Into the shadows I fled. Hoping to avoid their prying, judgmental eyes. Strangers stared and heckled me as I shuffled past them. I was a pariah in my own skin; born not of woman but apparently of a demon in female form. Spectators on the walkway leered directly into my eyes, aghast at my unsightly form before turning away in disgust or horror. Woe was I. Woe indeed. I was a prisoner of unjust visual prejudice. Trapped in a strange town without a single friend to turn to in my hour of need. Instead, I sought the lonely embrace of the nearby darkness. Even that refuge was only taken out of impure necessity.
Only in the shelter of ‘her’ arms could I escape the ceaseless wrath of the townsfolk. The reason for their vengeful madness, I do not know. The simple fact was, it did not matter. I had been damned by the haphazard judicial assembly. Condemned for their own arcane reasons. Just as it had always been.
The mob dissipated as I faded from view. There in the cloak of darkness I waited for my opportunity to escape their scorn. Neither a moment too late, nor a minute too early. Timing was of the utmost essence. I heard a faint din in the darkness, followed by a rustle in nearby foliage. The welcomed whisper of a kindred spirit rose above the steady beat of my thundering heart. I wasn’t alone and yet, I felt safe in the presence of the unknown stranger. Soon he made a formal declaration of his intentions.
“You are I are not so different in appearance or constitution, my resilient friend. We share a similar physical infirmity and also, the same desire to be free from the callous distain of our fickle countrymen. For mutual survival, I suggest we form an alliance of sorts. This collective bond can strengthen us from the sting of their unjust insults and blows. What say you? Shall we shake on it?”
I hardly had a choice in the matter. After a lifetime of cruel mistreatment and ridicule, this unseen stranger was already closer to an ally than any other soul I had ever encountered. Dare I think it; a potential friend? The darkness that enveloped us actually felt good for a change. He reached his gnarled hand out of the shadows, as a sign of good faith. My own crooked appendage reached for his to seal the symbolic agreement. It was a first for me in recent memory. An actual ally from the cruelty of the uncaring world. Us against them.
He cautioned me against moving any closer. This I took as a sign of nervous hesitancy. I understood all-too-well the fear of revealing oneself. Only the deformed and twisted souls could grasp the importance of discretion in these matters. Naturally I honored his request to give him space. We remained in our respective hiding spaces and discussed our lives at length. He had been abandoned by his birth parents, as had I. Then he spent some time as the main attraction in a traveling menagerie. Being the butt of a side show was a necessary evil for those like us who did not posses any other prospects for employment. I had walked a similar, depressing path. I thanked my newfound fortune to finally encounter a true friend.
Together, we could travel with the benefit of safety in numbers. Charity organizations and the few kind souls we encountered would help feed us without prejudice or discrimination. Having a brother-in-arms made dealing with the slings and arrows of our physical misfortune, tolerable at last.
When children would cry out in fear, or point and shout that we were mutants or ‘freaks’, George would stop walking and approach them. He would introduce himself cheerfully, in hopes that they would come to understand. Deep under our malformed skin and misshapen bodies, the two of us were basically just like them. Despite our visual ugliness, we still deserve respect. At times it worked and other times it did not but I admired his courage for at least trying. He explained that it came from the daily desensitization of being the featured spectacle in the menagerie. Through his humiliation and suffering, many visitors learned that he had a gentleman’s dignity. I yearned for that level of class in the face of adversity.
“Leo, you must overcome the shame of your physical deformities. Only through projecting a sense of pride will we ever be accepted or tolerated in this cosmetically-oriented society.”
I was reluctant to walk in public with my mask off but through his example, I summoned the courage to face my daily antagonists. I recognized that my abnormal appearance was no fault of my own. If those I encountered had a problem with my appearance, it was their issue. Not mine. I walk with dignity.
Today, George and I appeal to the kindness of the local congregation for a modest charitable donation. We are hopeful their members can overlook their bias against our outer shells. Only through generous hearts can we continue to avoid the indignity of side shows and street begging.
“Mr. Clooney and Mr. Dicaprio. We want to welcome you to our temple of true fellowship. No one here will judge either of you for only having one nose; or your unfortunate symmetrical facial features. We were all made in the divine form of the holy creator. It is not our place to question that the two of you only two ears, or that you have hair on top of your heads. None of us are perfect. Welcome!”