I HAD AN interesting day today. I met someone at the corner of Main and Farnum Streets. I’d arrived a moment or two after her. She stood silent at the light post waiting for the buzzer so when I moved to the post to position myself for crossing, I didn’t notice and bumped into her.
It’s strange I didn’t smell her.
I’ve been blind for years, a childhood accident. During that time I’ve had to learn to get along. My sense of smell is excellent, as is touch and hearing. Developing them has leavened the sight I lost and now in my middle years, I get along fine. I have a good job and my company is supportive of my disability. I have a home and although I live alone, I have many books in Braille and I read constantly. Life is quite satisfying, thank you.
As I said, I bumped into this person and she moved away slightly. I could sense her turn to look at me.
“Why don’t you look where you’re going?” she replied, her tone slightly petulant.
“I didn’t see you.”
“Are you blind!”
“Oh, sorry. So am I.”
At that moment the light turned and the buzzer told us we could cross. I walked side by side with her and struck up a conversation. People seem drawn to others who have certain familiarities and we had a big one.
“Wonder what people are thinking,” I said, “seeing the two of us crossing in tandem, canes clicking.”
She laughed. After the first insult – my running into her – she felt humor again.
“Where are you from?”
“Originally?” I asked.
“Well, yes, but here in town, too. I don’t know your voice and since we are such a closed community, I think I would have.”
We were midway across Main Street. I could hear and smell the cars stopped at the light. I tried to imagine the people in them. Were they young and upcoming or bold and carefree? Could a criminal with some sadistic purpose be at the front of that line, thinking what kind of thoughts? I always wondered about others.
“Well, first things first,” I said. “I’m Samuel.”
“Sorry. Of course! Sarah.”
“Hello Sarah. I’m originally from Detroit, but I’ve lived in Cincinnati for twenty years in my aunt’s house over on Danforth Street.”
“Oh, that’s a nice area. My sister and I walk there now and then, but I’ve never bumped into you before.”
“Actually, I bumped into you.”
She laughed again.
“Yes, you did.”
We sensed the curb at about the same time and stopped to negotiate it.
“Where are you heading?” I asked.
“I’m out for morning coffee. The little Hole-in-the-Wall Restaurant is up ahead another block. You sound nice. Would you like to take coffee and a bagel with me?”
“Is that the name of the restaurant, or is that what it is?” I laughed.
“Both.” She smiled. I couldn’t see it, but I knew.
“I’m on my way to work, but I don’t like to miss an opportunity to talk with a nice lady, so let me call my boss and see if she is okay with my being late.”
“You have a lady boss?”
“Sure, lots of lady bosses these days. Hold on, okay?”
I pulled out my cell and my finger found the speed dial number. In a moment, the phone picked up.
“Sheer Magic, Monica speaking.”
“Monica, Samuel here.”
“Hi, Samuel, what’s up?”
“I’m going to be a half hour late, okay?”
“I think I can spare you.”
“You’ll tell me what this is about when you get here, right?”
“Hmm. Now I can’t wait.” A tinkle of laughter came over the phone. Sarah heard it and snorted. Samuel disconnected.
With a little giggle, Sarah said, “Matchmaker?”
“Can’t deny. Sorry.”
“Why? Never mind. Let’s get coffee.”
They strode forward, the sighted sidewalk people obligingly moving away. Sarah and I heard them and could place their footfalls and even determine when they moved aside.
At the Hole-in-the-Wall Sarah said, “We’re here.”
“My nose already told me that,” I said, but I chortled, nonetheless.
A voice came from the front of the restaurant. “Hello Sarah. You cheatin’ on me?”
“Hi, Ben. It would serve you right.”
“This is Samuel. He bumped me down the street and I decided to take him in.”
“Hello, Sam. Welcome to the Hole-in-the-Wall. Watch out for this one. She’ll zing you.”
“That’s okay,” I said. “She doesn’t sound dangerous to me. I’ll take my chances.”
“Ben, you’re going to give me a bad rep.”
“Nothin’ you don’t deserve,” he said, but he let out a belly laugh descriptive enough for me to form a picture of him. He had to be the cook. I could smell a variety of food products coming from his direction and I pictured a fat man in a greasy apron with hand swipes along the sides of his abdomen.
“How about a quiet table near the window, Sarah?”
“You mean the one you give me every time? And there is no such thing as quiet in your place.”
Ben laughed again. I liked him.
They entered the eatery. Two or three tables were occupied and “Hello Sarah” came from them.
“You are well known here,” I said.
“I’ve been coming here for a couple of years. My kind of place.”
“Coffee smells good.”
They sat, automatically putting their canes handy to the side.
“Ben will bring me coffee and a heated bagel with cream cheese. What would you like?”
“I’ll have the same. I ate breakfast early, but it won’t hurt to be sociable.”
“Ben,” she called. “Two of the usual.”
Ben called over from behind the counter. “Two usual, comin’ up.”
“Now for your grilling,” Sarah said, and I pictured the Cheshire Cat. “Tell me about you.”
“Only if you will reciprocate.”
“I could do that.”
I started by telling her about Detroit, about my unremarkable upbringing in a loving, middle class home. I got to the auto accident when I was ten, where my parents were killed and I’d barely survived. The memories became fresh again and I halted and hesitated from time to time. When I got to the part where the tractor-trailer had slewed off the road, crossed the center divider and tipped over onto our car, I shook with the memory. My hands gripped the table until they turned white and Sarah seemed to sense it. Her hand came across the table and grasped mine.
“You don’t need to go on,” she said. “I’m sorry.”
Her hand was cool, but I felt warmth in her touch. I gathered myself and took a few breaths. The restaurant had become very quiet. I’d forgotten the people sitting nearby and I realized that I’d been sharing my story with an audience. I stopped.
Sarah called to Ben. “How’s ‘the usual’ coming?”
“Be there in a minute,” Ben said, but he sounded subdued.
I’d had time by then to realize that I was reliving a time buried deeply, and it dawned on me that I needed to get it out, that it had been festering inside and that’s not a good thing.
I said, “Sarah, I’d like to have you hear the rest of it. Will you?”
“If you want. Are you sure?”
“Yes, I’m sure.”
With another breath, I began again. “We were on the Interstate on our way to Scranton to visit relatives and ran into a December snowstorm coming up from the south. The truck carried huge rolls of paper, newsprint paper. When it jackknifed onto our car I fell onto the floor from the back seat. Mom screamed. I can still hear it. I felt a sharp pain and then I couldn’t breathe, like the whole world lay on me.
“I woke up in a strange hospital. I had trouble thinking and when I tried to move, I couldn’t. My face hurt and my eyes felt…I guess the best word is ‘raw.’
“I heard a nurse say, ‘He’s conscious,’ and a lower voice say, ‘Good. That’s a big step.’
“I remembered nothing again until the following day when I again woke to pain, but I could think. I made sounds and finally words. Later they told me I had asked where Mom and Dad were, why weren’t they with me…and what happened?
The doctor came over to the bed and whispered that they weren’t able to come in and see me because of the accident. It scared me so much I didn’t want to ask the next question. Even though the doctor’s chose his words, I imagined the worst. They must have noticed my agitation, because a nurse with a soothing voice came over and did something and I went to sleep again, probably the IV drug, I believe now.
“I got better slowly and they finally told me that my parents didn’t make it, but that my Aunt Hattie from Cincinnati had come to the hospital and in a few days she would take me with her. I grew up with my aging aunt. She couldn’t have been more wonderful and supportive of her blind nephew.
“In my early twenties I got a bachelor’s degree from a Special Ed program run out of the local community college in nearby Covington and about that time Aunt Hattie died.”
I paused for breath. Sarah told me later that she’d never heard it so quiet at the Hole-in-the-Wall before or since.
“I stayed in my aunt’s house – she had some insurance that paid off the mortgage – and managed on disability insurance for awhile. I didn’t want to live off the government, so I did a job search and finally landed one at Sheer Magic, the curtain and apparel store. They have a design shop. Seems I have a facility for visualizing a complete room, and I’ve been there since. Now, what’s your story?”
Sarah sat there for a moment, trying to catch up. Before she began, several patrons got out of their chairs and came over. I looked toward the scraping sounds of chairs and knew Sarah would do the same. I pictured how our dark glasses must glint in the restaurant’s overhead lights.
“Mister,” one said to me, “I’ve been down on the world for a long time and in a few minutes you have changed that for me. I’m Chet. I hope I’ll see you again someday. I’m a carpenter. Anything you need done, talk to Ben and he’ll get me.”
Another man broke in immediately. “Mister, I’m Bobbie, and you done the same fer me. Anythin’ I kin do, let me know.”
Finally, a tall man in an expensive suit came over, reached for, grasped and shook Sam‘s hand.
“I’m with Goldman Sachs,” he said. “You have just created a defining moment in my life. My world had washed of color. I’ve been too cynical to realize how important hope is to me. Thank you.”
I sat still and tears leaked from the corners of my eyes. Deeply affected, I could say nothing.
Two went back to finish their breakfast. The man in the suit left.
Sarah looked in my direction. I could tell by her breathing. “Samuel, I was born blind, so I’ve never had anything to lose, but in these short few minutes, I think I have come to know you, the important parts of knowing, I mean. You couldn’t take the rest of the day off, could you?”
I hesitated. I had work to do and should be about it. If nothing else I prided on being steady. But an element had entered my life like a thunderbolt and I couldn’t remember ever feeling so disconnected from my own hum-drum before.
“Let me make a call.” I dialed Monica.
“I need the day off,” I said as she came on.
“You got it.”
I hung up. I couldn’t believe how happy she sounded.