Gladys and the mystery of the missing boy

“Wake up, Gladys! Time for your early morning tea and tablets!” 

With a huge yawn, 95-year-old Gladys opened her eyes to see the first rays shining through the curtains. A new day had begun, once more to experience the joys of almost total dependence on others to help her carry out the nost basic tasks of daily living.

It had not been a good night. Toiletting issues again. No-one who hadn’t experienced it, could imagine the unpleasantness of her nocturnal ordeals.  

The time before breakfast always passed far too slowly. As the faint glow of dawn gave way to more vibrant tones, Gladys spoke out loud some very simple words. These echoed a strange encounter she’d experienced when she first entered the home, told in Gladys’ last adventure She said,

“Lord Jesus, thank you for this new day. Please give me the opportunity to brighten up one person’s life today. Amen.”


It was morning coffee time in the lounge. Oh no, not again! They were going to place her wheelchair next to George. Gladys found George scary. He constantly dribbled onto his cardigan. His face, with its beady eyes, wore a pained expression as if it was performing contortions. His protruding chin announced the fact that he hadn’t any teeth, which hindered his attempts to pronounce his p’s and q’s. Yet the staff always treated him with dignity, as if they saw a bold man with a proud history behind his disfigured mask. Gladys appreciated that, despite her misgivings, she found him less off-putting than did most of the other residents. She usually said a kind word to him.

But today, George seemed especially agitated. Nurse Tracey explained that he’d been sifting through a pile of old photographs and had come across a tiny black-and-white print of a small boy, aged about 2. He was trying to remember who the boy was, as if a long-forgotten memory was battling its way up to the surface. It appeared to hold special significance for him, yet it seemed the memory was tinged with sadness.

Tracey took the photo in her hands and, gently massaging it, probed George in an attempt to reveal the mystery. But poor George became more and more distressed. He jolted his arm upwards and sideways, brushing against Gladys’ shoulder. Gladys’ fragile grip on her coffee cup gave way, sending its contents plumetting onto her skirt, her slippers and then onto the carpet. Thank goodness her drink had been lukewarm! A carer called Janet arrived with cloths, towels and lots of sympathy, then Tracey prepared to take her for a change of clothing. During the commotion, the photograph fell into a bowl of water. Janet pulled it out and wiped it with a towl, whereupon off came what seemed to be a backing sheet.

Although soggy and rather shaken, Gladys tried hard not to feel too sorry for herself. After all, she hadn’t been harmed. And, just as Janet made to toss away the backing, Gladys noticed something.

“Look! That’s not just a backing. Isn’t it another photograph?”

Janet and Tracey dried off the sheet, to reveal the image of a young woman aged about 18. George’s eyes almost bulged out of his head as he started to chant, “Emily! Emily! Emily!”

Later that day, the home contacted George’s son who explained that he had, indeed, a sister called Emily who had died in her late 20’s in a mental institution. She’d been admitted following a breakdown which, the family reckoned, had been caused by her having to give up her illegitimate son to a forced adoption.

So – what had become of the boy? The home asked one of their residents, Stuart, to help. Stuart was a serious diabetic who hadn’t sought treatment until it was too late. He was now severely disabled. But tracing family trees was his hobby and, armed with his trusty laptop and phone, he went to work.

Three weeks later, a handsome young man walked in to meet his delighted ‘birth’ grandfather with his wife and two girls. And after that, George seemed much less scary.

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