It was some sort of school open day. I was wandering around in my school uniform. I’m sure I was supposed to be doing something important, but for some reason I was passing by the Main Hall.
The school was built on a gentle slope. There were two ways into the Main Hall, both involving descending a flight of about eight narrow steps. The alternative was to go around the outside of the school and through the Fire Exit. That was the official wheelchair access to the Main Hall.
At the top of one of these flights of steps was a man in a wheelchair. He may have had a white pony tail.
Until I hit about 16 and started going to the gym, I was never a particularly beefy kid. I was the lanky one whose arms were widest at the elbow. Yet somehow I felt obliged to help this man in a wheelchair, who was aligned perfectly with these steps, staring longingly ahead. I offered my services, and the fool accepted. Evidently I gave the impression that I had done something like this before, and was a qualified wheelchair handler.
I co-opted the services of another kid. He was a couple of years younger than me, and not really a wise choice. He was short and round, and was probably the only person in the school with less muscular fortitude than myself. I think he had some sort of chronic heart problem, and had spent half of his life in hospital.
I took the handlebars, and other kid took the front of the wheelchair to stabilise it. At this point things went downhill.
The intention was to drop by one step at a time, allowing the large rear wheels to fall into the right angle formed by the step and riser. I know now that I should have kept the centre of gravity between the two points of contact. I didn’t know this at the time.
The chair pitched forwards sharply. Other kid was powerless, and watched as the man’s face passed him by. At no point did he even touch this wheelchair. I immediately transferred all of my energies to pulling this wheelchair back, to hold it in place. Perhaps I could have held it, but probably not.
Things could have been really bad, I suppose. The wheelchair could have rolled down the stairs like O J Simpson did in the Naked Gun, and at the bottom either the guy would have fallen forwards out of it, or sat there giving me evil eyes. But I guess my name was at the top of the Miracle Allocation Register that day, and from nowhere a member of staff appeared in front of me and substituted himself in place of Other Kid.
Stability returned. The man in the wheelchair made it safely to the bottom.
EPILOGUE: Later in the evening, I bumped into the man in the wheelchair again. I sheepishly smiled apologetically. He beamed back, and I felt a lot better.
Every six months I remember this incident, and bite my fist in anguish. Maybe now I’ve shared it, I can finally be free of my burden.