Winner. A special needs child reacts to prejudice
| YELLOW BIRD
About 650 words
Winner, Writer's Cramp August 4 2021
Liz laughs and signs, Yellow bird. She points at a tree by the path where we are walking, a few hundred metres back from the beach.
I look where she's pointing. It's a male American Goldfinch, a little brilliant yellow bird with a black mask and black bars on wings and tail. I smile and nod to her. Yes, yellow bird. I wish I knew more sign language and could communicate better with her.
She takes my hand and we stroll along through the warmth of the afternoon. We pass through the alternating sun and shadow of trees overhead. A cool moist breeze from the lake dries sweat from my body. Something, something pretty, she signs. Yes, nice, I respond. She skips along, and I speed-walk to keep up with her. Five-year-old girls are so incredibly energetic.
I'm covering for my friend Jessie, Liz's caretaker/companion, for a few minutes while she makes a pit stop. We've walked on ahead, and Jessie will catch up to us soon. Jess is an amazing, caring lady who looks after Liz, who is an orphan in state care, as if the little girl were her own. I'm a bit nervous, not used to being with kids, especially not a special-needs child like Liz.
Another little girl, about the same size as Liz, comes running around the corner towards us. She sees us and stops suddenly. Liz drops my hand, waves at the newcomer, and signs, Hi little girl. The little girl, who wears a yellow bikini, cocks her head, reminding me of the goldfinch we'd seen earlier. I sign to Liz, Yellow bird. She gets it, and laughs. The girl comes up to us, chattering at Liz. I explain that Liz can't hear, but can see fine, and speaks with signs.
"What's wrong with her mouth?" the girl asks.
"It's called a cleft palate," I explain. "'Cleft' means 'split' and the palate is the upper part of your mouth. Her lip is split too, as you can see. She was born like that, but this fall she will have surgery to fix it."
"Oh," she says. She waves at Liz. Next thing I know, the two of them are digging in the sand at the edge of the path, happily building something or other. This process, this playing together, needs no words.
A woman comes rushing around the corner, presumably yellow bikini's mother. She sees the two girls digging in the sand and starts to smile. Then, catching sight of Liz, the smile vanishes. She grabs her child and yanks her up. With a snarl at me, she drags the girl as far away from us as the path permits, then charges past us.
Liz looks up at me, clearly upset and sad. Lady angry? she asks.
Lady stupid, I retort. Little girl nice.
Little girl nice, she agrees. Liz ugly.
I drop to my knees beside her. I start to sign 'Liz pretty' but I don't think that's what she needs to hear. Liz nice. I like you. She gives me a hug and holds tight.
Jessie comes up to us and frowns. "Hey, guys, what's up?" Liz and I stand up. Before I can start to explain, Liz erupts in a flutter of signs that I can't even begin to comprehend, and I suddenly realize that she's been signing to me as if I were a three-year old. Slow and simple. Jesse signs back and the two of them hug. Then Jess hauls me in for a group hug.
"You said exactly the right thing," Jess whispers in my ear. We step apart and resume our walk down the path, each of us holding hands with Liz in the middle. We swing her and she laughs.
"People like that are so incredibly stupid and superficial," Jess goes on. "They see only what's on the surface and act like it's contagious or something. It's like they simply can't realize they're dealing with a human being with emotions, with feelings, with a soul, just like them."
"The loss is theirs, I guess," I murmur, "locked in a shell of fear and prejudice. That's a shame."