The shrill whisper came from behind me and I know Simon heard them too. I was in the city with my father yesterday morning. We had both been given book vouchers for Christmas and decided it was time to spend them as I had to be in the city anyway.
Simon was in the bookshop too. I have known Simon since he was a gap-toothed kid. I taught Simon to read. According to everyone else at the time Simon, like Peter before him, should not have been able to learn to read. Simon was supposed to be profoundly intellectually retarded. He was an apparently floppy kid who could not even hold his head up. He looked uncomfortable in a wheelchair that was obviously too big. Nobody seemed terribly bothered. He was just another of those drooling idiot kids they had to deal with.
I took along a couple cushions and shoved one each side of him. That helped a bit. I took along another one and shoved it down the back. That helped a bit more. He had more control over his head once his spine was being held more or less in place. His speech then improved to a point where, although very difficult to understand, could be understood by those who knew him. We quickly discovered that he knew far more than anyone had realised. They bothered about his seating after that.
I went through much the same process with Simon as I did with Peter but speech - however bad - helped. He was faster at some things and slower at others. He was not too keen on learning any arithmetic but he did want to learn to read. When his father realised what was going on he worked with me and then, when I left, he took over. Simon was reading by then. We had no idea how far he would go and his father must have put in hundreds of hours working on the reading itself and the practical problems of a page turner that (a) worked and (b) Simon could control himself.
It all paid off in the end. Simon is able to read and read well. He reads a lot. Book vouchers are the present of choice.
His carer had dropped him off just as I arrived. Simon sailed in confidently, expertly weaving his electric wheelchair through the customers. There is a second floor to this shop so he stopped by the lift and waited until the pre-arranged member of staff was free. I chatted to him. He is spending his Christmas money as well. There are a couple of books he has been reading about and thinks he might be interested in. The staff member arrives so I leave them to it. They are apparently old friends.
A little later I see him with three books laid out in front of him. He will have that one and that one he indicates with his head and a wide smile. They go on his wheelchair tray. If I will see him down in the lift he will cruise the top floor for a little longer. He can read the titles. If there is anything that really catches his interest he can ask me for help.
I select a book. My father selects a book. We all go down together. Simon goes into the queue ahead of us. He has his two vouchers ready. The shrill whisper makes him tense but he manages - just - to slide the two vouchers across for the assistant to take. Transaction complete he moves on. I take his place. My father takes my place.
Simon waits for us. He is looking down at one of the books he has chosen. It is the same book as my father has chosen. It is a biography of Charles Kingsford-Smith, the aviator. I have not looked at it but it must amount to at least 600 pages. The two of them grin at each other. So what if people make comments? Both of them are flying.