The intonation doesn’t indicate a question and yet I feel it is one.
‘Yes,’ I say because it’s the response he’s looking for, and he smiles. Where he got the idea I go jogging I can’t say. It’s of no matter to him that I’m on my way back from the shops with two bags of groceries, ‘jogging’ it is, and of no matter either that my build or the way I move don’t suggest I’m one of those run-five-miles-a-day types, and neither do I have the bicep clock or designer sweats favoured by the self-conscious exercist.
For a while I thought ‘jogging’ was the extent of his vocabulary in English but his older brother assures me that on occasion Squat has plenty to say for himself in English and in Mandarin, too.
Squat is as close to a sumo as one can be without being one. In addition to the considerable body he has a strong jaw, a squinty eye and a handshake to crush walnuts. Fortunately for me he doesn’t shake my hand much, he prefers to greet orally.
Twenty years ago when Squat was a few years old he was diagnosed as ‘slow’. ‘Slow’ was as precise as his mother was offered and today she still doesn’t know what her son’s detailed condition is, and she gave up long ago trying to find out.
As soon as Squat’s father, a miserable coward, heard the news of his son’s condition he packed a bag and snuck out in the middle of the night leaving his wife to raise Squat and the bigger boy by herself. The coward fled to Indonesia where he shacked up with a floosie who left him after a while because she found better. Where he is today no one knows, or cares.
For years, the abandoned mother struggled, scrubbed other people’s floors, cleaned toilets and took in washing and sewing. If it wasn’t for the help of a good sister and kind, generous neighbours she says she’d have gone under. The older boy grew up ‘normal’ – whatever ‘normal’ is – and today he has a good job and is the breadwinner. He tells me he’d like to get married and have a family of his own but he can’t, he feels it’s his duty to look after his brother and mother. ‘I’m not like my bastard father,’ he says.
On two occasions, Squat was given the chance to work. Here we have a few training centres for people with disabilities and Squat was signed up for a course at one of them. He lasted half a day. The instructor was showing him how to perform a certain task but Squat had his own way of doing it, the wrong way. When the instructor pointed out his way worked and Squat’s didn’t and tried to get Squat to do it the right way Squat punched him in the face and knocked him out. Squat was sent home right away. Six months later, Squat joined another course and lasted only an hour – he pushed another trainee through a window.
‘He’s not as dumb as he pretends,’ his brother tells me, ‘and he’s a lazy little shit. He knew at the training centre he’d be sent home if he turned nasty, lucky we weren’t prosecuted. All he wants to do all day is sit on his big arse and watch TV and smoke cigarettes, cigarettes I have to buy for him, and if I say a word against him my mother jumps down my throat, he’s not to be criticised or scolded, and he knows it and plays my mother like a fiddle. When I’m around I make him help her with the laundry and I make him do the washing-up; otherwise, he does nothing. What’s going to happen to him when my mother passes away? I don’t want to think about it, I just don’t.’