I had just hobbled off the coach, en route to my home town to visit with my son. London Victoria is where I had to change to a different coach, and I was looking forward to the two-hour break so that I could stretch my legs, have a cold drink and perhaps find myself in a conversation with an interesting stranger. You can always find someone fascinating to talk to at The Traveller’s Rest – the coach station pub.
Still slightly dazed from the journey so far, I looked up from attempting to juggle a large book, my walking stick and my luggage (one of those wheeled cases – the type with a mind of its own) and realised from the baleful stare that the angry shout had been directed at me. A red-faced man in station uniform and a fluorescent vest was glaring at me as though I had just crawled out from underneath a rock.
Exactly how did he expect me to “move it” at any kind of pace; couldn’t he see that I was having trouble in just gathering my things together? Did he honestly believe that I was purposely fussing around and getting in the way for fun? How quickly did he expect anybody with a walking stick – and therefore only one hand free – to sort their luggage out unaided and get out of the way? An able-bodied person of my stature would struggle with both hands free.
Feeling embarrassed and harrassed – to say nothing of hurt – I managed to limp my way off the concrete and through the “Arrivals” gate, feeling as though everybody was staring at me and shaking their heads in disgust. I was tired and cold (it was close to Christmas) and all I wanted to do was sit down with a refreshing glass of wine and my book. The encounter had put me off actually wanting to speak to anybody, but a wonderfully eccentric ex soldier spotted me by myself and decided to keep me company. If there’s one thing I like about myself, it’s that if I draw people to me they’re generally quite lovely and not in the least bit psychotic.
Thanks to that old soldier, and a very helpful taxi driver, I reached Hope Orchard in a much happier frame of mind, and on arrival I was relieved of my luggage so that I didn’t have to struggle in getting to my room.
One thing I’m not is what I refer to as an “entitlement bitch”; I don’t expect anybody to bend over backwards for me, to move out of my way in the street (it isn’t always possible, for one thing) or to be nice to me all the time just because my disability is sometimes (not always) visible to the naked eye. I certainly do not believe that the world owes me for my broken body. Why should it owe me anything? It isn’t anybody’s fault that I was born this way.
However, I do expect to be treated as any other human being – with dignity and respect. I should not have had to experience what felt – to me – like blind hatred and disgust. I should not have felt “shamed” for being “crippled”. I should not have had to endure the indignity of having attention drawn to myself in a negative manner by an ignorant stranger.
I didn’t make a fuss or ask for his name at the time, but I do hope that, one day, that man and others like him will read this blog (or my book) and think twice before they judge so harshly against those less able to defend themselves.