By: Paul S. Cilwa Viewed: 4/22/2019
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Chapter 8 of 'Words Apart': A Novel of Language and what makes us human.

Decker's notebook computer was equipped with a broadband receiver that utilized cell phone signals; so, almost anywhere he went, he had access to the Internet. It was nearly a two-hour ride to Decker's house from Gilmer's Garden, but thanks to the Internet, it wasn't wasted time.

Of course, after receiving the "clue" from Mrs. Stone's doctor, Decker expected to find that Gilmer's Garden was owned by Stone's religious conglomerate, Hands of Jesus, Inc. It wasn't. But it took almost the entire two hours for Decker to get through the myriad companies that were completely or partially owned by Hands of Jesus to be sure of this fact. Gilmer's Garden was, in fact, owned by Gilmer's Garden, Inc., which was in turn a family corporation owned by Vincent and Edna Gilmer of Warrenton, Virginia. They were also listed on Gilmer's web page as being the CEO and Head of Nursing, respectively. There was nothing to suggest that the place was anything other than what it appeared to be, a small, family-owned nursing facility whose owners would probably someday be patients.

Barry had steered the Lexus onto I-66 at Gainesville, but before he came to the Centreville exit, Decker waved and directed him to keep going into the District. Barry looked surprised but not startled; Decker often worked late. It didn't take long to complete the trip into town, giving that the rush hour traffic was heading in the other direction. Barry parked beneath the K Street building and Decker and he rode the elevator to the ground floor, where Barry got out to head for the subway and his apartment near DuPont Circle. Decker remained in the elevator cab, but pushed no buttons, allowing the doors to slide closed. He counted to 100, then pushed the Door Open button. Barry wasn't in sight.

Decker's heart was already pounding, and he still had at least a half-hour's traveling ahead of him. Barry was at least fifty feet ahead of him, walking purposely to the Farragut North Metro station. He had no reason to suspect he was being followed; and he wasn't, exactly. He was unfollowing Barry, because he didn't care where Barry was heading; he simply wanted to be sure that Barry didn't know where Decker was going.

So at the station, Decker allowed himself to be swallowed by the crowd at the same time he kept an eye on Barry's location. When the train arrived, Decker made sure to push into a different car than Barry did, and that was that, since Washington Metro rules did not permit changing cars en route, as some other urban subway systems did. When the train stopped at DuPont Circle, Decker relaxed, knowing that Barry had gotten off, and certain that his interpreter wouldn't scan the passengers behind him. Poor guy probably couldn't wait to get home, although what he did there by himself was a mystery to Decker. Barry never made much reference to his personal life. Decker continually had to remind himself that Barry must have one.

But now, Decker could focus on his personal life, and the personal demon he was on his way to face.

Decker had no idea what a grunt sounded like, but apparently it was much like the noises made by animals. When he was young, and his teacher's attempted to teach him to vocalize, his sounds had brought mean-spirited derision from the hard-of-hearing students in the same class. Apparently, they told him mockingly, he sounded just like an animal. The teachers either didn't know about or ignored the abuse; but the result was, Decker stopped trying.

But he knew the expression of derision mixed with impatience and pity, and he'd seen it many times, not only directed at him, but more often aimed at his deaf clients by police officers, prosecutors, law clerks, juries, and even judges. Heck, he used the fact that some jurors thought the Deaf were animals to shame them into finding for his clients.

And now, there was an animal who could use American Sign Language, just as he and most other Deaf Americans did. Decker had to understand how this could be; and there was only one way he could find out.

Thanks to Barry, he had learned about Koko and Washoe, a gorilla and chimpanzee, respectively, who had learned limited use of ASL. But there speech was rudimentary, more or less what you might expect from a really bright animal, if such an animal could be taught to communicate.

The Bonobo at the zoo was different.

So Decker thought at he stood in the primate house, staring at her back, as she sat—morosely, from her body language—in her cage. There were a few other visitors present, not many; and the Bonobo was apparently disinterested in them. Decker stood at the rail guarding the Plexiglas wall-sized window separating the visitors' area from the cage, hesitated, and tapped on it. There was no reaction, and Decker wondered if she might be deaf; he tapped again, harder. This time, the ape turned languidly around, sneered at him, and was about to turn back around when she remembered him! He could see the flash of recognition cross her face. She leapt to her feet, ran to the wall, signing as she did.

"You've come back!" she exclaimed. "Thank God! No one seems to be able to sign around here!"

Decker swallowed, hard. He felt he was taking a step from which he could never return.

"How can you sign?"

She looked puzzled, her expression so utterly human it was creepy. "Can't everyone?"

Decker shook his head. "No, in fact most people cannot. And I've never met a chimp that could sign before. So, please forgive me—but I have a million questions, and time to ask just a few."

"I'll answer what I can," signed the chimp. "But first, you must tell me: Do you know what's become of my family?"

"I do not," Decker replied. "But I'll tell you what, if you give me some information to go on, I will try and find out for you. For starters…what is your name? And who is your family? I mean, you're talking about other chimps, aren't you?"

"My name is Frieda," the animal answered, finger spelling. "Frieda Sorensen. My sign name is Star."

Decker nodded, knowing that it's common among Deaf people to have an ASL nickname they didn't share with Hearies. "Where do you come from?" he asked, expecting the answer to be "Africa."

"My home," she replied.

"Right, but where is that?"

The corner's of Frieda's mouth drooped. "I don't know," she replied. "Some men took me when I was asleep and I woke up here."

The lawyer in Decker came to the fore. "How do you know men took you," he said, "if you were asleep? Did you see them?" And then, as Frieda hesitated, he pushed, "What do you remember? How far back can you remember? I will need to know everything if I am to help you."

By now the other visitors had noticed the lawyer and the animal gesticulating at each other, and some undoubtedly recognized their movements as American Sign Language. But even as they crowded toward the sight, they held back, as if reluctant to intrude on what was clearly a private conversation.

It didn't matter. Decker had even forgotten to be embarrassed. It was as if he and the hairy, naked person on the other side of the Plexiglas partition were the only beings there. They were alone in the crowd, as the phrase goes.

And Frieda began her story.