‘How does a blind man distinguish between all the tinned goods in the supermarket? I mean, how does he know what he’s buying?’
‘Well, if he’s really lucky, his dog might sniff out the right stuff for him. Or, there are these amazing people called shop assistants who, if you ask nicely, will help you out.’ The girl laughed and shook her head.
‘Oh yeah’ the first girl replied, now enlightened.
I heard this brief snippet of a conversation as I gingerly made my way down the tiled staircase away from the station, the heavy rain tapping on every surface as if impatient to turn Oxford Road into a river. The exchange made me smile, not because of the comical tone of the question but rather the very obviousness of it. I had never asked myself how a blind man might fare in the supermarket, amidst all the various brands of products, but it was – once I considered it – a fairly astute question. If I were suddenly to go blind overnight, how would I tackle the task of my weekly shop?
As the day went on, the rain relentlessly pounding at my office window, I couldn’t get that thought out of my head. How did the blind live their lives as normally as possible without constantly drawing attention to a need for help? Most especially, those who had lost their sight later in life: what must it be to have once been able to see a rainbow and have such a beautiful sight taken away? But then, if you had been blind for life, would you even know how to miss it?
The thoughts compounded all day until I became terrified that, if I went to sleep, I would wake up to a life of constant darkness. I wouldn’t know how to live as a blind person. I wouldn’t be able to cope.
Eventually, I picked up the telephone and called Brian. Safe, dependable Brian who would know just what to say to calm me down, or so I believed.
‘You should volunteer at the ‘seeing is believing’ campaign next week’ he suggested, further qualifying his statement with a list of potential benefits of the experience.
‘How do you even know about this?’ I asked accusingly.
‘My cousin, she’s been partially sighted for about fifteen years now. She had meningitis as a child.’
‘Oh,’ I replied sheepishly. ‘Okay, well, I suppose it can’t hurt.’
Somehow I felt I had been guilted into agreeing to partake. Having been a client of Brian’s for eight years, but never having asked about his family or anything remotely personal, I felt I suddenly owed him something more worthwhile than regular payment for his therapeutic advice.