It is not Wantu alone who causes the bowels to quiver. Yes, he is unusual, even bizarre. At first, moving at the periphery, he is often mistaken for a child or "little person," but he lacks the energy and ease of a child and his odd, diminutive stature is without the odd proportions, the wobbly gate, the starched eyes of dwarfs. It takes a closer gaze before one realizes the lined forehead, the mouse-haired mustache, the wizened eyes, the sagging paunch common to middle-aged men. It is only then that you might feel an interior shiver, the kind of startled awareness one experiences when encountering the non-categorical. And it takes awhile, some sifting through the mental databanks, the medical trivia, the barroom tales before one finds the word, the symbol for the reality before you. For Wantu is a halfling, a man in miniature.
Even when this unusual creature is fully received, it is not Wantu himself that creates a shudder of alertness. There is an unwritten protocol when we, the seemingly able-bodied, encounter the disfigured—we become friendly. We smile. We offer a chair. We're eager for small talk. We demure, as if the misshapen creature contains royal blood. I suppose the reason is two-fold: though each of us is as self-centered and greed-driven as the basest Wall-Street trader, nevertheless, our interior reporting is much more generous. We tell ourselves we are one of the good eggs, kinder than most. When encountering such a clear opportunity to assure ourselves of our angelic nature, we feel compelled to play the part of the charitable. Secondly, some remnant of the ancient religion still lives within our spine, incanting the Gods’ demand for sacrifice and suffering: a lamb burned, an enemy’s heart eaten, a virgin thrown from the mountain. In the presence of Wantu there is a genuine gratitude that rises up from us, a relief that we have not been chosen to carry the necessary curse, the scourge of being unusual.
Yet it is not Wantu’s pint-sized anatomy nor his tiny mustache nor Native-American cheekbones that causes the deep discomfort in those he encounters. It is the pigeon. The pigeon at Wantu’s side. The pigeon with the oil sheen neck and empty gaze. The pigeon who has been to the center of the turning world and found it utterly empty, and not as Buddha intended. It is this pigeon that causes you to hoist your children. This pigeon who causes the sphincter to clench. It is this pigeon who exists without name nor lineage.