Did I tell you the time I helped a blind man to cross the street? (oh boy..here we go again..)
OK, seriously..that actually reminded me of something. When I was in Uni, I was involved in a linguistic conference which a blind lecturer participated. I have seen this lecturer around the campus, always walking very swiftly with his cane. And I have always observed and marveled at his ability to know his way around.
Co-incidentally, I was seated next to him during the first lunch. As he groped around for his glass of water, I carefully and silently placed it near his right hand. I stole glimpses of him, not wanting to stare cos despite his blindness, it was still rude to stare. At times, his movements were very gentle and gracious, as though he could see where he touched. And of course sometimes he seemed a bit unsure about what was in front.
Soon, a conversation began and before long, I found myself volunteering to help him for the next two days as the hotel where the conference was held was a new venue for him, and thus he wasn't accustomed to the surroundings yet.
He gracefully accepted my offer, telling me to escort him and his wife (who is also blind) to their room, and then to the conference room the next day. As he stood up, I told him, "Please tell me what to do as this is the first time I am helping. Where should I put my hand?" I was nervous.
He put his hand on my shoulder, and said, "This should be the way." And he held his wife's hand with the other hand.
While walking, I asked a lot of things. You do know that I am curious by nature. But of course, I asked permission to ask. His answers were really jaw-dropping. These are some which I remember. I wish I had jotted them before I forgot the whole conversation.
How do you walk so fast in campus?
(I fell many times before. I still do at new places. )
How do you colour co-ordinate your clothing?
(There is a label on the sleeve. Each with different texture so I know roughly what colour is the shirt. My pants are mostly in dark colours. So they would match easily.)
Your lecture notes are all in Braille. Are there lots of books in Braille for you to refer to in Uni?
(No, I have to hire some people to read me the text which I translate into Braille so I can bring them to lectures. The university isn't very helpful in this matter. I have to do everything on my own to deliver my lectures.)
What about marking the papers?
(The same. I have to hire people with my own money to read them to me.)
What about your own school exams before you were a lecturer?
(I had to sit for STPM a few times! It wasn't easy at all. Again, someone had to help me to read the books, and I'd translate into Braille for my own reference.)
Wow.. wow ..wow. I remember feeling that way. And as I am typing this, I am still awed. By sheer determination, he became a lecturer in a university.
There were loads more that we spoke about but unfortunately I have forgotten. That encounter was over ten years ago.
The next day, as he gently put his hand on my shoulder to be escorted, he politely asked, "Are you wearing heels today?" Indeed I was. Just a few inches taller, and he could sense it. When he couldn't see, he was more sensitive with his other senses. That was another jaw dropping moment.
When the conference ended, I thought of him often but somehow couldn't bring myself to visit him. There was probably a lot of emotions which I was afraid I couldn't handle. I was probably thinking that I asked too much.
But before I graduated, I remembered to say goodbye. I knocked on his office door. At the sound of 'come in', I said, "Hi, Mr. Ooi.."
At, "Hi', he was already smiling..and said, "Hello Kiki.*" He recognized my voice even after one year of not hearing it.
I said my goodbyes.. was a little afraid that I may cry. I am always crying, just so you know. About things like this. (Things like what? Even I can't explain.)
So that was my brief encounter with a very determined sight-impaired man. I salute him!
*I could have used a pseudonym but I still remember his smile when he called my name. So nah, I'd savour the moment by keeping it as real as possible.