I want to tell you about an experience I had in Mallorca in January this year.
We were on one of our wheelchair adventures, on the hunt for a pit stop that involved cake.
A young man was standing outside one tapas bar politely drawing the attention of passers by to his particular eatery. It seems there’s nothing unusual about that in Spain. He didn’t even need to open his mouth or show us the menu – the window display would have caught my eye from the other end of the square!
He greeted us and informed Mr Tree Surgeon that there was a disabled toilet inside should we require it. All this was said in Spanish by the way, so there’s no need to feel offended on my behalf that the young man hadn’t addressed me directly.
Mr TS asked if we could sit outside. The young man quickly set about moving tables and chairs, without too much fuss or commotion, so that I could be wheeled through easily and we could be seated nearest the outdoor heater. And then I stood up, slowly and carefully, so as to have a change of seat. I walked a few steps from wheelchair to chair.
“Oh you can actually walk.”
No judgement. No real surprise. Just a statement. And in perfect English!
I smiled and said yes; that I can a little bit. We ordered our coffees and I had an amazing slice of warm brownie.
Then I needed the toilet and, after the young man’s innocent comment, I felt a little self conscious about walking through the restaurant rather than being wheeled through. But I could walk! And so because my legs were cooperating, I did walk!
After we’d paid the bill and started getting the wheelchair ready and me packed back into it, the young man came up to us again.
“Can I ask you why…
Why does she need the wheelchair?”
No judgement. Just genuine curiosity.
I couldn’t even feel offended that he’d ended up asking Mr Tree Surgeon instead of me. (I can be quite shy and anxious, avoiding eye contact, and that can come across as unapproachable I think.)
We both replied that I can indeed walk but not very far; that my energy runs out very quickly. Mr TS then explained again in Spanish.
As we set off on our wheelchair adventure again he wished us well and told us to enjoy the rest of our day.
The exchange instantly made me quite reflective.
So many people must wonder the same thing as that young man. So many.
I often wonder what goes through people’s minds when they see me stand up and walk so normally for a few metres.
I also feel that quite a few people would have been offended to be asked such a question. Yet I honestly found it so refreshing.
I have thought about that young man a lot since. In 6 years he is only stranger I’ve met who’s been brave enough to ask me that question directly, and in such a polite, inquisitive way. I wish there were more people like him.