JEN­NIFER O’CONNELL

She was in good form for some­one who had nearly been killed twice in the last hour

The Irish Times Magazine - - INSIDE -

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.

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