Miracles, real or otherwise

June 12, 2012

The lift is working.

Suddenly life is significantly more manageable. I can get in and out of our flat relatively easily.

Having just bought a wheelchair to propel myself around Casa Me, I was reminded of a wheelchair story, which has nothing to do with Cambodia, but I thought was funny.

A few years ago, I lived on a peaceful little island in the South China Sea, a few miles from Hong Kong. I shared a large, remote flat with a great friend called Johnny, where we partied quite hard, and lived a fairly ramshackle and cheerful existence.

One of Johnny’s more useful characteristics was that he came from a family with a noble history of scavenging, and he claimed it was in his blood to collect things that other people had discarded. This meant our flat was home to any number of unusual articles that Johnny had found by the side of the road: we had a dining table, for instance, that seated 25, which we had to put on the roof it was so big.

One day Johnny came home more than usually pleased with himself: passing a house where an elderly man had just died, he had spied a wheelchair, and deciding that the occupants had no further need of it, he liberated it, and added it to our collection of furniture.

The wheelchair proved extremely popular. It meant you could go to the fridge and get a beer without getting up. Johnny and I used to have epic physical fights over who should get to sit in it of an evening. The problem was eventually solved by Johnny scouring the island for further geriatric casualties, and relieving the families of their wheelchairs when they weren’t looking. By the time we moved out, we had four or five of them, and we disposed of them by setting them on fire and catapulting them off the roof. That was fun. We also used to race them up and down the unused road behind our flat, and both became extremely proficient at wheelies and other tricks.

During the period when we only had one in the house, I was at home, by myself, sitting in it, reading. It was a cold, wintry afternoon just before Christmas, and I’d moved the gas rings out of the kitchen and into the living room to provide some warmth. Hong Kong was not well set up for cold weather.

Suddenly there was a knock at the door, and on being told to come in, about a dozen or so Filippinas entered, led by our cleaner, Josie. Apparently they were going around the island singing Christmas carols to raise money for charity, and apparently, in a late-night moment of distraction, I had told Josie I’d be delighted if they visited me. As it happened, I was not delighted at all to have a house full of proselytising Christians, but I bore it manfully, rolled myself to the fridge for another beer, and told them to do their worst.

So they fell into rank, and proceeded to sing some carols. It wasn’t bad, really. The light was fading, and their clear, strong voices filled the gloomy room, lit only by the gas rings. I sipped my beer and nodded approvingly at them.

Finally they finished, and all looked at me expectantly. That was my cue to give them some money, so I leaped from the wheelchair to find my wallet. And the ladies started to squeal, and fell about in shock: one or two even fell to their knees with their hands raised in praise to the heavens. They thought the power of their singing had wrought a miracle, and restored my powers of walking.

They had, of course, not unreasonably, seen me in the wheelchair and thought I was occupying it through necessity, not sheer laziness, and Josie hadn’t told them otherwise. It was sad to have to disabuse them of the notion that they’d channeled god’s power and created a Christmas miracle, which they so wanted to believe in. It took them some time to calm down, but eventually I gave them far too much money and bundled them out of the door, all of us hideously embarassed. I used to see some of them around the island occasionally for years afterwards; we’d quickly look away, shamefaced.

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2 Responses to “Miracles, real or otherwise”

  1. J&J said

    What a fantastic story. How is Florence?

  2. Tina said

    Love it. There is still a hole in London, where you guys lived…
    How are you doing – wheelchair aside? xo TINA

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