Language Barrier


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Tommy lie on his back on an Oriental rug in a home in one of the poorest sections of Providence. His mechanical wheelchair sat idle a few feet away. His mother tried to explain what happened, when she stumbled one of the guys from Engine 14 translated for her.

“He was getting off the bus like he does every day. She didn’t see what happened but he started crying. The driver stopped the lift but nothing was wrong, then lowered him to the ground and she took him home. She thinks something is wrong with his left leg,”

I kneeled next to him on the clean rug. What little these two had was kept immaculate.

“Does he understand?” I asked Tommy’s mom. She didn’t so the firefighter translated.

“He’s mentally delayed, has good days and bad, usually he is very happy, never cries or complains.”

I felt Tommy’s legs, looking for deformities. I tried to straiten them out, then noticed the braces sitting next to his wheelchair and thought better. He was helpless, staring at me, then his mom then me again. Words between them were useless tools, their language understood by them and only them. I got a small taste when Tommy’s eyes locked on mine.

He cried out when I touched his left knee, I didn’t see any swelling but I just couldn’t tell, and Tommy couldn’t tell me. We wrapped him in a blanket and carried him outside. A bunch of kids stood at the door, eight, nine and ten years old, and formed an honor guard as we carried their friend; or if not their friend the kid in the wheelchair who lives on the corner into the rescue.

We rode to the hospital in language barrier silence. Me, English with a little Spanish, her, Spanish with a little English and Tommy with no language at all.

Except for those eyes. What goes on in his mind is a mystery to me, but I have a feeling his mom knows everything.

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