Saturday 12 March 2022

The Way Back


by Tony Domaille

sweet tea 


Mum has gone missing. She’s eighty-nine. Watch her trying to make it from her chair to the bathroom and you’d think she wasn’t capable. I suppose that’s why the care home managed to lose her.

            I remember years ago, I worked with a brilliant escapologist called Brian. Unless the hospital kept a permanent eye on him, he’d run away. Through a fire door, window, or unwatched exit; there was no stopping him. But Brian could only run in a direct line from his escape point. When he reached an obstacle - a tree, a wall, anything - he couldn’t deviate. So, unlike Mum, he was easy to find when he went missing.

I often wonder what became of Brian once the policy changed to what they laughingly call care in the community. Did he walk out of his warden-controlled accommodation?  Did he still go in a perfect straight line and then come to halt when something was in the way? Did the community care?

My sister, Jane, wrings her hands and bites her lip. ‘Where can Mum be, Colin?’ 

‘She can’t have got far,’ I say. ‘She’ll be fine.’

Jane grimaces as she tastes blood from her lip. ‘How can you say that?

She’s right. I’m just trying to stop her worrying and I wish Mum was as easy to find as Brian. But that’s the thing with dementia; it’s random. Mum is random.  The police say they’re looking for her, but I know they have other things to do.

I tell my sister we’ll go and look for Mum and she tearfully asks, ‘Where do we start?’

I shrug. ‘We’ll drive around. Keep looking until we find her.’

If this were America, we would search block by block. But this is a typical English town. A hotchpotch of old and new, with bewildering traffic management and yellow lines everywhere. I need to keep my eyes on the road but quickly scan the crowded pavements as we go. Jane tenses in the passenger seat every so often as she thinks she sees Mum and then realises she doesn’t.

It’s hard not to feel that all of life is on its feet out here. Young mothers push buggies, professionals in suits stride purposefully, a heavily bearded man sits and begs outside a carpet shop.  People of every shape, size and colour weave their way with or against the human tide and, if Mum is amongst them, it’s no place for a vulnerable old lady.

I turn the car off the main drag and start to drive away from the town centre. Immediately the crowds thin to just the odd walker.

‘Why are you driving this way?’ asks Jane.

‘Because it’s as likely as any other.’

‘She can’t walk this far.’

I sigh. ‘Can’t she?’

Up ahead, I see her. At the junction there are old fashioned white painted signposts. The names of places, and their distance, are painted in black on arrow shaped arms, and Mum is leaning against an upright.  If she was sixty years younger, she might look like a lady of loose virtue waiting to turn her next trick.

I pull the car to a halt and Jane is already speaking as we jump out.

‘‘What are you doing way out here, Mum? You’ll catch your death.’

Our mother shows no recognition as Jane puts her coat around her. Instead, she frowns and points to the signposts. ‘There are too many to choose from. Which way’s home?’

She tells us she needs to get home to make tea for Jane and Colin. She tells us their dad will be home from work soon and he’ll expect a good meal on the table. Jane tries to remind her who we are, but I learned long ago that Mum can’t see us. She’s looking for the children of more than half a century ago.

Eventually we persuade her to get in the car and drive her back to the care home.  But it’s not the home she sees in her mind’s eye, and she complains that we haven’t taken her where she needs to go.

‘I don’t like it here,’ she says. ‘Why won’t you let me go home?’

The staff lead her away, and I think of Brian again. He never needed signposts because for him there was only one direction to go. But as I picture the signposts where we found mum, I find myself wishing they pointed the way back to the lady my mother once was.


About the author 

Tony is an award-winning playwright, director, and co-founder of Journeyman Theatre Productions, with more than twenty plays published and produced in eighteen countries.  Tony has also had many short stories published in anthologies and magazines. You can follow him here -



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