Not the “how are you doing?” but more the “look at her” kind of laugh.
I asked my companion if my hat was back to front, or was there something stuck to my face? It appears there was nothing out of the ordinary other than I was seated on a mobility scooter.
So, what made those people laugh at me? Why do we stare at anybody who, in some way, looks different? Let me rephrase that: why do adults stare at people who fall outside what they consider to be the norm?
Children don’t stare – they just ask. During one of my first outings in a wheelchair, a young man of about five walked up to me and asked “why are you in a wheelchair?” When I desperately tried to come up with an answer, he handed me a lifeline: “Are you tired of walking?” It is as good an explanation as any. Thank you, my little man. I wish adults would do the same – ask. I don’t bite and can talk (for myself).
Years after that enlightening encounter, I was wheeled into a shopping centre that was celebrating its second anniversary.
A “pirate” ran up to me and was about to give me a kiss and a handful of sweets. I pushed him, with all my strength, out of my face. Repeating my verbal response would not be appropriate here.
A few weeks later, my “mobiliser” (wheelchair-pusher) was asked: “What’s wrong with the little one?”
I reckoned the male questioner and I were close in age – both in our 40s. I decided to tell him myself: “I am tired of walking.”
For a while I thought the onlooker assumed the person seated in a wheelchair never progressed beyond the age of a toddler. The toddler might be allowed to hand over money to the cashier but, without fail, the change would be handed over to the mobiliser.
Why? Life progressed and so did my form of transport. I bought a mobility scooter.
Looks did not stop. They just changed. On one of my first outings on the scooter, I had a little difficulty finding a place where I could mount the sidewalk. A young adult seated in a parked car followed my every move before she was overcome by convulsions of laugher. I wanted to tell her driving a mobility scooter wasn’t what I would choose either, but it is much better than being housebound and completely isolated from the outside world.
I hope she will read this.