We live in an inner-city neighbourhood a short jaunt from downtown. The local public school is just down the street. Each morning I see parents walking their children to school.
One girl, who is maybe 9 or 10 years old, is old enough to walk on her own. Schoolgirl passes our house on her way to school 15 minutes before the morning bell, and again 15 minutes after school ends, on her way home. I can count on seeing her Monday to Friday without fail, if I happen to be looking out my front window. Schoolgirl’s outfit is always appropriate for the weather, and she is so slight I wonder how she manages her heavy backpack.
There is one more thing I’ve noticed about Schoolgirl: she is always walking alone. I never see her walking with a sibling or a friend. I’ve sometimes wondered whether she’s lonely–I can’t ask her–but hope that she has friends who, for whatever reason, don’t trek home with her after school.
Yesterday Jelly and I were leaving the house as Schoolgirl was heading home. Upon seeing her, I realized for the first time that one of her arms ends just below her elbow, so she has only one hand. I don’t know if she ever wears a prosthesis, but yesterday, in her short-sleeved shirt, her rounded stump was visible.
Maybe I’d never noticed because I’ve most often seen her in long sleeves or a jacket. Or maybe I hadn’t noticed because I hadn’t looked carefully enough. Yesterday I was taken aback when I realized part of her arm was missing. (I hope my surprise didn’t show on my face.) I greeted her and she responded in kind.
As she passed, I noticed she was carrying a beautiful little mirrored box in her hand. I commented on it and asked her about it. She moved the box to the crook of her elbow, opened the top with her hand, and showed me the odds and ends inside. She was bringing it home because school would soon be out for the summer. I thanked her for stopping to show me and she continued on her way.
Schoolgirl seemed like a perfectly content young girl, but I assumed, rightly or wrongly, that her life must be hard. Do the kids make fun of her for being different? (Kids can be mean, especially as they approach adolescence.) Has she had to learn to use her non-dominant hand to do many of the things that come easily to most people, like putting toothpaste onto the end of her toothbrush, throwing a ball, or tying her shoes? Imagine how much harder it would be to type with one hand.
The last thing Schoolgirl needs is my pity, though. I can’t assume her life is hard. Having one hand may be all she knows, and I can hope she has learned to work around her difference from an early age. I pray that people treat her with the kindness and respect that she deserves. I’d say she is brave, yet she has no choice but to adapt to her reality. As do we all.