‘He’s normally found in crowded places’ explains Wally’s anxious mother Janet ‘busy markets, theme parks, packed out beaches; places like that. Once I even found him in the middle of a crowded medieval banquet’. It’s then that she begins to reveal the tragic tale behind the young boy’s constant disappearances.
‘It all started when his Dad left us’ she says fighting back the tears. ‘Wally was devastated. His Dad was his hero’ she pauses to wipe a tear from her eye. ‘John was a massive Sunderland fan, so Wally became one too. Although to be honest I don’t think he was ever really that into football; he just simply wanted to be like his Dad. We couldn’t afford a proper shirt so his Nan knitted him a jumper and hat. Unfortunately she got it wrong and made the stripes horizontal’ she says with a melancholic laugh. ‘But Wally never minded. He was just so happy to be out with his Dad cheering on his team.
But one day while they were waiting to go inside the grounds John disappeared into the crowd and never came back. Can you believe that? He left a ten-year old boy alone in a crowd of football fans?’ she says angrily. ‘Of course Wally was completely traumatised, he’s never gotten over it. He thinks his Dad just got lost and he blames himself. So now he keeps running away seeking crowded areas with lots of Sunderland style red and white stripes in a desperate search for his Dad. He still wears the jumper and hat himself in the hope that John’s still looking for him, even though it actually makes him a lot harder to spot’ Janet pauses to fight back the emotion and compose herself before continuing. ‘As if he hasn’t had enough to deal with already?’ she says bitterly. ‘He was born with cartilage problems in his knees so he often has to use a cane to help him walk. And he has serious myopia so has to wear thick lensed NHS glasses. I want to buy him better ones but we just can’t afford it’ she laments. ‘And the kids at school have always teased him about his distinctive cartoonish black outline.
I just don’t know how to tell him that his Dad ran away. His Dad was his hero, so how do I explain to him that he’s simply a self-absorbed, irresponsible man-child?’