As a kid he was often called Lefty. Some footy mates cheekily called him Shark Boy. And to the kids of the Aboriginal community we lived in, he was known as Mara Wiwa, which means “no hand” in the Pitjantjatjara language.
My husband has just one hand. His left arm ends in a knobbly stump at his wrist. I see some adults look at his stump and then look away immediately. I don’t know if they are embarrassed, shocked or maybe just don’t want to appear rude.
The thing is, we don’t notice it any more. Sometimes I wonder why people are looking at us … then I remember and think, “Oh, OK, they’ve just noticed Greg’s hand.”
Adults hardly ever ask about it. I have a friend who waited three years to summon up enough courage to ask me about it. She called in to see me on a pretty trivial pretext and then just blurted out suddenly, “What happened to Greg’s hand?”
But children ask all the time. They’re not embarrassed — they just go straight up to him and ask: “Where’s your hand gone?”
Greg’s usual response is, “What do you think could have happened to it?” He’s invented numerous stories that he shares with them, depending on their age. My favourite one is his crocodile story. He tells them that he went on a crocodile cruise in Darwin once, and was asked to hold out a chicken for the crocodiles to jump up and grab for their dinner. He tells the kids that the operator asked him to hold out the chicken but didn’t tell him to take his hand away. The kids just stare at him, their eyes open wide with amazement.
Another favourite is his shark story, which he embellishes from time to time, depending on the age and interest of the kids. The basis of this account is that one day when he was surfing a shark came up and bit his hand off while he was paddling back to shore. The younger the audience, the more blood there was.
We lived in an Aboriginal community a few years ago, and as soon as we arrived the kids stared at Greg’s hand. I don’t think they had seen anything like it before. After a while they got used to it and liked to high-five his stump whenever they saw him. They would laugh and call out and crowd around him, some of them initially too shy to touch his stump but others keen to see what it felt like. The kids would like to swing on his stump too — several kids could hang on it at the one time.
But every time Greg tells these stories about his hand, he always ends with the truth: he was just born that way. It was just one of those rare things. When Greg tells them this, you see the kids stare at him for a minute or two and then look kind of disappointed.
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