Friday, 28 August 2009

Chapter Eight: Communication Problems

Well, you may by now be asking yourself which fact you are supposed to find more surprising: that a zebra could speak or that it spoke Spanish? But then, as Sally always said to me: why would you automatically just assume that a zebra would speak English?
But there you are and there it happened. The zebra looked David straight in the eye and spoke in a soft, lilting Spanish accent.
Now, some of you may have studied a little Spanish before or picked up a few words on holiday. If that is indeed the case, then you will know more than I did the first time I heard those words. You will know that what the zebra actually said to the boy was:
“Hello. My name is Rodriguez. Do you speak Spanish?”
David smiled at the beast and shrugged his shoulders. He tapped his right ear with two fingers [deaf] but in response the zebra just took another step back and blinked in puzzlement.
After another second of staring at each other, Rodriguez tried again. This time in a hesitant, strongly accented English: “You…er… espeak inglis?”
David shook his head again, a resigned look in his eyes. This wasn’t the first time that this sort of thing had happened.

Things you should know about David’s Language:
1. David communicated through BSL; that is to say: British Sign Language. He communicated through gestures made with his hands and expressions on his face.
Despite the fact that both of his parents and Sally were Hearing, like most Deaf children, BSL was his natural way to communicate.
2. His mum and dad had both been to sign language classes so that they could talk with him. They knew, however, that they would never be as good as the kids who had been learning from a very young age. In fact, when they visited his school and watched the blur of hands as the children signed to each other, they often struggled to keep up.
3. Sally had also gone to classes with her parents. At first, she had been as enthusiastic as any of them about learning David’s language (in fact, at one point she had appeared to have almost as natural a talent for it as her brother) but one day, something had changed and she had refused to sign anymore.

The Day it All Changed:
He remembered it well: coming home, racing to see his sister, his hands shaping the air in front of him with a story from his day at school. But something in her face was different. She turned away, refused to look at the pain in her brother’s eyes.
From that moment on Sally had refused to participate in any communication which had involved signing. David still did not understand why.

And This had Caused:
1. A lot of arguments! Mainly between Sally and their parents but she stuck firmly to her guns and for reasons known only to herself refused to make any effort to understand her younger brother when he used BSL.
2. Lip reading! When Sally spoke to him, she now rarely used anything but her mouth and for that reason he had had to learn to lip read in a rudimentary way. He tried to associate the movements of lips with the words that he understood in his head but would never be able to pronounce properly. It was difficult.

In this instance neither signing nor trying to lip read would have served any purpose as David didn’t speak a word of Spanish. And for once in his life, he was at a loss as to what to do.
So the boy looked helplessly at the creature which huffed in frustration in front of him. He was still amazed that such a fantastic creature was actually there.
Rodriguez was about a foot taller than boy standing before him in the snow. His head, long and broad across the nose, sat on a wide, muscular neck. His eyes, dark and shining with a fierce intelligence, peeped out from under a long, black mane which flopped rakishly down over the creature’s forehead. Large, rounded ears twitched in the icy chill of this winter’s night. David wondered if he wasn’t the most handsome animal which he had ever seen.
But for all his beauty (in David’s eyes, anyway) he was actually in quite a sorry state of affairs. Red scars cut across the black and white hair on his back, and his ribs jutted painfully from his skinny flanks. Chains connected the two fore legs and the two back legs and they must have made it very difficult for the zebra to walk.
They stood there, their first attempt at communication having failed completely and looked at each other, both unsure as to what to do next.

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