I am a native in this world And think in it as a native thinks

Friday, April 13, 2012

Paul

No picture here, just a story.

I noticed him when I was walking through the corn field on the way to the school. I had fallen behind the group and the children holding my hands were tugging at me to go faster, and I caught a glimpse of a boy sitting alone on the ground, watching us go by. I had an impression that he was crippled, but didn't really see him clearly.

Later, after the visits to the school and the orphanage, when everyone was milling around outside and taking photos, I saw him coming down the hill. He couldn't walk; his legs were folded underneath him and he moved forward by swinging his hips one side at a time. His right arm ended above the elbow, without a hand.

It had taken him all that time to catch up with us, and I walked over and asked him his name.

"Paul," he said shyly.

"Hi, Paul." I told him that my name was Kathleen and I came from New York, in America. I thanked him for letting us visit his village. I shook his left hand, and told him that I was very happy to meet him.

And he gave me such a radiant smile it pierced my heart. I hadn't done anything more than I had done with the other children; in fact I had done less.

I didn't take his picture. This was just a reflex; I would never take a picture of a disabled child in New York, so of course I wouldn't take one in Zambia. He wasn't on display like the wildlife. But in fact getting their pictures taken and seeing their digital selves was such a treat for all the other children in the village, it probably would have been an even bigger one for Paul, one way in which he could have been like all the other children there. It was the one gift I could have given him -- I'm not Angelina Jolie, I can't adopt him and give him a new life and have him seen by the finest doctors -- and it didn't even occur to me until much later that I could have, should have, done it.

Instead what I have is that smile, the gift that he gave me, I who already have so much.

I've promised myself that I'm going to be worthy of it.


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