he trip to the grocery store had taken longer than expected. As the Old Lady drove home, she turned on her headlights to offset the darkness which had begun to descend for the night. In recent years she had left the night streets to the young, preferring to spend evenings in the quiet of her home.
On the approach to a long curve, the Old Lady detected an unusual shadow by the side of the road. Anticipating the movement of a dog or cat into the road, she slowed down to avoid the disaster of killing or injuring someone’s pet.
She had already passed the spot when she realized to her surprise that the shadow was a small child wearing only a pair of underpants. She turned her car around and approached slowly so that the child would not be frightened.
It was a small boy the Old Lady estimated to be about 3 and 1/2 years old. He was shivering in the 45 degree temperatures. His long hair was dark, dirty, and tangled. He studied her with intelligent blue eyes as she wrapped him in a blanket she kept in the trunk for emergencies and placed him in the front seat of her car.
He didn’t speak, but when she asked him his name, he told her it was “David”. “Do you know where your mom is”, the Old Lady inquired? David’s reply was both chilling and matter of fact. “On the floor. No get up.” Without a cell phone in the car, she decided the child would be safest if they left the area.
Arriving at the local market, the Old Lady carried the blanketed boy to the deli area, placing a sandwich and container of orange juice in front of him. The boy tore into the sandwich, wolfing down such large bites that he began to cough. It was apparent that he had not eaten in some time.
She asked the cashier to call the police. They arrived just as David finished several cookies provided to him by store personnel. A Social Worker soon followed. The look of sadness in the boy’s eyes as he left the store with the Worker haunted the Old Lady. At their request, she accompanied the police to the spot where she had picked up the boy so that they could track down the location of his family. It was late when she got home with her groceries.
She thought about David many times over the next few weeks. She hoped that he was home and that his mother was well. The Old Lady recognized that she had handled the situation the best that she could. It was up to the authorities to see that the child did well.
It was with this attitude that she found herself driving back from town early one afternoon after completing some errands. As she approached the familiar curve, she was shocked to see the boy again. He was sitting on the shoulder of the road, without a stitch of clothing, tossing rocks into the air.
As she pulled up beside him, David’s bright blue eyes widened in recognition. The Old Lady opened the passenger door and the boy hopped in. He was shivering again so she turned the heat up high. This time she made a different decision. She would take him home.
He was sitting in her recliner, devouring two hot dogs and some applesauce. She had found a blanket to keep him warm and some cartoons on TV to keep him busy. In about an hour he was sleeping soundly.
She would watch the local news. If they reported a boy missing, she would drive him to the Sheriff’s Office. If not, he would spend the night at her house and in the morning she would decide what to do.
When he awoke, the Old Lady attempted to comb David’s hair. The mats pevented this, so she cut his dark locks into a boy’s cut and herded him into the shower. He was dirty, and like any small child, he resisted being scrubbed. However, when he was dried off, he was as handsome as any boy could be. The intelligence in his eyes was unmistakeable.
The evening news said nothing about a missing boy, so the two of them went to Walmart. David was wearing one of the Old Lady’s tee shirts which she told him were his new jammies. As the boy rode in the cart, the Old Lady bought him long pants, tee shirts, underwear, socks, and shoes. He was delighted when each new item went in beside him. Lastly, she bought him a transformer doll to keep him company and they went home.
The following morning the news was again strangely silent–no missing boy. The Old Lady now made a drastic decision. She had a nephew in the State of Washington who, though divorced, had custody of his 7 year old son. He had expressed several times a regret that he had not had more children. Now she called him, instructing him to take the following day off work. She was bringing him a boy.
So it was that the Old Lady and David made the trip North. The boy chatted happily, napping off and on. She stuffed him with fast food until he finally seemed to be full.
She and her nephew agreed that someone would probably be looking for David within the next 30 days. In that event, she would pick him up and deliver him with a note to a fire station at least 50 miles away. If no search took place, the boy would stay.
To her amazement no one looked for him. David was living his new life, his inquisitive blue eyes taking in new experiences. He had a brother, a cat, and a Dad who loved him. He called her “Grammy”. As he approached school age, David needed a birth certificate to enroll in class. The Old Lady, who had met all kinds of people practicing law, knew a man in San Francisco who specialized in producing birth certificates, Social Security cards, and other required documents for migratory workers. For $500.00 he gave the Old Lady a Washington State birth certificate for David which listed her nephew as the father and his ex-wife as the mother. The validity of the document was never questioned. It was used to obtain a Social Security card, and later a driver’s license and a passport.
It had been six years since David had gone north, when the Old Lady observed a car pull up to her trailer. A well dressed woman with dyed red hair approached the porch, but stumbled on the bottom step as she began to climb. The Old Lady went outside to help the woman who came inside.
Her name was Virginia and she was looking for her son, David. She had obtained the Old Lady’s name and address from a police report which was generated when the boy was turned over to the authorities at the local market. He had been returned to her, but he had disappeared shortly thereafter. As she spoke, one hand pumped a lighted cigarette back and forth to her lips. The other hand shook, and from the smell about her, the Old Lady suspected that Virginia was drunk. “Did you call the police? Was there a search? I don’t remember hearing on the news about a missing boy.” The Old Lady got no answers because Virginia had nodded off and was asleep. The cigarette was burning dangerously close to her fingers, so the Old Lady removed and extinguished it. She knew that there had been no search because the plan had been to return the boy to the authorities if there was one.
When Virginia awoke, she was cordial and friendly, appearing to forget the purpose of her visit, never mentioning the child again. The Old Lady suspected that alcohol had fogged her thinking to the point that she was not capable of following through with any train of thought or plan. She remembered David telling her that his mother was on the floor and wasn’t getting up. After a few moments of pleasant chat, Virginia staggered down the stairs and was gone.
Four years later the news reported that a local woman named Virginia had died in a house fire. She had been drinking and apparently smoking in bed. Neighbors said she had a longstanding alcohol problem. The news report did not mention a missing child.
David continued to thrive, especially in school, where he was a top student, absorbing anything the teachers presented to him.
He visited his “Grammy” twice a year until she died, crying like a baby when it happened.
David cannot remember his mother. He does remember being wrapped in a blanket and a trip to Walmart with his Grammy to buy a transformer doll. The ragged old doll hangs on his office wall, next to his college degrees and other acolades of his life past and present.
He went to medical school and later became a Board Certified Cardiologist. Peers said his operating skills were second to none. Patients remembered his bright blue eyes and wide grin as the first things they saw on their roads to recovery.
He married at forty and fathered two sons. They did not get lost.
Kathryn Lynch is a retired old lady whose health confines her to her home. During her working life, she was an elementary school teacher and then an attorney. Writing helps pass the time.