While there are many negative aspects to using a wheelchair, and it is undeniable that I am treated differently to an able-bodied individual, sometimes the response of able-bodied people towards me can be uplifting. Take, for example, the smaller front wheels of my wheelchair getting trapped in the gap between the carriage and platform on the London Underground. A stranger saw my difficulty, and completely unprompted helped to lift my front wheels onto the platform, disappearing into the crowd before I had a chance to say thank you.
One such occasion occurred when I was 16 that I will never forget, on a cold, wet, inconspicuous November day about a week before Remembrance Sunday. I had been helping my dad with the shopping, as he is colour-blind and finds selecting ripe fruit difficult, and we were heading towards the adapted till designed for those with disabilities. A woman had spotted the shorter queue at this particular till, and despite the fact that I was clearly heading towards it and have little choice about what till I use, pushed in front of me. I bit my lip as I could tell she was the type of arrogant and self-righteous person who will accept no reprimand, and patiently waited behind her in the queue while she unloaded her over-flowing trolley onto the conveyor belt.
What I had failed to notice was the man selling poppies in honour of Remembrance Day directly opposite the till, who had seen what had happened. When the woman in front of us eventually left, I went to the end of the till, and started to help my dad pack the bags. Upon seeing a movement out of the corner of my eye, I turned my head to see the man standing next to me, holding a poppy; it wasn’t even one of the flimsy paper ones, but one from Pinterest with a knitted with black and red wool, with a safety pin attached to the back.
“I’ve just seen how that woman treated you”, he told me by way of introduction, “and I’m giving you this because by holding your tongue, you kept the peace.” He then handed me the poppy without taking payment and wandered back to his stall, where people continued to ignore him.
My dad of course saw this, and when we had finished packing the bags, he walked over to the stall, thanked the man for his kindness, and bought a poppy. We never knew his name, and he forever became the poppy man.
I kept the woollen poppy pinned to my lanyard, which keeps all my keys conveniently in one place, as a reminder to myself when someone treated me as that woman had, that kindness and empathy still existed. I was devastated when one day I returned from a shopping trip to find that the poppy had fallen off my lanyard, and was nowhere to be found, but even without the memento, the memory of the poppy man will never fade, and deserves no less than to be immortalised in words.