There are many ways to kill a child. One of them is to subdue the defiance in his eyes. Defiance proclaims that ‘I’m alive. I’m a breathing thinking feeling human who doesn’t like to do certain things at certain times in certain ways.’ Isn’t that a good thing? Is that not what we as adults should endeavour to do – groom them into self-sufficient self-reliant decisive thinking adults. Why then do we impose our definitions of right-wrong, good-bad, acceptable-unacceptable, or normal on children?
I had just started volunteering with the kindergarten at the orphanage when I met Zain. Freshly dragged out from a scuffle, his shirt was liberated of its buttons, disheveled hair clung to a dirty muddy crimson face, while a murderous stare emanated from the most beautiful brown eyes. His every pore was buzzing with defiance. It was love at first sight.
But Zain was every warden’s nightmare. He simply would not conform. If he was not in a fight, he was the instigator of fights. And God was he a biter. Ten minutes of my every visit was spent mollifying the victims of his attack. He did not go easy on me either; pulling my clothes, grabbing things out of my purse or mostly squeezing my bottom as a means to humour his hangers-on. At first I would gently reprimand him, but to no avail. Then I started ignoring him. He would just sit in front and stare at me. I mean a ‘I won’t blink an eye, I won’t look away, I hate you daggers’ stare. He was the most disturbingly beautiful sight.
The warden was convinced he had ADHD and wanted to send him to the councilor. I decided to see the councilor first though. And after a long and most helpful session I slowly started changing my strategy with Zain. One on one time really helped and slowly ‘please’, ‘thank you’ and ‘let’s do it together’ started working. Hurrah, we even managed to graduate to grade 1.
And then summer vacation happened.
The boy who came back was less defiant, more subdued, and had a big burn mark on his thigh.
The world had acquired a nice normal boy now. The world had also become a little less beautiful.
What is the Normal?
The Normal is the good smile in a child’s eyes—all right. It is also the dead stare in a million adults. It both sustains and kills—like a God. It is the Ordinary made beautiful; it is also the Average made lethal. The Normal is the indispensable, murderous God of Health, and I am his Priest. My tools are very delicate. My compassion is honest. I have honestly assisted children in this room. I have talked away terrors and relieved many agonies. But also—beyond question—I have cut from them parts of individuality repugnant to his God, in both his aspects. Parts sacred to rarer and more wonderful Gods.
– From ‘Equus’ by Peter Shaffer