Posted for Blogging Against Disablism Day 2014
Sitting back on his heels, Daniel surveyed the hole he’d just dug. Yes, that would be deep enough, he decided. He removed his gardening gloves so as not to get the contents of the box dirty as he looked at them one last time.
When he came to the photo of Sammy, he paused. How was she now? Was she happy and being cared for like they had promised? He doubted it. He should never have trusted them, he should have protected her, taken her somewhere safe like the other families with ‘special’ relatives had done. Though he knew now that would have been no use.
Though older in years, Sammy had always been his little sister, looking up to him as the clever older brother. He was one of the few who still accepted people like Sammy. The ‘mentally backward’ as they were known nowadays. Even thinking of that term made his stomach turn.
It had all looked so promising just a decade ago. There were new cures being discovered all the time. Soon illness, disability and even old age would be a thing of the past. Nobody had ever said that acceptance of as yet ‘incurable’ disabilities would also disappear as rapidly. Those who had been able, had tried to hide their disorders. Taking jobs that didn’t require intellect or just staying at home as much as possible. Sammy had not been so fortunate. Her distinctive features had made her disability plain to the world.
What had they called it again? Something syndrome. That was before terms like mongoloid and half wit had started to creep back into everyday language. Daniel shivered, despite the warmth of the afternoon. What had happened to the world?
At least the ‘invalids’ wouldn’t disappear entirely without trace. There would always be a record of them, here, in this garden. In another ten years there wouldn’t be a single invalid on earth. They would either be cured in the womb or never be born. There was already talk of making this legal.
Finally, Daniel put the things back in the box, sealed it and placed it carefully in the bottom of the hole. He hoped that someday, somebody might stumble across it. What would they think? Would they be able to imagine that there had once been people living on Earth who were blind, deaf, unable to walk? Despite himself, Daniel smiled, picturing the puzzled expression on the face of the box’s finder.
A few minutes later the hole was filled in and the earth flattened. You would have to know there was anything buried there to spot any signs of digging. That was how Daniel wanted it. He very much doubted what he had just done was legal. But he was beyond caring. What had the law ever done for him or Sammy? They had taken everything away from him, locked Sammy away out of sight and out of mind.
There was still one more thing left to do, before his worries would be over. This was definitely against the law, but it wasn’t as if they’d be able to do anything about it when it was discovered. And even if they did, he wouldn’t be there to suffer it. Slowly, he got to his feet and walked back towards the house and the drink waiting on the kitchen table.
“Not there, you daft animal.”
Half amused, half annoyed, Nathan shoved the over enthusiastic mongrel away from the flower bed. The dog gave him a reproachful look before slinking off to dig up another part of the garden. “He wasn’t actually doing any harm,” said Emma, looking up from her homework.
“Not yet, but I don’t want mum on my back if her precious flower beds get massacred.”
Nathan was about to kick the dirt back into the hole when a glint of something metallic caught his eye. He knelt down, peering into the hole to see what it was. Just visible at the bottom was a square of something silver. He looked around, uncertain what to do. Should he investigate further or simply cover whatever it was up again? Emma was still engrossed in her history book so no help there.
He peered at the square again. It could just be a stone, of course. But stones weren’t silver. Finally, he got up and went to fetch a trowel from the shed. Whatever it was, it had been put there for a reason, and Nathan wanted to know what that was.
Emma looked up curiously when he returned and began digging. “What about the flowers. I thought you were so keen to avoid damaging them.”
“I’ll be careful,” Nathan replied absently, scraping away the earth from the mysterious silver thing. After a while it became clear that this was more than a flat square. As Nathan dug, the shape of a box began to emerge from the dirt.
“What’s that?” asked Emma. Forgetting her homework, she came over to have a look. “Dunno,” said Nathan. “Someone must have buried it there. Yonks ago from the look of it.” The box was covered in rust patches and the small key that was attached to it with a string was almost rusted through. However, when Nathan tentatively tested the lid, it came up easily, the lock having also succumbed to age.
“Cool! This is just like those adventure series on TV. Hey, maybe there’s treasure in here.”
Nathan was disappointed however when the first item turned out to be not gold or jewels, but only a book. “Give us a look,” demanded Emma, sensing her younger brother had already started to lose interest. She opened it and flicked through a couple of pages.
“Looks like someone’s photo album,” she mused. “Maybe there’s a date here somewhere.” Sure enough, the year was printed on the title page.” “Wow! 2194. That means this stuff is over a hundred years old.”
Now Nathan’s curiosity was sparked again. He began carefully removing the other items from the box. “Why on earth would anybody bury a load of photos and papers and stuff like that,” he wondered aloud. Just then, one photo in the album caught his attention. It was a young girl of about fifteen or sixteen. What had caught his eye were her features. “Look,” he said, pointing to the photo. “Have you ever seen anybody like that? I mean, she looks like people from the Asian empire, except she’s white. Hey, and look at this one. What’s he sitting in that funny looking buggy thing for?”
Marvelling, they continued browsing the album. They had never seen anything like it. There were lots of people in the funny looking buggies; people walking with strange white sticks which they held with one end on the ground in front of them; people making some kind of signs with their hands; more people like the girl in the first photo; and even a few people who appeared to be missing one or more limbs.” “Ugh, gross,” was Nathan’s opinion on these photos.
“Hang on, I think I know what this is,” said Emma at length. “We did it in history a couple of months ago. Apparently there used to be all sorts of diseases and disorders and stuff that had no cure. So loads of people had things wrong with them. Like they couldn’t see, or hear, or their bones were wonky.” Nathan stared at her. “You mean like what I was born with?”
He had been told many times of his premature arrival and the several conditions he had been cured of when he was only a few days old. What had they called it again? Muscular… something or other. And some kind of brain disorder that would have slowed his development.
“Yeah, only back when these photos were taken they were still developing cures. Hey! Look! A letter. Perhaps this’ll explain it.”
Emma excitedly opened the envelope and pulled out the sheet of paper inside. It was indeed a letter. Carefully, she laid it on a flat stone and read aloud:
“I don’t know if anyone will ever find this. And even if this box is discovered one day, I doubt anybody will be able to even comprehend what this means. But this is the only thing I can do to stop a whole section of humanity simply disappearing without trace.
“These photos prove that there were once people on this earth who were less than perfect. And that they were also human beings, not burdens on society who had to be locked away, simply for the crime of not fitting in to this new, perfect world of ours. Yes, the world may be perfect and the invalids may have been nicely hidden away out of sight, but at what cost? How many families are grieving for a relative, taken away and put into institutions?
“I don’t expect whoever reads this to understand. I just want to feel that I did all I could, that I didn’t fail my beautiful, loving, compassionate, and yes, disabled sister. I will never see her again in this place. But who knows, we may meet again somewhere else. But a lifetime is too long for me. When this box is buried I’ll be going there. And when Sammy’s time comes, I’ll be waiting for her.”
There was a long silence. Finally, Nathan asked in a small voice: “Does that mean he… You know… Wanted to…”
“I think so,” said Emma quietly. “People sometimes did that back then. If they were suffering or unhappy.” there was another deep silence. In this age of health, wealth and abundance, it was inconceivable that anybody would voluntarily give all that up.
To break the awkward silence, Nathan started rummaging in the envelope. His fingers encountered a small rectangle of card. Pulling it out, he saw it was a photo of a young man and woman. The woman had the same features as some of the people in the photo album. The man had his arm protectively round her shoulders and both were smiling happily at the camera. On the back were the words: Daniel and Sammy – 19 September 2194
“What should we do with this stuff?” Nathan asked finally. “Take it to a museum perhaps?” Emma shook her head.
“I don’t think that’s a good idea. I’m not sure anybody will be able to understand it. I mean, really understand the story behind it. It’d just turn into an interesting bit of history, and I don’t think that’s what this Daniel wanted.” “So what should we do with it then?”
“I think we should just put it back in the hole.”
Nathan stared at her. “But then nobody will ever know,” he protested. The whole point he wrote all that was so that people would know, surely…” Emma sighed. Nathan was too young to understand. And how could he. She herself could not fully comprehend Daniel and Sammy’s story either. It was just too far removed from their comfortable, care free situation. But that was precisely why she didn’t want the whole world knowing about this tragic story.
“Look,” she tried. “People nowadays just can’t understand stuff like this… Disorders, losing loved ones… If we put it all back, then maybe in another hundred years other people might find it. And maybe then things will have changed. Perhaps they will appreciate it.” Nathan shrugged. He still didn’t get it. But there wasn’t really much point arguing over it.
So they put everything carefully back in the box, Emma fetched a plastic bag to wrap the box in now that the lock was broken and they put it carefully back down into the hole. A few minutes later Nathan patted the last lumps of earth back down and sat back. “Do you really think somebody else might find it someday?” “There’s bound to be another nosy dog who’ll come and dig it up again.”
As if he’d sensed they were talking about him, the dog suddenly bounded eagerly over to them, wagging his tail. “Oi! Get off,” laughed Nathan as the animal gave him a huge, affectionate lick. “Honestly, he needs tranquillizers.”
As boy, girl and dog ran off to play fetch on the lawn, a scrap of paper blew into the garden. It was a page from a newspaper which bore the headline: ‘Shock at birth of deformed boy’. Beneath these words was a photo of a newborn baby. One eye was tightly shut, but the other was open a fraction, revealing the empty eye socket behind the lid. The wind dropped and the paper landed gently near the flower beds, half on top of the trowel, still lying in the dirt. It looked like another major revolution was on its way.
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