Henry is core-member from the “L’Arche” community in Canterbury, England. He likes watching TV, eating chocolate cake and gummy bears, as well as reading magazines about buses. Henri and I lived in neighbouring rooms in the same house, despite the fact that he told everyone that we were roommates.
I liked coming to Henri’s room to wake him up and help him with his morning routine. This always raised my mood and reminded me how one should greet the new day and enjoy life. When Henri was still sleeping deeply, I would gently take the duvet from his face and say: “It’s time to wake up”. Henri would smile and get up from his bed while listing off everything that was waiting for him that day
In the morning I am the complete opposite of Henri. I cannot stand it when people wake me up. I choose a song I like for my alarm clock but eventually it becomes unbearable to listen to. I remember how I once asked a friend who lived in the same apartment to wake me up in the morning. She was extremely patient; she would read me my favourite poetry whilst sitting near the bed. Yet with time, eventually she gave up due to my awful mood. Henri taught me how to wake up in the morning with good humour, and without slamming the snooze button several times.
In any situation Henri would always find something positive. When in the mornings we ran out of his favourite porridge, he did not get upset, but was instead happy that the assistants were offering to prepare him another breakfast. When something unexpected happened, this annoyed Henri, but he calmed himself down by remembering what he had planned for tomorrow or next week.
Henri absolutely loves buses and other modes of transport. If during a walk an ambulance, a police car, or any other vehicle with flashing lights passed us by, Henri would stop and observe with wonder until it had driven out of his field of vision. For the rest of the day, he would excitedly tell everyone he met about this event.
Once Henri asked me to go with him to the London museum of transport. We set off together with a group of other assistants and core-members. In the museum of transport there are many different vehicles on show: from horse-drawn buses or trains, to modern London buses. Henri, unlike the rest of us, was disinterested by the exhibition; he had been to this museum countless times. We ran from one mode of transport to the other, ducking inside buses and taking photos while Henri walked behind us. All the while he repeated constantly that he wanted to go to the gift shop to buy a toy bus for his collection (which featured hundreds of exhibits).
After several hours (following Henri’s incessant pleas), we eventually made our way to the gift shop. There, Henri wanted to purchase a large toy bus that was very expensive. Henri didn’t have enough money to pay for it. This was a stressful moment. Not least of all for Henri, who did not understand why he could not receive what he wanted, but also for the assistants who tried to explain the situation to Henri to no avail. Thirdly, it was stressful for the parents who had come to the museum with their children, and did not not understand what was going on. They were alarmed by the sight of a respectable-looking, fully-grown man fiercely expressing his desire to buy a toy bus, and the exasperated assistants trying to figure out what to do. Their reaction reminded me of my childhood. Whenever I saw people acting unusually in public, my parents would swiftly direct me away from them without a single explanation. Henri did not pay attention to other people’s reactions. Instead, he stood firmly with the toy bus in one hand, and his walking frame in the other, all the while imploring us: “People, buy me this bus”.
The assistants spoke to Henri, calming him down, and tried to smile at the worried-looking parents and children so they would understand that everything is fine. After a while, not a single person remained in our vicinity. A few minutes passed, and the assistants left the gift shop with the other core-members. Eventually Henri put the toy bus back on the shelf and caught up with us. We agreed to buy him a little bus in the shop not far from the train station. At the station we laughed, shared our impressions and ate sweets. Henri, clutching the small red London bus we had bought for five pounds, said: “People, I am quite happy with my little bus”.
Illustration by Johnny Skilling
Translated into English by Johnny Skilling
Thanks to Henri and L’Arche Canterbury, for your friendship and your permission to publish this story.