The Shorts

Bill and I were waiting in line to buy our tickets for the ferry from Barcelona to Ibiza. There was a family that consisted of a Grandmother and Grandfather, two sons with their wives and three grandchildren.

The Grandmother wore all black and was no more than four and a half feet tall. The Grandfather had some bubbling skin lesions on his arm and a glass eye. Their two sons were extremely short. One would be considered a little person, the other merely had extra short arms. Both of their wives looked weak. One covered her face because of what seemed to be suffering from what I know as leprosy. The other had only one recognizable hand.

Of the three grandchildren, there was one boy of about five or six and was clearly a little person. The two female grandchildren had arms that were no longer than six inches.

I remember the father with short arms picking up the granddaughter with short arms. It looked as though he barely had a hold of her, as she squirmed from his grasp. I was afraid he was going to drop her.

The Grandfather only screamed when he spoke because of something obstructing his throat which caused him to cough constantly. He had no inkling to quit smoking by the looks of it.

The ladies sat still with their feet not touching the ground, in the middle of the storm of deformity which was this family. They were so energetic, so chaotic, and so oblivious to world around them.

I felt sorry for the children, who obviously could not understand the limitations they would someday face. I felt sorry for the parents who knew this all too well..

But they carried on, drenched in poverty, active as a clumsy hurricane, crashing into each other, falling over, bouncing back up, fighting and yelling – like any other family.

Inside the eye of the storm, at the edge of the bench, calmly seated in a stroller,  one granddaughter quietly amused herself with a barbie doll. Her pink jacket and light blond curls extending down the sides of her face, separated her from her family like she was living in a soap bubble.

She had no visible oddities, and in my eyes held a kind of hope for the family. She did not yell or scream or run around like the others. She was consumed with her doll, patiently waiting for the ferry.

Years from now, as she marches down a runway in Milan she will remember the humans who brought her up. At times she will be scared of going back, and flaunting the gifts they gave her.  She won’t be able to speak of her life in hotels, and airplane seats with feet firmly on the ground.  They would never understand her hesitancy to start a family. They will never meet her boyfriends, because she won’t ever let them in.

She’ll be blessed and thankful. Proud of her family and a little ashamed of their differences. She will make the most of her looks because she knows what it is like to have none. She already knows about family and kindness on the inside, she knows about imperfect parents with tempers and how hard they tried to provide.

Will she have a family of her own, knowing the possibility of passing on her family’s genes?  Will she keep their story secret? Will she get lost inside her beauty and think she made it by herself?  Will she remember the perfect storm of deformity where it all began?

Palme d'Or

About Mark Bethune

Mark Bethune is a writer / director recently returned to Toronto after a number of years in various countries. www.markbethune.com has more of his work. Say hello if you'd like.