We agreed that Stephen would give the person my telephone number and she would call to set up a date.
Cynthia – that was the person’s name – called me the next day and we decided to meet the following Saturday. I lived then close to a metro station, and I offered to escort her from the station to my apartment. At the agreed hour, I waited at the metro station. I was taken aback when Cynthia came up the escalator wielding a cane that she brushed left and right to ascertain her position. Cynthia was blind. Nobody had told me that.
Cynthia had a gentle radiant face. I greeted her and said that, had I known, I would have come to her place. She seemed surprised and replied that she went to all kinds of places and was happy to come to mine, because the need was hers. But she was at ease when I took her arm and guided her across the street to my apartment.
We had coffee and chatted for a long time. She was friendly but very businesslike. She had a number of questions, some closely related to her project on education for people with handicaps, and others, on the country’s people and culture. I answered her as best as I could.
I mentioned a useful book I had on Indonesia. Then, realizing her limitation, I was about to say that I did not have it in braille, but she responded immediately that she would like to borrow the book. Though mystified, I readily agreed to lend her the book for as long as she liked.
At the end of our chat, I offered to drive her back to her home, but she would not hear of it. She said she was perfectly comfortable taking the metro back to her home.
When I rang the bell, a white-haired man of fifty opened the door. “Manish?” he asked.
He asked not because he didn’t know me. Because he couldn’t see me. He was blind.
“I am Kenny, Clarissa’s husband,” he said. “You were very helpful to her. I am glad you could come.” Clarissa came up from the kitchen and hugged me. I felt embarrassed. I had done so little for them.
It was the neatest living room I had seen. Everything was in its place. So was the adjoining dining room. When I complimented them on it, Kenny said with a smile, “It has to be that way, so that we can find things. Without seeing them.”
I understood the significance of that remark as the evening progressed. As we talked, we had some wine. I noticed how carefully the red and white wine bottles were arranged and how the wine glasses were hung upside down next to them within easy reach.
When we sat down to dinner, the places were impeccably set, with napkins and silver. The soup for us was in three separate bowls, and the entrée in three separate plates, all kept warm in the oven, ready to be served. At the end came some delicious mousse, already poured in separate dishes and maintained in the refrigerator. It must have taken the couple quite an effort to organize the meal so meticulously, but the result was sheer perfection. I was both pleased and astonished. And supremely grateful.
As I was leaving, Clarissa brought out the book I had lent her. I felt comfortable enough by now to express my curiosity. How did she read it? She showed me how. She placed the open book on a scanner that swiftly read the two open pages and transferred it to a computer, which then read aloud the pages.
Kenny shook my hand and Clarissa hugged me as I said goodbye. It was late, and lights twinkled from the windows of every home in Bethesda. It felt wonderful to have spent a few hours with people, whom most people would characterize as handicapped, but who to me seemed a model of strength and independence.
By a curious coincidence, I am writing this with one eye because the other eye had two recent surgeries, but it seems churlish to talk about such a small thing as I recall the radiant face of Clarissa and her probing cane scanning left and right.