My fist shook resentfully as I heard the words, “Let Winner go”.
He knew how much I hated going outside the house yet insisted on being inconsiderate. The morning newspaper before him with his glasses perched on his nose looking like the beak of an eagle, I badly wanted to stab his heartless heart over and over and gleefully watch his blood ooze out painfully from his lifeless body. Instead I turned to my mother, who stared at me with that look on her sad face. The only look I’ve ever gotten from her since my birth. Was it pity or love? If it was love, then love must be the same with sympathy. At least she cared so much and pitied my “limitation” as she called it. However, there was nothing she could do, he wouldn’t bulge.
“I’d go instead”, my brother offered. My younger brother with the perfect straight legs. I fought the bitterness stirring up in my soul as I saw his look of pity.
Yes! I’m Winner, the pitiable lame girl.
The evil man looked up, his face expressionless. It was enough to shut my brother up. His gaze moved from my pleading face to my legs and he shrugged his shoulders indifferently and continued reading the news that seemed more valuable than I was.
Angrily I picked the petrol can and money as I limped out of the sitting room and left for the filling station.
My hatred for him overshadowed my mind as I conjured up images of hundreds of ways I wanted him to die.
I still remember my sixteenth birthday vividly. That Sunday, he came out of the congregation to give a testimony in church. I wondered what miracle could have happened which I wasn’t aware of. Standing in front of the whole church, he called out my name to come out and join him as he was testifying on my behalf. I stopped breathing, praying I heard wrong. I wanted to die, disappear, dissolve into thin air.
I was urged out by the ushers and had to limp to the front of the church. My legs felt wobbly and my knees quivered in fear and shame. I could see the look of compassion on people’s eyes screaming “eehya” at my legs.
The usual question danced unasked on their lips. Why didn’t I wear a long dress today? The floor refused to open up even though for once I applied my Pastor’s teaching of faith with all my heart. Nothing happened. I looked into his expressionless face promising myself that someday, someday I’d avenge myself.
My mother had told me the story of how I slipped down the stairs with my baby walker when I was three years so many times. She reminded me regularly about how lucky I was that I had to live with mere limping. One useless leg shorter than the other, the stigma was enough to kill my social life.
No one understood that it wasn’t just the pain and difficulty in walking that hurts.
Growing up as a kid without friends because you were to slow to catch up was hurtful.
People walking past you and staring back to check your legs over and over again without caring how bad it made you felt.
Having a conversation with a person and when you finally stand up, the quick fluctuation of their facial expression. It was always the same; shock, pity and artificiality.
Never being able to join any school sports or organization because everyone’s of the opinion you’d mess it up.
Yet, the evil man was indifferent to my disability. He acted like I had no limitations and made sure I did as much work as anyone else. Even my mother’s smothering compassion couldn’t stop him.
As I laid on my bed, thinking of how life would be if I had two good legs, he came into my room without knocking.
His face was expressionless as he asked me to follow him. His broad back before me, I had the urge to get a knife and sink it deep ripping off his flesh. Of course I didn’t. I couldn’t even stare at my own mates in the eyes.
He entered his car and I followed suit. Checking the house, my mother and brother were nowhere to be found. My mind made up images of what he wanted to do to me. Maybe he wanted to dump me on the streets of somewhere faraway? Sell me?.
After driving in silence for over an hour, he stopped at a major express road and parked the car.
He took me up the overhead bridge and there I saw lame men sweeping the floors of the bridge. My mouth opened in shock, my knees felt weak.
He said nothing as we walked up and down the bridge five times. My legs felt so weak, I hadn’t done this much exercise all my life and when he finally walked towards the car, I breathed a sigh of relief.
However, he started jogging down the road and asked me to follow him. It was the first time I actually used my leg for something really strenuous and it felt different. I felt strong, confident, capable as I caught up with him and overtook him.
My oversize shirt swayed with the breeze, my natural hair bouncing on my shoulders. I couldn’t express what I felt; freedom, confidence, assurance. It was beautiful.
He finally stopped, panting breathlessly while I jogged back to where he was. He smiled at me and I actually smiled back. Soon we both started laughing awkwardly.
He didn’t have to say anything, I understood the message.
My disability was in my head. I wasn’t useless or weak, I just thought I was.
I hugged my father for the first time as tears rolled down my face. He was crying too as he carried me and hugged me.
Images of my childhood played across my mind – his insisting I limped to the kitchen to get my food few months after the accident, strongly opposing to the wheelchair proposed by my mom, deliberately sending me on errands, pulling me out in front of the church.
The veil removed from my eyes and I saw love. What seemed like indifference and irritation was the fear of a father scared his daughter would live her life in insecurity. What felt like wickedness was a father trying to push his daughter beyond her limits.
That night my Father died in his sleep. He had been told he had a short time to live by the doctor and kept it from the family. I regretted every moment I wished him dead.
I lost a Father I just finally got to have.
It’s been twenty years since my Father’s death. Sitting solemnly in front of his grave with my two young daughters, I pay homage to a Father who pulled me out of self-pity and taught me self confidence. He made me.
Happy Father’s day