She was in good form for someone who had nearly been killed twice in the last hour
sighe‘ d‘ She deeply, as though she had far too much experience dealing with incompetent fools like me
Iheard her before I saw her. Clack, clack, clack, her white cane was going against one of the granite benches, which had lately been sprouting everywhere as part of the recent gussying- up of the streetscape. I heard the clacking first and then I saw her there, in her voluminous skirt and yellow summer blouse, her cane tapping exploratively around the bench. I did a calculation. If I kept walking, quickly, I could make it home to let my childminder leave just about on time. The kids would get an hour on the beach before the sun went down, and maybe even a 99. Someone should help her, I thought. Someone less busy than me.
Clack, clack, clack. I strode on, irritated at the two teenage girls sitting on the bench, so engrossed in the art of trying to look like a Kardashian that, despite having no obvious problems with their own vision, they didn’t seem to have noticed her.
And at the well- dressed man who also managed to be completely blind to her, as he barrelled along the street with his phone clamped to his ear. And at the people at the ice- cream shop on the other side, who were gazing over in our direction, apparently totally unseeing. And at myself, just as guilty as the rest of them. I turned around, a bitter and slightly ashamed Samaritan.
She was fine, she replied stoutly, when I asked if I might help. Apparently, you don’t need to be fully sighted to spot someone ill- disposed to assisting others at 30 paces. “I’m just looking for the pedestrian light.”
There isn’t one, I explained. She shook her head in disbelief. There should be one right there, just at the corner, she insisted. There was definitely one somewhere here. She was certain of it.
Maybe they moved the lights when they repaved the street, I said. “Anyway it’s a pedestrian zone,” I offered, “we don’t really need one. We can just cross right here.”
As I said the words, a car peeled around the corner and nearly took our toes off. She sighed deeply, as though she had far too much experience dealing with incompetent fools like me. It wasn’t a pedestrian zone in the evening, she pointed out.
She’d just been down by Penneys, and she had put her cane out for the lights, and almost lost it to a passing car. Then she had asked a few people where the lights were, but they were all visitors, and they hadn’t a clue, and even if they had, sure she couldn’t understand a word they were saying anyway.
“I asked some young fella to walk me to the lights and he left me right here, and now you’re telling me there are no lights here. But they’re meant to be here because of the bumps. That’s how you know.” It was a compelling argument, but still, there were no lights.
She told me where she wanted to go, and then she took my arm, and we headed awkwardly off, navigating the much vaunted “shared space” of shining silver bollards, sharp- edged planters and kerbless footpaths that must have sounded like a great idea when it was dreamed up by a team of fully- sighted consultants somewhere.
Still, she was in good form for someone who had nearly been killed twice in the past hour, and now had to rely on the help of a procession of passing idiots.
“Isn’t the evening sunshine lovely for all the people who have to work?” she said.
I told her I’d just been at work and I was on my way home when I spotted her. Wasn’t it well for me, she said, and I didn’t know whether she meant the work, or the fact that I was finished, or the fact that spotting strangers in a predicament was a luxury not currently afforded to her.
We walked together to the taxi rank and she said she was grand, but I wasn’t so sure: she couldn’t see the driver glowering out his window at us, as though her white cane was a bucket of vomit.
I knocked and wondered whether he was intending to speak to his passenger, but he just turned his sullen expression on me. “I’m grand, I’ll just get in,” she said, giving the driver’s door a sharp tap. “That’s my door,” he yelled, suddenly outraged into life.
I opened the back door, and she turned to me and said a final, firm goodbye. “Go on, go on,” she said again, “I’m grand.”
I left her there and walked off, feeling a belated rush of protectiveness towards her. At the corner, I stopped and looked back. She was still standing at the open passenger door of the taxi.
“And you sitting there in this heat,” she was saying indignantly, “in your own stink, with all your windows closed, and you expect me to get into that?”
She would be grand, I realised. She sees what she needs to, and she more than makes up for the rest.
It is the rest of us who are in trouble, blundering through this chaotic shared space called life, blind to everything but our own busyness.