Sitting quietly, almost unnoticed by all, having a coffee and flipping through a magazine. Ordinary, every day sight. Nothing in her movements drew the eye. Nothing in her demeanour caught the attention. Nothing in her style gave a single hint. She was just a young woman reading a magazine and having a coffee.
I only noticed her because I was watching for Joe to return with the sack of books and magazine that he was purchasing at the till while I was scoping out a table in the cafe. To watch for him I had to look directly over her head. Thus she was in my sight line. And I didn't know.
Joe joined me, we got tea and settled down to browse through our purchases. The bookstore in Fort Collins was just a few blocks from our hotel and we'd decided to just relax here and then move in there. It was then she got up and went to the clerk. She asked for a pen. "Do you have a pen that I can borrow."
Spoken a fraction too loudly.
Spoken a second before the clerk was finished serving another guest.
It was enough.
And we all knew. She had a disability. A mild one, but a disability nonetheless.
I had to cover my ears to shield them from the sound of expectations falling. I had to avert my eyes away from annoyed faces - not annoyed at the disability, but annoyed that she'd tricked them. Fooled them. How dare she 'look' normal and 'be' different.
Oh, and she knew. She saw the faces. It disturbed her, I could tell, that she'd been found out. That others now glanced at her with curiosity - maybe a wee bit of hosility. They hadn't liked being tricked. They liked the idea of living in a world where difference was obvious. Where they could protect themselves because of the obviousness of a Down Syndrome eye or a Williams Syndrome ear.
She sat down into a different social reality than the one she had stood up into. I could almost hear her curse herself for asking for the pen. For making the slip.
But as she sat there, she focussed again on the magazine and made a note in the column. You could see her jaw set. She put the pen down, picked her coffee up and then looked around the room. Daring people to meet her eyes. She came to me and I didn't break gaze with her, I just nodded and smiled.
I knew what she was doing.
She was reclaiming ground.
She was Rosa Parks at the front of the bus.
She would not be moved.
These are the acts of everyday heroics of people with disabilities. The tiny acts of social rebellion that will one day remake the community, retake the stage.
She finished her coffee. Returned the pen. And walked out of the cafe.
On her terms.
They had tried to shame her.
And ended in shaming themselves.