The Silent Friend

“The Silent Friend,” Friend, Feb. 1984, 10

The Silent Friend

Mandy dropped her book beneath the tree and excitedly ran to the fence. Next door a moving van had just pulled up at the curb.

Mandy watched closely as two men began to unload the van. Crossing her fingers, she wished very hard. The new neighbors just had to have a girl her age! All the other neighborhood kids were either older or younger than she was. It would be wonderful to have a friend her own age to talk to.

As Mandy stood watching and wishing, a car pulled up behind the moving van. A man and woman climbed out—and a girl just Mandy’s size!

“Hello!” Mandy called out.

The girl didn’t answer.

“Hello, there!” Mandy called again, waving her hand.

The parents were busy talking to the moving men, and the new girl was just staring at the house. She didn’t turn around.

Mandy choked back her disappointment as the girl followed her parents into the house. With a sigh, Mandy flopped under the tree again and tried to read her book. She couldn’t concentrate, though. She was too busy watching to see if the new girl would come back outside.

It wasn’t until the moving van was nearly empty that the neighbors reappeared. Mandy ran to the fence and tried again. “Hello!” she called out loudly.

The new girl still didn’t turn around. Her mother heard, though. She gestured to her daughter and pointed to Mandy. The girl turned and smiled.

Now that’s better. She must have been too busy thinking about something to hear me before, Mandy decided.

“My name’s Mandy. What’s yours?”

The new girl didn’t answer. Instead, she turned and wiggled her fingers at her mother. The mother nodded, and they both walked over to the fence where Mandy stood.

“Hello, Mandy. I’m Mrs. Henderson, and this is Carol.”

“Hello, Carol.”

Carol smiled shyly but still didn’t say anything.

“Please forgive Carol for not speaking to you,” continued Mrs. Henderson. “She was born deaf. Because she can’t hear, she can’t speak well enough for you to understand her. But I know she’d like to be your friend.”

Mr. Henderson called to his wife, and she hurried back to the moving van. Carol stayed by the fence and continued to smile at Mandy, but her eyes were looking all over the yard.

Mandy could feel her face turning hot with embarrassment. Now what do I do? she worried. How can I be friends with someone who can’t hear or speak? Carol and I can’t just sit and smile at each other all day.

Suddenly Carol turned and ran to her father. She made motions with her fingers and hands. Smiling fondly at her, he reached into his pocket, pulled out a little card, and gave it to her. When Carol ran back to the fence, she pointed to the gate and looked at Mandy questioningly.

“You want to come in?” asked Mandy. Then she thought, How dumb, talking to her like that. She can’t hear me.

But Carol was looking closely at Mandy and understood what Mandy had said. She nodded her head.

Mandy nodded back and watched while Carol ran to the gate and let herself in.

Carol went quickly to the tree and picked up Mandy’s book. She motioned for Mandy to join her.

Mandy wasn’t quite sure what to do, but Carol patted the ground beside her, so Mandy plopped down and leaned against the tree trunk while Carol opened the book. Then she thrust the little card into Mandy’s hand.

The card had a heading that read “Manual Alphabet.” Mandy knew that manual meant hand. A hand alphabet? she wondered. On the card were printed all the letters of the alphabet. Above each letter was a picture of a hand formed into a different shape.

Carol pointed to the word tree in Mandy’s book. Then she made her hand into a first and stuck her thumb up between the first and second fingers. She pointed to the letter T on Mandy’s card. Then she raised her first and second fingers into the air and crossed them.

Mandy looked at the card. Yes, that looked like an R.

Next Carol made another fist, only this time the thumb stretched below the tips of all four fingers.

“An E!” cried Mandy excitedly.

Carol smiled and nodded her head. In a strange-sounding voice she said something that sounded almost like “yes.”

Carol pointed to the word tree in the book again, then patted the tree they were leaning against. She raised her right arm in the air with all the fingers extended. Next she rested her right elbow on the back of her left hand.

“Tree?” asked Mandy.

Carol watched Mandy’s face carefully and nodded again.

Mandy grabbed the book and pointed to another word. When Carol spelled it with her fingers this time, Mandy imitated her. Then Carol made the sign that stood for the whole word. Every word could be spelled out, and many words had special signs of their own as well. Ideas, too, were communicated by using signs. Mandy tried to imitate the word sign.

Carol started to giggle, then Mandy giggled too. They laughed so hard that they both fell backward and bumped their heads against the tree.

O-u-c-h, spelled Mandy.

Tears of laughter rolled down Carol’s cheeks.

This is going to be fun, thought Mandy. She studied the manual alphabet card carefully. Then she pointed to Carol and spelled f-r-i-e-n-d.