For years I saw him walk past our house with his mother. He was older than me but I never saw him by himself or go to school. Sometimes his siblings would walk along with him but his mother would always be there too.
Back then, the term used was ‘mongoloid’, a word that puzzled me. We knew nothing about the disorder, why it had that name or what the symptoms were. It wasn’t until I was in secondary school that I learned about the condition and its proper name.
We lived in a village on the outskirts of a small rural town. It was a place where religion and superstition lived hand in hand; where transgressions and gossip were as significant in people’s lives as their daily bread.
It was unusual then, for a disabled child to live at home rather than in an institution but his mother was determined to keep him with her despite the criticism and pressure from family and neighbours. She got on with her life, raising several children and doing the hard work that women in villages had to do. She learned to live with the stares, the whispers and the hurtful remarks. Eventually as the years passed, mother and son became a common sight and they were left alone.
In time his brothers and sisters left home and his father died. But still, as late as his forties, he and his mother would go for their walks. They always walked at the same pace; she dressed in black, old and hunched, slightly ahead; him close by, always at the same distance, always looking just ahead. I never saw them talk to each other but whenever they passed someone he would always say the same words “what time is it?’
I used to wonder what would happen to him if his mother died first but I learned some time ago that he was the first to go.