This was my very first leg collection.
Tom and his team at Legs4Africa are based in Leicester. They normally round up donated limbs but we received a donation from London, so I offered to help out with the collection. Zee contacted Legs4Africa, having tried unsuccessfully on many occasions to donate her unused prosthetic to other schemes, only to be told that due to EU regulations her prosthetic leg was “good for nothing but the bin”.
As I had never been to collect a leg before and I had only briefly been in touch with Zee, I didn’t know what to expect. The only information I had been given was that Zee had been trying to donate her late husband’s leg for 10 years ever since his death, so I presumed she would be an elderly lady
So I was taken aback when a 30-something-year-old woman – with bright red hair and the largest smile I have ever seen –threw open the door and gave me a warm hug, as her two friendly dogs Pasha and Phoenix rushed out to greet me.
Zee welcomed me into her home and from the moment I stepped foot inside, we did not stop talking – for at least 3 hours. We giggled away about all sorts of things; her love of being a self confessed geek (How cool is Cosplay by the way?) to how she accidentally adopted a tarantula despite having arachnophobia.
Zee’s house is filled with photos, paintings, handmade crafts and costumes. She is even the guardian of her neighbours’ front door keys, which all hang together on one wall. When you’ve been locked out or fancy a cup of tea, need your pet looked after, or your kids entertaining, or are just looking for inspiration for a street party fancy dress theme, she is clearly the go-to person, I thought. Then, almost on cue, a bunch of kids ran past her house shouting ‘Hi Zee!’ through the window.
Being in Zee’s company was incredible – her warmth and kindness are completely infectious and her enthusiasm for – well absolutely everything – as well as the pride she had in talking about her wonderful friends, the neighbourhood and local animals were inspiring “That’s the theme song to True Romance isn’t it?” Zee said when my telephone starting ringing in my handbag. “That was our film,” she says with a huge smile.
Zee’s husband, Phillip, was her forbidden love: a Romeo to her Juliet. Born to a Turkish family, Zee was told that she “must marry a nice Turkish boy”.
As Phillip was neither Turkish nor Muslim, when she fell in love with him her family did everything they could to keep them apart. Despite various threats, Zee and Phillip could not be apart from each other, so they continued to keep their relationship a secret for many years.
Phillip loved martial arts, so when he started feeling pains in his leg, he assumed it was just a minor sports injury. But Zee noticed that his leg wasn’t healing the way it should have been, so urged him to see a doctor. He was dismissed on more than one occasion by several specialists, who said that they couldnot find anything wrong with him. Then, one day, she noticed that his beard was looking a bit patchy. Zee immediately knew that something was seriously wrong. Shortly after, Phillip was diagnosed with Soft Tissue sarcoma cancer in his left leg.
By the time he was diagnosed the cancer had spread, so doctors had to amputate his leg from the hip. After surgery, Phillip could only worry that it would put her off him – instead, she told him ‘well let me take a look then.’
As an expert costume maker, Zee blurted out the first thing that came to mind: how ‘neat’ the job was. “Not as in the American ‘neat’”, she giggled to me, but a really tidy, really good stitching job.
After years of keeping their relationship a secret, Zee wanted everyone around her to see how much she loved him – and how much she would come to care for him. She had never wanted to do the whole wedding thing with all the attention on her, but as a sign of her love for him she accepted his proposal. In his turn, without any request to do so other than a hope to see her once again in another world, he converted to Islam.
Phillip only once wore the leg that Zee donated, on their wedding day. A wedding which I’m pleased to say, her parents attended and accepted their love for one another. He died 8 months after, 4 days after his 27th birthday.
Whilst I tried hard to fight back the tears, Zee buzzed around laughing and joking, sharing funny stories about times they’d spent together and showing me photos. We couldn’t stop laughing about how we ought to have taken theleg out and shown it a good time: “I should have put stockings and a suspenderbelt on it really. I even thought about taking the foam off and using the mechanics inside to create an awesome robot costume…”