09 April 2008

Talking to the deaf

On my way to a walking tour entitled "Second Nature: Guimard and Art Nouveau," I was caught off-guard by a child on the métro. For once, I had been reading.

The child shoves a sheet of paper and a pen in my hands. Or maybe he hands these things to me, and I take them. I can't remember. In any case, I haphazardly scan the paragraph heading the paper. Since it's in French, and I'm nervous because other métro riders might be watching, I only comprehend English-like words, such as "enfant," "muet" (or maybe it was "sourd-muet," which means deaf-mute), "handicap."

Below the paragraph is a form. Ten or so lines have been filled in. I feel like I've been scanning the paragraph for way too long and decide to just sign the damn thing. I think, Yeah, I support deaf-mute children. The child sees that I'm going to sign, and he clasps his hands together in thanks.

Not soon enough, after I've put down my name, postal code, and signature, I see the euro currency sign. The donations column. The people before me have all donated something between €20 and €30. Who are these people, I think. As usual, my wallet is empty, save for some useless coins. I can't even give the kid a €2 coin. I begin to say to the kid in French, "I'm sorry, I don't have any money on me." He signs angrily at me. Nice, Ann. Talking to the mute. Learn some sign language, you awful person. I try to give the paper and pen back to him, but he refuses to take it. He dramatically underlines the word "handicap" with his index finger and actually imitates a handicap by making his hands into fists and, arms bowed outward, walking in place.

I reach into my bag for my wallet. I unzip the coin pouch and show him the little I do have. I realize that it looks like I'm just hiding my banknotes. But I'm not. And I attempt to gesture that I will give him all of the coins. He doesn't want it. He just stares at me with his angry little face. Finally, when we arrive at a new stop, he takes the paper and pen from me and runs out the opening doors in a huff.

I put my book in my bag and sit with a frown until my stop.

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