Finding love for a physically challenged girl calls for a lot of courage. The courage first to accept yourself as loveable and the courage to give your heart to someone to love you courageously too.
That kind of courage, I did not have. It was not something I could muster for such a long time. I shoved the matter out of my head.
I was afraid of love. I looked at the mirror and saw a pretty girl, long hair, with a nice figure except for one big flaw that pronounced itself at me so hugely that I ran away from the mirror.
One of my legs is shorter than the other. Even the shoe lifts do not conceal the disability that is even louder when I walk. Who would love such a girl? I asked myself frequently. I had done my research, never had I seen a physically challenged man/woman with a ‘normal’ spouse. The normal married each other while people like us also hooked up.
Yet I did not want to meet someone who pitied me because they understood best my disability because they too were challenged. I wanted to fall in love to a person who saw me as a woman not as a disabled woman.
At 24, I still lived with my parents, depite the fact that my younger brother had moved out already. My parents would not let me, especially my father who thought my leg condition weakened even my reasoning as an independent person.
“I would want you to stay with us until a prince charming comes along.” My mother had joked one day.
I searched her eyes, she was sincere. She actually thought that I would get married to a man who would sweep me off my feet.
“I…I…don’t think it will ever happen. Who would love a woman with one short leg, one who has to walk with the help of a crutch?” I said, my eyes downcast and adding that I wanted to get married to my books.
My mother ambushed me with a tight embrace, kissing my forehead severally, her tears flowing from her eyes and rebuking my comments over and over.
“You will find a man who loves you sweetheart. A man who will see beyond your condition and see the brains, the humour, the beauty and love that is deep inside here.” She said, pointing at my chest.
“You wish!” I said sighing. To change topic, I announced how thirsty I was and she offered to bring me a glass of water.
It did happen. Three months later. It was after my lecture. My father, as usual, had asked me to wait for him at a local restaurant where he would come pick me up. Then a man came through the door.
I still do not know why among many other men, I noticed him so fast. He was tall, about 6″1, not overly muscular, his head had short neat hair and he had light complexion. He was dressed in a grey shirt, his topmost button undone exposing a minuscule part of his chest. He had an Obama lookalike image that was enhanced by the way he folded his sleeves to his elbows.
For no apparent reason, my heart started palpitating, embarrassingly loudly, or so I thought. Maybe it was because he was coming to my table. I looked around, all the other tables and chairs were taken. Only mine had an extra chair. I wanted to grab the chair and throw it at him before he reached to me but it was as if I was stuck on mine.
“Is this taken?” He asked. I shook my head feigning an uninterested glance at him. He smiled at me and then sat. He was so tall his knee touched mine. At his touch, my knee jumped up causing my crutch to fall down.
“Oh My God! I am so sorry. I did not mean to.” He said bending to pick my crutch and lean it back on the wall. I shut my legs quickly regretting why I wore a dress that day. He sat back again, cautiously.
“This height sometimes causes me this kind of trouble.” He said and I laughed, too loud as if he had made the joke of the year. I stopped myself quickly and masked myself with a stern face. But he could not let me act for too long. He was a humorous man.
My father came thirty minutes later. He had a habit of keeping me waiting but on this day, I had hoped he would stay longer. He shook Dishon’s hand indifferently eyeing him suspiciously. Fortunately for me, my father was on a call all through the journey home. Otherwise, I would have to answer to a thousand questions.
That night mother came to my bedroom excited. You guessed it right, father had told her about the restaurant stranger. I downplayed the whole issue. I was not sure about celebrating that early.
We met again, same place. We learnt a lot about each other. I learnt that he was a clinical officer and that he had just opened a clinic in the next town. We always met at our favorite restaurant where he would tell me about his patients while I told him about my classes.
Then one day we agreed to meet in his one bedroomed house. Every instinct in me said he was the one. He loved me with my flaws and I loved him too deeply.
He took me gently, deflowering me tenderly. I had done my google research ‘how to please a man in bed’ so I had done enough preparations to please him too but he brushed off my efforts whispering in my ears that it was my night, and he wanted my first time to be memorable. When we were done, I cried not in pain but sheer ecstasty.
Nevertheless, the joy of having a fine loving man was cut short two weeks later.
Dishon started to behave oddly. He stopped coming to our meeting place. He stopped calling and texted more. What confused me was the content in his texts. He professed undying love for me yet he did not want us to meet. I was confused.
Then I saw him. I was buying some essentials in a supermarket when I saw him alone at the cafeteria of the supermarket, sipping a glass of water alone, his mind very far. I decided to walk up to him.
There is something about walking with a clutch. It attracts attention. Every limp attracts a glance. People stop what they are doing and stare as one limps to their destination. Some stop conversing and piteously look at you.
Dishon felt the sudden change of the atmosphere around him. The hotel was less quiet. He glanced around and his eyes met mine. He watched as I walked up to him. He blinked twice and looked at the waiter desperately. When I went to his table, I sat near him ready to demand for answers.
“Please leave my table,” Dishon said in a low pleading tone. The words almost knocked me off. I was engulfed by an overwhelming hot pain on my face.
“What?” I asked feebly. He looked around at the people around and said the hurtful words again. I did not believe that Dishon was embarrassed of me because of my disability. I searched his face hoping against hope that this was one of his many jokes but he had a grim face on him.
“Leave now!” He said, whispering anxiously at me. With tears dangerously peeping through, I held on my crutch and woke up from my seat, then slowly walked away amid pitiful faces that had witnessed the drama shamelessly.
I tried to be brave as I sat at the back of the taxi heading home but upon arrival at the house, particularly my bedroom, I broke into small pieces. I swam in my own tears that night. Food to me was unpalatable. I could not even catch a wink of sleep since all that occupied my mind was the humiliation Dishon had put me through.
I looked in the mirror. A sad girl with red rimmed eyes looked back. I wanted to ask her why she had been so stupid to fall in love yet I had warned her earnestly before. But the words that came out of my mouth were, “How could Dishon do this to me?”
For days, life seemed to be meaningless to me. Suicide was a thought I toyed with a number of times. My parents’ efforts to see me were futile. They called my brother to persuade me to move on with life but I just did not see that happening to me. Dishon was my one and only love.
I wondered why he still wrote to me, apologising for his behaviour at the cafeteria, sending me good night and good morning texts. I did not reply to any of them. If he only wanted me in private, then I could not be his.
Then one early morning, I heard an anxious knock. It was my mother. “It’s about Dishon!” She said. I opened the door hastily. She was breathing heavily as if in anger.
“I have had enough of your father.” She snapped. I almost told her off, I had my own problems. “Polly, you are a big girl, you need to know the truth, your father did this!” I looked at her wondering what she meant.
This news got me so vexed that I could not stay any longer in the house. I ran to the wardrobe and threw my clothes haphazardly in my suitcase. Mother was frantic regretting why she had told me. I met father at the door. He was shocked to see me struggle with a big suitcase. I was breathing fire.
She spilt the beans. Father, the ever protective one, had compelled Dishon to leave me. Father thought I was not ready for a relationship. He had asked my Dishon to chose what was best for me, it was either him or he stops paying for my fees. Dishon knew how much I loved to read. He had chosen to take a step back.
“Do not tell me you want to go to that man?” He asked.
“No, I am not. I am going to Leonard’s.” I answered.
“To your brother? He hardly is in the house. You need someone to be around you…”
“Dad, I am a big girl now. Having one short leg does not mean I cannot make right decisions. Please dad, I am no longer the little girl who cried that you lift her up. I am grown up now.”
I think I noticed some glass in his eyes. It was a truth he had denied for so long. He walked close to me and tried to lift me but I was too heavy for him. We laughed at the visible truth. Mother, who all along was standing behind me said a loud short thankful prayer.
“Mama Polly, take back her suitcase…No, you said you are a big girl, take your suitcase back to your room.” I held it and almost tipped over, he jumped at me but I stopped him and struggled back to my bedroom. The feeling of contentment seduced me to an easy nap that was interrupted by my mother.
“It’s supper time, sleepy head! Come dine with us. Your father has a surprise for you.”
It was in deed a surprise. Though apprehensive, most likely from my father’s dominant attitude, was a smiling Dishon at the dining table. His face lit up when he saw me. I comtrolled every fibre in me from embracing him and when I shook his hand, it was as if electric shock passed through our hands.
It must have been the hunger strike I had experienced combined with the love of my life seated at the dining table with my family glancing adoringly at me , that made the food so scrumptious.
“You are only allowed to meet at the restaurant or here with adult supervision, is that ok?” It was my father saying.
“Of course dad. Hotel or here, under supervision.” I said as a matter of fact but threw a wink at Dishon. We all knew father would never let go of me completely and arguing with him would be a waste of time. We had our ways of meeting with Dishon discreetly.
Dishon, still the love of my life, twenty years later.