He didn't see me sitting behind him. I don't know if my presence, known about, would have made a difference. I'm guessing not. We were waiting for the light to change to head north and as such were watching people cross from the east. A woman, maybe on 20 or 21, was making her way carefully across the street. She had an unsteady gait, I'm guessing she had cerebral palsy, and navigating over the streetcar tracks took all of her concentration. I'm glad, because, he nudged the friend next to him and started to imitate her walk. His friend found this hilarious and worked to keep from laughing out loud.
She crossed in front of us, not having seen the mocking, or maybe working and pretending she hadn't seen it, it's hard to tell sometimes. Anyways our light had changed to green and everyone who had waited headed north. My stomach was churning. I knew I was building up to say something to him. Most don't believe me but I really don't like confrontation. Really, really, don't like it. But I make myself sometimes. We pulled to a stop at another light and I reached forward and tapped him on the shoulder. He turned to look at me. I was terrified partly because I was going to confront him for his behaviour, but also partly because bullies are amazingly adept at finding new victims. I didn't want to be his next target.
"So, I just wanted to know, do you make fun of people with disabilities, like the woman at the crosswalk, because you are cruel or because you actually hate people with disabilities? I'm always curious when I see hateful behaviour like that.' He was, in a word, thunderstruck. I waited to simply be struck. His mouth opened and closed, several times, like he was astonished to be addressed by a stranger, a fat guy in a wheelchair no less, and confronted about mocking someone else.
He didn't shout, he didn't yell and, most importantly, he didn't hit me. "Come on man, I was just joking."
"So you figure that you can joke about her because you are better than her, is that it?"
"No, I was just joking, really, just joking. Besides, she didn't see me, so what difference does it make."
"I saw you, she's part of my community, doesn't that matter? Don't I matter, don't my feelings matter?"
Realize now, we are actually having a discussion. His friend is wanting him to go, ignoring me said friend kept saying, 'it was just a joke, let's go.'
The young fellow said, "OK, so I'm sorry, is that what you want?"
"No," I said, "I want you to realize that you have the potential to be a fine person. You didn't yell at me, or hit me, you've chosen to talk to me. Behind the facade of a guy who makes fun of disabled people, is a pretty nice guy. I just want you to have to courage to be him most of the time. Cause, frankly, the other guys an ass."
He smiled. Actually smiled. "I don't think I've ever been told off so nicely. You're right, what I did was beneath me. I won't do it again. Cause, really, I'm a nice guy."
"Dare to be that guy," I said.
I rode home thinking, 'that so didn't go like I thought it would go.'
I think, maybe, I was the midwife at the birth of a real, actual, adult man.