Cyprian is faster than most boys his age. His faded, striped jersey is his only shirt, but he sports it proudly. It hugs his distended belly, evidence of chronic malnourishment. He is subservient, but on the soccer field his passion and strength are unleashed. He pursues the ball as a tiger would chase its prey. He forgets he is deaf. He cannot hear the shouts of the other children or the patter of his own steps on dry clay, but he can taste the sweetness of his momentary splendour and sense the adrenaline fueling his lithe limbs.
His teammate swipes both the ball and Cyprian’s glory in one blow. Reality startles him with a slap.
Taunted, teased, rejected since birth.
The boys’ words bounce off, but their caustic sneers seep into his core. He knows he is not their equal. He is not allowed to forget it, not even on the soccer field where he outpaces them all. Cyprian is forced to rely on his fists, his only ally. This boy, for one, cannot use his words. Not with hearing children, and not with deaf ones either. He has never been to school, nor has he learned sign language.
Cyprian has no known history. No children’s home would have him because of his disability, so he was sent to a home for juvenile delinquents. He was too meek for that crowd, so he was shuttled to Johabeto where I noticed him meandering cat-like in the shade. He joined the others for their games outside, then, excluded from the classroom, returned to the quiet recesses of the yard.
That was Wednesday. Today, he enters the gates of St. Anthony’s school for the deaf. His hands slap his chest in a fountain-like gesture: joy. He gives me the thumbs up sign and beams. We accompany him to his homeroom. He is twice as tall as the students in his pre-primary class, but he does not seem to care. In his mind, he is no different from the other children for the first time in his life.