It was a cold day in the middle of October and the rain battering the window was loud enough to wake Steve up early. He lay on his back in bed staring at the ceiling, and finally came to the conclusion that he wouldn’t be able to fall back to sleep before his alarm rang at 4 pm.
He sat upright and stared at his new uniform that hung on the door of the wardrobe. He wasn’t looking forward to spending the whole night outside a club in thin, scratchy trousers, a polo shirt, and an over-sized, cheaply-made anorak. However, this was his first shift and he needed to make the right impression on the owner of the club, who was extremely dubious about his capabilities as a bouncer. Steve scoffed at this thought; how could the owner of the club possibly know what wheelchair-users were like when they couldn’t even get to the bar?
An hour later he was dressed and waiting inside the reception of his block of flats for the taxi he had booked the day before. He was glad that he had the option of waiting inside somewhere warm and dry as he watched people hurry past laden down with shopping bags, trying to shelter themselves from the foul weather. 15 minutes after his taxi was due to arrive he called the taxi company; if he waited much longer he would be late to work.
“Hi, this is the Fordon Taxi Company, how may we help you?” a receptionist chirruped in a forced, cheerful tone.
“Hi, I booked a disabled taxi yesterday to collect me at 5 pm but I’m still waiting,” Steve replied.
“Who is this, please?”
“Ah yes, well, we have no disabled taxi’s available at the moment but we will get one out to you as soon as we can,” the receptionist said after a short pause.
“But I booked this in yesterday!” Steve exclaimed.
“All the disabled taxis were already out on jobs. The next one that becomes available will be sent to you,” the receptionist sounded a little less cheerful.
“I’m going to be late for work,” Steve said angrily, “just because it’s a Saturday doesn’t mean everyone is here for a pleasure trip.”
“I’m sorry sir, but as I said all the disabled taxis are currently in use.”
“This is my first shift! If I’m late I doubt it will set a good impression for future shifts,” Steve pleaded.
“If you’re worried about punctuality, you ought to book your taxi to arrive well in advance, sir,” the receptionist had lost all of her false cheeriness.
“I have!” Steve growled, “Why should I have to wake myself up especially early just because you can’t get a pre-booked taxi to me on time?”
“We only have a limited fleet able to accommodate wheelchairs, sir,” the receptionist said.
“Yes and I’ve seen you using them to transport people without wheelchairs on more than one occasion. Anyway if you frequently run out of disabled taxis, perhaps you ought to have more adapted vehicles,” Steve returned sharply.
“That isn’t my decision to make, sir,” for the first time, the receptionist sounded remotely sympathetic.
“Well, when will my taxi be here?” Steve asked a little more calmly.
“We have just sent one to you now, it should be there in about 10 minutes. Bye,” and with that the phone went dead.
A little over 20 minutes later Steve was finally seated in the back of a disabled taxi heading towards work. He had texted his new boss to warn him that he would be a little late due to issues regarding the lack of disabled taxis available. Within minutes he had received a reply telling him to book the taxi in advance the next time. Steve didn’t have the resolve to argue.
He clocked onto his shift in the staff room, which was the only accessible room in the club, about 10 minutes late, and went to join his new colleagues outside in the cold rain. His boss was stood outside with them, a damp cigarette hanging out of his mouth, drooping slightly in the rain.
“I’m sorry I’m late sir,” Steve said.
“Don’t let it happen again,” the boss reported sternly, “Rupal, this is your new colleague, Steve.”
Rupal was a tall, well-built man of Indian decent who was the typical physically imposing bouncer that clubs regularly placed outside their establishments on a Saturday night. His muscular arms were folded across his chest, and his face was unmoving and impassive until he saw the wheelchair.
“You’re the new bouncer?” he raised one eyebrow.
“Yep,” Steve replied.
“I’m in a wheelchair,” Steve raised his eyebrows back, daring Rupal to continue questioning his ability to do the job.
“I take it I’m in charge of any physical stuff then,” Rupal tried to change the subject of the conversation. The boss wordlessly threw his cigarette to the ground and let the rain snuff it out before retreating into the warmth of the club.
“Not necessarily,” Steve replied calmly, trying desperately not to roll his eyes, “I’ve had training in kick-boxing and judo, among other things.”
Rupal silently raised his other eyebrow then turned to face the first group of tipsy students who were swaying their way over to the club.
“Tickets, please,” he said. He waited patiently while one of the girls fumbled around in her tiny handbag, finally pulling out a sheath of damp, crumpled paper that vaguely resembled some tickets.
“Can we search your bags please,” Steve interjected before Rupal could take over the whole job.
“Are you a bouncer?” one of the girls asked.
“Yes,” Steve did not want to pander to their assumptions.
“Oh my god, can you, like, beat people up then?” she exclaimed.
“Yes,” Steve said again.
“Not very chatty, are you?” one of the boys in the group observed.
“That’s not part of my job. You can go in,” Steve nodded towards the door, wishing that they would just go inside and quit questioning him as if he were the subject of an interrogation. He was relieved to see the boy shrug nonchalantly and start to move towards the door when one of the girls grabbed his arm.
“Wait a sec, I gotta get a selfie with this guy, no one on Instagram will believe me if not,” she said. Before Steve had the time to react she was leaning awkwardly over him, telling him to smile. Steve gave the smallest, fakest smile he possibly could and then practically pushed them into the club. Rupal said nothing.
“Rupal, if that happens again, and I’m certain it will, please can you reinforce my instructions?” Steve asked politely.
“So you do need my help after all,” Rupal retorted sharply, “Would’ve been easier if you just let me do the talking in the first place.”
“And what would be the point of me being here if I didn’t do my job?”
“What’s the point of you being here in the first place if you didn’t want people to treat you differently?” Rupal returned quickly.
“People ought to get used to seeing disabled people doing normal jobs like everyone else,” Steve said, “More and more of us are doing just that.”
Rupal shrugged and said no more.
As the night progressed, both bouncers getting steadily wetter and colder with the passing time, more and more people arrived at the club. The later into the night it was the drunker these people were, and Steve lost count of the number of selfies he had been unwillingly subjected to. He was beginning to wonder whether Rupal had been right all along when a scuffle broke out between two boys in the queue.
“Cool it, lads,” Steve raised his voice. Both of them turned around, and it took them a second before they realised that they would have to look downwards to be able to make eye-contact with him.
“What the hell? I don’t have to listen to you,” one of them said as soon as he clocked the wheelchair.
“I’m a bouncer for this club so yeah, you do have to listen to me,” Steve said.
“Like you’re a bouncer mate, I’m not gonna fall for it,” the other replied.
Steve internally screamed at Rupal for a little back-up but Rupal remained resolutely by the door of the club, seemingly uninterested in the latest turn of events.
“Lads, if you want to get into the club and not a police car, just wait patiently like everybody else,” Steve turned back towards Rupal.
“And what exactly are you gonna do if we continue our little disagreement?”
“Well you seem to be in agreement in underestimating my ability to do my job,” Steve replied firmly, turning back around.
One of the other boys in the queue quietly asked his companions to calm down, clearly not wanting to spend longer outside in the cold than was absolutely necessary. The larger of the two fighters immediately turned on the boy who said this, delivering a sloppy uppercut to his jaw and causing blood to spurt from his nose. The girls shrieked and tottered away on their ridiculous stilettos as Rupal finally decided to make his way towards the fight.
Steve sighed and made a quick decision. He was going to have to prove his ability to be a bouncer to prove to customers and colleagues alike that the wheelchair was just a wheelchair, and nothing more. He kicked out his right leg firmly and spun the wheelchair round on the spot; the resulting leg sweep knocked the aggressor to the ground where mud and blood mingled on his shirt. Everyone around them, Rupal included, froze in surprise. The boy leapt back on his feet and swung a clumsy punch at Steve, who easily blocked it before countering by grabbing the boys right arm and pinning it behind his back, gently kicking the back of his knees to force him to kneel so that he was at the right height for Steve. Two police officers who were patrolling the local streets were making their way over the road to diffuse the situation.
Steve looked around at Rupal and the other customers, plus several bystanders who had stopped to watch the scene playing out before them.
“Do I have to convince any more of you that I’m a capable bouncer?” Steve practically shouted as the police escorted the troublemaker away. He was met with a stunned silence, with a few people even managing to look sorry, “Just as I thought.”
Steve returned to his post next to Rupal, admitting people to the club in a steady flow without any trouble. About half an hour later the boss wandered out of the club and lit another cigarette before looking down at Steve.
“Could you please explain to me why I have the local newspaper on the phone asking me relentless questions about my newest recruit?” he asked sarcastically.
“Err..what?” Steve said as they moved off to one side, leaving Rupal in charge.
“It appears that your little stunt was filmed and uploaded to social media, and now the internet is going crazy over the worlds’ most unusual bouncer,” the boss said, “So the newspaper wants to know everything there is to know about you, including how I came to the decision to employ you. I must say, the public relations benefits would be remarkable if only I could step away from the phone for 5 minutes.”
“You didn’t employ me,” Steve raised one eyebrow, “an agency did and assigned me here.”
“There’s no point splitting hairs at this point,” the boss replied, tapping the ash off of his cigarette which landed on Steve’s lap. Steve impatiently brushed it off.
“But, I’ll give you a significant underhand bonus if you keep quiet about that fact,” the boss said quietly, “because this club is getting some serious marketing thanks to you.”
“I’m not sure-“ Steve began.
“You can end your shift early tonight and I won’t reprimand you about your punctuality this time,” the boss added, “and if you want I’ll give you someone nicer to work with.”
“Tempting as that offer is I was only doing what I’m employed to do. It is nothing to do with me that people underestimate me,” Steve returned.
“I wholeheartedly disagree,” the boss said.
“Boss!” Rupal called from his position by the club door, “There’s a film crew setting up to film us.”
“Ah, no leaving early then, we need this to be filmed for everyone to see. I’ll double that bonus instead,” the boss didn’t wait for an answer as he wandered across to the news team to introduce himself.
Steve returned to Rupals’ side.
“Sorry I doubted you bud, but you gotta admit that the wheelchair gives the wrong impression,” he said.
“Because you assumed things about me before I even opened my mouth,” Steve replied, admitting another clan into the club.
Before they could continue their conversation, Steve saw a taxi pulling up outside the club that was adapted for wheelchair users. He silently prayed that this was just another group of drunken students following their social media religiously, but he was horrified to see a wheelchair user make her way out of the taxi. Her outfit was garish and skimpy enough to make it clear what she was doing that night; she would be going clubbing. She flashed a lipstick-stained smile at Steve before joining the back of the queue. Steve started off towards her before Rupal had a chance to say a word.
“Hey,” he said in as polite a tone as possible when he was in ear shot. He was aware of the news cameras turning towards him.
“Hey,” she grinned, “Can’t believe I’ve found another accessible club to visit, all thanks to you!”
“Ah, about that…” Steve began.
“Oh my god, perfect selfie opportunity,” she interrupted him, and Steve begrudgingly subjected himself to the procedure once more.
“Listen, the club isn’t accessible,” Steve blurted out as she put her phone back in her bag. To his surprise she laughed merrily.
“Quite the joker, I see,” she said.
“No, I’m serious,” Steve interjected, “the club itself isn’t accessible, only the staff room is.”
“You’re not kidding, are you?” she sounded disappointed.
“I’m sorry,” Steve replied, “I was assigned here by an agency and had no say in the matter.”
Whilst in conversation, Steve hadn’t realised that the news cameras had moved closer towards him. His last sentence had just been broadcast live on the news channel. The boss’s face was slowly turning red, half out of embarrassment and half out of rage. He fixed Steve with a furious glance but kept his mouth tightly shut.
“What was that? This man didn’t employ you? And the club isn’t even accessible?” a journalist barged in with her microphone, followed by a camera-man doing his best to keep the rain from disrupting the footage.
“Oh, no the club isn’t accessible. But the staff room is,” Steve could see the look on the boss’s face. The reporter turned back to the camera to relay the latest development in the saga as the young woman in the wheelchair turned away. She paused, and then turned back around to face Steve.
“Steve, Steve Baker, right?” she asked.
“Yes,” Steve frowned, perplexed.
“It’s not my fault I couldn’t get a disabled taxi to you on time,” she said.
“What?” Steve was completely baffled.
“I work for the Fordon taxi company,” she explained, before rolling away towards a bank of taxis around the corner.
Steve was left staring after her, flabbergasted, and jumped when his boss tapped him forcefully on the shoulder.
“A word please, in the staff room,” he said firmly.
Steve knew that he was in trouble just from the tone of voice, let alone the infuriated expression etched across his face. Once they were in the staff room the torrent of abuse began.
“I told you to keep that information under wraps, let alone to blurt it out in front of all those cameras! Have you seen the news now? I’m being portrayed as an ableist, closed-minded miser who saw you as an opportunity for free publicity! The news lot are standing outside humiliating me and bad-mouthing my club. You’ve damaged my reputation; you could put me out of business!” the boss yelled.
All Steve had to say in reply was “Good.”
“YOU’RE FIRED!” the boss roared as Steve turned away.
“I figured,” Steve didn’t bother to turn back to face the boss, “I’ll just be assigned to another club and give them some free publicity instead.” With that he left the room.
As Steve left the club a throng of journalists ran over to him, asking him a myriad of questions.
“I no longer work here; the agency will be assigning me elsewhere,” Steve said in reply to them, “But in all of this I must admit I actually have a question for you?”
The clamouring group fell silent.
“Is it a slow news night?” he was met by a sea of blinking, dumb-founded faces.
“Why do you ask that?” one of the reporters ventured.
“Because I don’t see why a wheelchair-bound bouncer is newsworthy. After all, ableism in the work place is illegal; no employer should fail to select someone disabled if they are right for the job simply because they are disabled,” had Steve been holding a microphone he would have dropped it. Steve rolled away from the group of journalists who were shouting questions at his back.
He rounded the corner and was relieved to get away from the bright lights and loud noise. He was finally alone for 30 seconds. Across the street he could see an adapted taxi with its sign lit to indicate that it was available. He looked both ways before crossing the quiet street and was just about to tap on the taxi drivers’ window when the light was switched off and it pulled away, despite the fact that Steve had most certainly been spotted and there was no one but the driver inside. Clearly the taxi driver didn’t fancy getting wet.