Just as we were finishing our lunch and I was popping the last of the burrito into my mouth, an employee came into wipe down the tables. He was quiet and unobtrusive and I didn't notice, either by his behaviour or the behaviour of others, that he had Down Syndrome. He just quietly and efficiently went from table to table to table.
Most of the customers seemed like regulars and took absolutely no notice of him. I can't emphasize the degree of welcome and acceptance that comes with anonymity in carrying out acts of everyday life. He was just doing his job. They just let him do his job. Several nodded to him, he nodded back, but that's as far as it went.
Then into the food court comes a young woman, with her boyfriend, who noticed him big time. Suddenly he was surrounded by patronizing, childish tones about what a good job he was doing and about how proud they were of him. He looked mortified ... not pleased to be centered out at all ... mortified. When the woman went to hug him he stopped her.
"No," he said, "I'm at work, you are a stranger."
She pressed on and he said, "No, I am a man. I am not a child."
They were, predictably offended. They told him that they were just being nice.
He said, and shock ran through my soul, "It doesn't feel nice, it feels disrespectful."
Then they were gone. During this whole thing, several in the food court turned to watch, it seemed like they all had his back, but they didn't interfere, they let him handle what came his way.
One of the women in the food court, one he had nodded to, fist bumped him on the way out.
Then he went back to his job.