I didn't hear what he said. In fact, I didn't hear them at all. She went off like a siren. There was quiet, suddenly there was noise. I turned in my chair to see what was happening. Like everyone else, I cannot but help look at car crashes. I'd been sitting in a grocery store having a cup of tea at a table while Joe went through to pay for what we'd bought. I looked over and saw him, too, turned and watching.
What we all saw was a mother bent over with her finger in her young son's face. She was talking rapidly and loudly. He was staring at her, transfixed by her anger, his face was flushed. His eyes were glistening, like he was about to cry and only an act of will stopped the first tear from falling. There was no question that this woman was angry, there was equally no question that he was in awe of her fury. In fact, she, a small woman, did seem to grow ten times in height. She clearly didn't care if all of us heard, that was not an issue to her. The issue was that he, her son, would hear her.
"Don't you ever speak of someone like that to me again!!" she firmly told him. She was not screaming, she was 'listen to me young man'ing him. 'How can you use words like that? You used to come home crying because kids called you names. Vile racist names. You know what words do. Don't you remember what happened to your grandfather? Don't you? It always starts with words. IT ALWAYS STARTS WITH WORDS. When I was growing up, people made fun of the shape of my eyes. People called us horrible names, the same horrible names they called you. You know better. Because it happened to you, you know better. You have no excuse for using language like that. This boy, the one you called a 'retard' what is his name?'
The boy didn't answer.
'I asked you what is his name?'
The boy mumbled a name.
'Is he disabled?'
The boy mutely nodded.
'That's worse. That's even worse. You brought shame down on him. Shame because he's different. You will go to school tomorrow and apologize to him, and to everyone who heard you. His name is Kevin!! If you have to call him a name, it will be Kevin.'
She stood up, having been bent over to get into her sons face. It was like suddenly she noticed all around her. She wiped a tear from her eye and said defiantly, 'It always starts with names.'
Then she, and he, trotting shamefaced behind her, turned and went down an aisle. The store took a breath, and the world continued.