The humid breeze was almost refreshing that Sunday morning. We hurried down the street, anticipating our encounter with him like a child anticipates Christmas, hoping he’d be ready when we knocked his door.
The slum’s avenue was paved with dust and mud, dirt compacted by the feet of a thousand passers-by. The narrow road permitted no cars. The poor couldn’t afford them anyway. Their brick shacks had no garages; their pockets had no money. Tiny girls of three or four ran shirtless in the street, skirts swinging as they raced. Boys played soccer barefoot in shorts with revealing rips.
I clapped. His thin figure materialized in the door way.
“Hey, Joseph. Are you ready to go to church?”
“You bet! Just a second…let me grab my shirt.”
He limped from the house wearing blue jeans and a checkered T-shirt, supporting his weight on two steel braces insecurely gripped. Joseph was a fisherman before he was a cripple. He’d ignored his back pain, kept working until it was too late. The doctors said brisk ocean waters were to blame, though, had Joseph had money, the cause might have been rheumatoid arthritis or spinal injury.
He leaned on the braces and swung his clock-pendulum legs forward, determined to continue. The illness had twisted his knees, inflicting both pain and humiliation. Unable to bend the joints beneath his waist, the braces were prisoner guards, nagging companions that reminded him constantly of his condition. I’d never seen him walk, never seen how he swung the dead weight of his lower body forward.
The journey to the chapel was slow. I walked in grandma gear at his side, rambling to distract him from his pain. Dews of sweat precipitated on his rose-pedal brow. Exhaustion slowed his steps.
“I’m sorry. I need to rest for just a second.”
“You look tired, Joseph. I had no idea it was going to be this hard. Next time we’ll get you a ride, okay? Don’t worry one bit.”
“This is nothing, Elder Durant. The trip to the hospital’s just as hard as this one. At least this time I’m going to the house of God.”
He lunged his body forward, continuing his pioneer trek across not-so-frozen plains. Sweating and panting, he walked with an open mouth and breathed like a long-distance runner.
We arrived thirty minutes late. The voyage had taken longer than expected. The veteran crept into Elders quorum. All eyes stared at the cripple as he locked his eyes on a folding chair across the room and limped to it. He fell into his seat, exhausted.