Ben felt a tap on his shoulder and turned to see a woman who’s face was turning red and she was clearly yelling at him. It was times like these he was almost glad he was deaf.
“I’m sorry, ma’am, I’m deaf,” he said, gesturing to his ears.
The woman blanched immediately. She continued talking in what Ben could only hope was an apology – he could read lips to an extent, but it was an art he had never mastered.
Fortunately, another customer of the pet supply store they were in knew sign language. She stepped in, said something to the formerly irate woman who had tapped Ben on the shoulder, then used sign language to tell Ben the woman had been trying to ask him for his help reaching an item on a tall shelf he was standing in front of.
Grateful that someone else knew sign language, Ben signed back a thank you before turning back to the shelves before him to get the item the woman had requested. She smiled as he handed it to her and said thank you clearly enough that Ben could read that much on her lips. Based on the tension that showed in her throat, he would have bet money she had also been shouting, as if he were hard of hearing instead of stone deaf.
He turned to the woman who knew sign language and the smile on her face as she watched the other woman walk away confirmed his suspicion. When she turned back to him, he signed to her, “She was still shouting, wasn’t she?”
She nodded, shaking with laughter.
“Those of us with disabilities need all the help we can get,” said Ben.
“My father was deaf,” the woman said. “It took forever to teach him sign language because he insisted on lipreading, which he couldn’t do to save his life. He said he didn’t want to look like an idiot waving his hands in the air.”
Ben laughed and responded, “Communication is never stupid – quite the contrary when it means learning an entirely new language.”
The woman nodded, looking at him as though he had just said something very wise. Then she said, “I’m sorry if this is too forward, but can I ask if you were born deaf or did you lose your hearing? You don’t have to answer if it’s too personal.”
“I don’t mind. I lost my hearing when I was in my twenties, but it was so long ago it doesn’t bother me to talk about it anymore. I also put off learning sign language. That was the dumbest thing I ever did – or, rather, refused to do.”
“Do you miss it?”
“Not anymore. I did at first, especially music, but now that I’ve been deaf longer than I had hearing, it’s normal for me now.”
The woman just looked at him for a few moments after he had stopped signing, then realized she was staring and shook herself out of it. “It was very nice to meet you,” she said before extending her right hand to shake his.
“You, too,” he said. “And thank you again for your help.”
To be continued…