the toy grabber

The words filled my heart with a mix of despair and dread. I'd look through my toys, through Star Wars figures and Legos, squirt guns and Matchbox cars to no avail. Defeated, I went to my mom.

'Mom, I can't find my Boba Fett.'

'Where did you leave it?'

'I dunno - the floor somewhere? I can't find it anywhere!'

'The floor? Oh dear, I guess the Toy Grabber got it.'

The Toy Grabber. My nemesis. A mythical beast that, in my mind, looked like a cross between a large rat and a Jawa. Its mission was singular. Any toy not put away properly became its property. It struck swiftly and with little warning; toys left in communal areas of our apartment, especially the floor of the hall, disappeared the fastest. I never saw it. My room tended to be sanctuary, though sometimes, if it got really messy, The Toy Grabber broke the truce and something special would disappear. Something like a Millenium Falcon. Anguish and resentment followed; dejected, I would tidy what toys that remained and sulk. Or I would throw a belligerent-brat of a tantrum. Often it was a mixture of the two.

I begged, pleaded, bargained and bellowed for the swift return of my toys to little avail. The Toy Grabber didn't work that way. It heard no pleas and felt no compassion. I imagined it stood atop a mountain of neglected toys, not just mine but all of the neglected toys in the world, ignoring the chorus of calls for their return.

Weeks, sometimes months would pass until prodigal toys reappeared. By then I had forgotten they were missing, perhaps that I ever owned them at all. It was almost like getting new toys.

It was only after about a year that I realised that my mom was The Toy Grabber. It made little difference. Its stoicism remained. Only now I knew that there was no mythical mountain of missing toys; now I knew that the missing toys were hidden somewhere. And so my pleading became merely a token gesture, and my efforts shifted to discovering my mother's hiding place. I searched everywhere: closets, cupboards, under beds, behind couches, high and low. I remember one large, silver plastic bag - I think it was from a shoe shop - that I became convinced was The Toy Grabber stash. It lay at the bottom of my parents' closet. It had those hard plastic handles that could be snapped shut. It was always snapped shut.

I never mustered the guts to open it. Eventually, I learned to pick my toys up after myself and The Toy Grabber faded with the rest of my childhood.

There's a small wooden cigar box that sits on the floor to the right of my bed. It's a Cohiba box. It used to hold Siglo I's. Now it holds countless bits and pieces: green stems from Poppy Appeal poppies, hair ties, short pieces of plastic tubing, zip ties, wine foil, paperclips, fake mice and many more. They're the cat's toys. If he plays with them on my bed while I'm trying to sleep, they get confiscated. They get put in the cigar box.

They get put in The Toy Grabber.