter was trundling down her path towards the road, not with any great speed, but definitely with determination. Melissa didn't even think about how late it was, what she was doing and where she was going - she just wanted to get the scooter back. Desperate, she shouted at the scooter ‘Stop, stop, stop,’ despite knowing that it wouldn't. The stupid scooter seemed to have a mind of its own. What an odd situation. Yes, the mobility scooter seemed to be driving itself and yes, Melissa was out on the street in the middle of the night in the dangerous dark, yet Melissa wasn't actually scared.
Melissa was cross. Again. She didn't want the scooter to disappear partly because she needed it for her emergency running-away scheme. But she also didn't want her gran to be upset and not able to visit her friends or go and talk to the lady who worked at the flower shop who always gave Melissa a bright big daisy-like flower to pin to her coat. Melissa didn't want to think about how sad and disappointed her gran would feel when she ran away and took her only transport.
Melissa followed the scooter to the end of the road as it bumped and jumped over the flagstones. She watched as it turned left. She followed, slowing down a little, because what she really didn't want was to catch it up. If she caught it up there could be problems. There could be big difficulties. There might even be a driver to confront, and she definitely, definitely didn't want a fight, even with someone small enough not to be seen over the back of the seat.
Without warning the mobility scooter stopped, reversed and sidled up to Melissa. She almost bumped into it. She could see onto the chair. Nobody was there. That was surprising.
But the mobility scooter had another surprise for Melissa.
‘Are your feet hurting?’ it asked.
‘Yes,’ she said, shocked, and looking for a set of speakers so she could work out if she was being tricked by an elaborate prank. ‘Yes, my feet are hurting. I didn't get the chance to put my shoes on properly so they keep falling off.’
‘Get in then,’ the scooter suggested. ‘Go on. You've been in plenty of times before. You're safe with me.’ Melissa shrugged. Genuinely she wasn't sure. Was it safe? Who was speaking? The voice sounded like... well, it almost sounded like her grandma. And her gran was a very safe person indeed. She was the kind of grandma who was always lecturing her on wearing the seatbelt and tidying up toys and books so nobody else would fall over them. Yes, Melissa believed the scooter: believed it was safe and believed she could simply get in to the driverless carriage and arrive home safely.
She climbed in and looked for the speaker or the driver, but nobody was there.
‘Where are you?’ she asked.
‘I'm here. I'm the scooter.’
‘But how can you be driven without a driver?’
‘I'm the scooter. I'm the driver.’
‘And what about the keys. I thought it... I mean, I thought you needed keys.’
‘Usually, yes,’ said the scooter, ‘but not when I want to go out on my own.’
Melissa thought about it. It was odd, but no more unbelievable than electricity or getting maple syrup from a tap in a tree. ‘Do you go out on your own a lot?’ she asked.
‘Oh yes,’ it replied, cheekily, and Melissa could imagine it smirking. ‘I go out every night when the rest of you are in bed.’
‘Do mum and dad know?’
‘Does gran know?’
Melissa smiled. That was pretty cool. Gran had a talking mobility scooter, and nobody knew about it apart from the two of them. Melissa couldn't wait to get back home and share the secret with her. Suddenly she realised she wasn't cross at all about gran living with them, or about the horrible dress, and she definitely knew she'd miss gran if and when she ran away. She thought quietly as the scooter hummed underneath her.
‘Can we go home?’ she asked the scooter.
‘Alright then,’ it said.
‘Can I come out with you again, though?’ Melissa asked.
‘Alright then,’ the scooter repeated as it did a seven-point-turn on the pavement and trundled itself back to Melissa's house. The journey home was quiet. Melissa was thoughtful and the scooter didn't chatter much either. It was a quick journey home, and a quiet journey home, but even so, by the time the scooter had turned itself off, all the excitement had tired Melissa out and she was fast asleep.
Melissa woke the next morning with her shoes half-on, but relieved to be safe and snuggled in her bed, in her room, and in her house as if nothing had happened.
Her brain had barely registered being awake before, without any hesitation, she jumped out of bed and rushed downstairs. There was the mobility scooter, standing in the hall as if nothing had ever happened. And, there was gran coming out of the kitchen with a smile on her face to greet her youngest granddaughter.
‘I know gran, I know,’ shrieked Melissa. ‘About the scooter.’
‘Do you now?’ asked gran. She ruffled Melissa's hair and noticed she was wearing pyjamas but had shoes on her feet. ‘You've been out too, then?’ gran asked. Melissa nodded and gran nodded back. ‘Let's talk about it after school.’
Melissa, beaming, ran upstairs to get her uniform on, with all thoughts of running away having disappeared to be replaced with the excitement of magic and shared secrets. She never wanted her grandma (or the mobility scooter) to live anywhere else!
Do you think Melissa was right to be so upset about the lack of custard creams?
How do you think gran would have felt if Melissa had taken the scooter?
And, what do you think will happen next?