I sat there, in the doorway of the train as we rolled through the suburbs of Clacton heading for the terminus. In the opposite doorway, a mother set up a (rather large) pushchair before getting her young child from her husband who was sat just slightly further down the carriage. Very quickly she was joined by her son, who I’d have put at about 7 or 8.
“Hello” he said.
“Hello,” I replied. I don’t make a habit of talking to people at the best of times, but I’m sat in the doorway and I only have headset in my ear…
“Are your brakes good?” He asked, unashamedly.
I didn’t really get how to respond to this. “Yes.” I replied. Its not a question I often get asked.
“Are they really good?”
Brake conversation with a kid… ok – this could be a lot worse. “They’re ok – disc brakes would be better.”
“Why haven’t you got disc brakes?”
“Because they require setting up and calibrating, but these wheels have to come off.” I don’t think he actually wants to know but I might as well humour him. His Mum is looking slightly embarrassed.
“Oh,” he said, now looking like he was thinking. “What was the incident?”
Now its my turn to think…
“You know, why you’re in that…”
Ah. Yes. The question of “why are you in a wheelchair”… but its Friday. I’m in a reasonable mood and Mum looks slightly embarrassed… so I reply: “There wasn’t an incident.”
Mum begins to apologise, rather profusely. “He’s 8 – I’m getting all the questions! I’m so sorry.” She begins to chide him, telling him that you can’t just ask…
“No, its fine” I reply to his mum. I looked him square on. “It doesn’t have to be an incident – something gone wrong. Sometimes you can just be. Its like why you have blond hair or blue or green eyes. Sometimes you just are and I am.”
He nods, getting it. “I have blue-green eyes” he said proudly. His mum laughs at this, I think more relieved that this hasn’t resulted in an ear bashing. We’re pulling into the platform now. He looks at me. “So its all ok?”
“Yes. You don’t learn without asking.” I reply to both him and his mum. The doors bleep to announce our arrival. I roll back and out the train, to his amazement and joy, as I disappear off down the platform…
… I think I probably respected him more for having the guts to ask.