One of the most amazing sights I have seen was of just such a scene. A blind man was being guided through the maelstrom with a station assistant at his arm. The man was serene, calm, walking calmly with measured strides through the sea of arms and legs, bags and umbrellas. And the sea parted for him, flowed around him, compressed those bodies on either side, a stream opening and closing again behind the two men as they walked on. I don’t think his white pole actually touched anyone while I was looking: like a wand, it had cleared a circle of peace in the heaving masses.
“Would you like me to give you a hand for a while?” I had asked.
“Yes thanks,” came the reply, directed slightly past my eager face.
We walked in silence for a while, with arms interlocked, like an old couple going for a stroll.
I tried to adjust my senses to our silence, to get an inkling of what he must be experiencing. Not fully blind, I had guessed, as he slowed on our approach to the roadside slightly before I did, used as I was to taking every opportunity to sprint across the road when a window opened between two cars. With the eyes slightly hesitant and for once having their iron grip on the world loosened, the deafening roar of the London rush hour gushed in like a dammed river spilling over the lip of a dam. Familiar sounds that had fallen to my background filter in all the commotion reappeared: the growl of buses and lorries, pneumatic drills hissing and spitting as if running on steam. The whine of scooters, and the full breadth of the automobile orchestra, from the screech of the smaller runabouts to the hovering vacuum cleaner noises of the larger cars, the gear-crunching, impatient manuals to the tense sluggish automatic shifters all pushing ahead at the crossing as soon as the green light became imminent.
We crossed the road at the lights, yet waited for the accompanying sounds, the beeping that signaled confirmation of the color change pursuing us across the street. Quite hectic, I thought, noting also that I found the sound signal was nowhere near as comforting as the familiar green light and did not give me the same feeling of temporal safety that usually envelopes the pedestrian as he feels the protective channel open around him when stepping down onto the territory ceded to the car. Stepping down, how appropriate that we should feel the need to compensate for power by raising ourselves up from the road, and what a feeling of poke-in-the-eye defiance as the waters are parted and the immense crush of the oceans is held aside for ever so small a moment to allow those on foot to pass.
I leave him at the RNIB. He senses where we are (how? Smell, sound, context?), thanks me, and heads inside. Familiar territory, it seems.
I approach work and am almost run over by a cyclist. Funny, that: didn’t hear him coming, was tuned into the car and bus frequency, well aware also of the fact that cars and buses generally rein in their power, knowing what will happen if man is pitted against machine. A man on a bike, however: much closer to a pedestrian, and therefore considerably less respect, like the little brother who feels the need to compensate for his size disadvantage by occupying any emotional intermediate ground that will force others to divert conversational traffic around him. My hearing obviously still needs fine tuning, and though my eyes will not easily relinquish their starring role in my life, maybe they can be coaxed into a meaningful collaboration with their lateral partners, much as for my friend with the magic wand.