The Blind Leading the Blind

Author: Niamh Madden

Lisa and her mother are on their way to a prestigious eye clinic in Hanover, Germany. Lisa is blind and trying to cope with her mother - how much more care can she possibly take of Lisa without encasing her in bubble wrap? But along the way Lisa's sight is restored, and not by the clinic...

My mother stings like a jellyfish. I’m not sure why she hurts me or if she knows she does or if she does it willingly or wilfully. All I know is that it stings. On the outside, friends tell me she looks gracious, all flowing brown hair and tiny, amber eyes. Her lips look like a child’s drawing� two harsh, straight V-shaped lines for the top lip and a curvy pink bottom lip. At least, that’s what they tell me. The station buzzes with action and hustle and bustle � “Final call for passenger Otto Fritz, final call’, and “The train now standing at platform five is the 16.04 to Stuttgart” and “Beep, beep” and “honey, don’t forget to leave back the trolley” and children laughing and babies crying and old men grumbling about the economy. Of course, all this is said in German, but I can understand it.

We pass by a croissant stand, and the sweet buttery scent of baking pastries reaches my nostrils. The smell reminds me of that other station, in that other country, with that same mother and that same illness. Things had not worked out in France. The doctors told me things would, but they didn’t. Sometimes when people say “things will work out” I think they really mean only some things. That’s how life goes. Lost in my thoughts, it takes me a minute to hear my mother babbling away as usual, stating the unnecessary, pretending I have not grown up.
“�.dear, now, watch out, there’s a man just in front, yep that’s it, you’ve gotton by, danke sir, and here is a woman in a wheelchair, just to your right, no, your left, and oh, that’s it, she’s rolling by, look out, here’s a baby, aren’t you just a cutie, mind your stick, don’t worry Lisa, I’ve got your arm now, it’s okay, nearly there now�” and so on and so on she speaks. Walking to the platform, she seems to forget for the dozenth time that I have been blind long enough to see where I am going. Even if we are in a foreign train station, with a foreign language, amongst foreign people, I can see more than she ever could. The sound of babies gurgling, the familiar squeak of a wheelchair, that musty old-man smell that is universal� I can feel my mother’s sting, and a few stinging tears come to my eyes, the ones I forget the colour of, and I wish she would just let me be. Let me be me. Blind or not I am human, and can guide myself without her arm, without a dog, without even my stick. “Mum,” I say to her, as she rushes me along still jabbering on, “We have to turn back; it’s platform number six, you’re going the wrong way�” I try to be patient with her. “No, no, doll, written here, see�? I mean, here, platform four, 17.04, ICE Express train to Hanover,” she says. Panic enters her voice. Sounds like she’s trying to get as many words into one sentence as possible without breathing. Like a Labrador panting, after a good long jog.
“There was an announcement, maybe you didn’t hear. Says we have to be at platform six, change of plan’, is my reply to her. Of course she hadn’t heard the speaker. She was too busy babbling like a broken record. “Oh, oh, yes, yes, I see, hmmm, okay, so�” Leading her in the right direction, we walk towards the outside area of the station. I know where it is because I can feel the wind whistling through from the left and it feels cold. The aroma of croissants again. The crispy sound of someone biting into a crunchy apple. The clatter and voices of a million kids, chairs scraping floors, must be McDonald’s. A kid to my left says “POW! POW!” Probably has a toy gun. The wind getting stronger and stronger. I breathe deeply. “I’m hungry, mum.” “Well�but it’s so tight, maybe we won’t make it and �” “We will. We have about twenty minutes.” “Well� oh, alright”. I can feel her looking at her watch as she jerks her arm away from me briefly. She begins a description of the different restaurants nearby�not that she needs to tell me. It is a large station. All the noise and my tired legs give that away.
“How about Mc D’s?” It’s been a long time since I’ve eaten chicken nuggets. Almost a few years, in fact. Mum barely ever allows me to eat anything normal. She talks to me often about how beautiful she was and how she was once voted “Miss Kildare” and how she was the prettiest girl in the school. Judging from the little waist I put my arms around to hug, she is still the hottest thing on the block. My friends sometimes complain to me, that their mums never take them out shopping to buy the kind of clothes I get. Of course, the clothes mean nothing to me. Their textures are beautiful and they fit me snugly, but it’s horrible not being able to see them. I feel my face and know it is not pretty, and that all the salads and tuna and whatever else my mum slaps in front of me for dinner will not change that. What went wrong with me?
“Mc Donald’s?” mum asks now, as though I had asked her to go on holidays in Iraq, “Are you serious?” She has the voice of a health fanatic, a body builder, a crazy uptight lady. “Please mum, I’m not a kid anymore. I can decide what I want to eat!” “Is that so? Well, my dear, no healthy adult would eat in McDonald’s! That’s for fat people and their fat kids!” I am disgusted. Who does she think she is? Next thing you know she’ll be saying that blind children need to look their best, always eat well and drink well. Something tells me that’s why she dolls me up�she may be blind but at least my daughter looks well, she thinks. It disgusts me to have her dress me up like that. Why can’t I wear what I want? Choose a fleecy fabric rather than a silky tiny affair? Give my clothes to my friends and swap for their comfort clothes? “Fine. You stay here where you don’t have to look at fat people. I’m going.” With that I run off, beating my stick in front of me, hoping that I don’t smash somebody’s toes on the way. I lose her in the crowd by walking faster than she has ever seen, feeling past a flock of tall business ladies with clicking heels, a man on a crutch, a gang of English kids who must be on school tour, and finally I reach the restaurant’s trademark slippery tiles, my white stick beginning to slide a little. Behind me, a gang of teenagers walk too close for my liking, so I walk a little faster to reach the counter, my stick bashing down now in anger. I like good food, I like fat food, I hate your food mum, I am not you� It happens before I know it. The slippery tiles get more fluid and quicker than Mc D fries are cooked my stick flies out in front of me and I fall to the ground, crashing heavily like a whale onto a beach. The gang behind me are laughing and all I can feel is a dull aching in my skull, my leg feels twisted somewhat, and my arms flail out touching plastic, what must be a badly placed “Wet Floor!” sign.
The gang must have been able to tell I’m not German, because they start to laugh about me, all this sounding like a spinning top of muttered voices inside my head. For once, my sense of hearing has dulled and is replaced by the pain throbbing through my leg. “Oh oh dear! Dear!’ My mother’s blubbering jerks me back. A small fingered hand with chewed nails grabs mine. I hear a faraway sound that reminds me of babysitting my little cousins. Then I hear it get louder. ‘Don’t cry pet, she’s just trying to help you, I’ll take it from here, danke, danke Schatz, what a lovely crowd altogether… here love, take my hand.’ ‘They were laughing, all laughing,’ I say through what feels like blobs of juice floating down my nose. I stand up on wobbly feet. The ground shakes like a bouncing castle. It isn’t mum blubbering. It’s me.
‘It was just a shock pet, just a little shock.’
Arms fling around me all of a sudden. For once I don’t shrink away from them. ‘Why were they laughing? That’s so cruel! It’s sick! They’re probably all mentally ill,’ I’m saying. “Nobody was laughing dear, it might have been the telly… look Friends is on with all that canned laughter.’ ‘The telly sure… I’ve never seen Friends anyway you know I can’t.’ But there it is. The laughter again. And now that I hear it, it dawns on me that was the noise I heard the cruel gang make… or was it? My senses must have been gone from the moment I went down. My legs aren’t shaking anymore. Around me the world suddenly switches on again. Young kids screeching and the whizzing noise of some Happy Meal toy probably and the smell of salt and meat and fat. Yummy fat. My stomach goes mad gurgling.
The canned laughs again. That’s it – it was the stupid sound of fake audiences laughing at “Friends”. So I hadn’t had an audience after all? ‘How about those nuggets?’ mum asks moving my body up towards the counter. She’s still clutching my shoulders. It feels okay. The smell of nuggets soaking in grease wafts through my nostrils one by one. All of a sudden I think of the train.
‘But we’ve missed it! The ICE… it’s probably long gone by now!’
‘Who’s a little worrier now,’ mum jokes. ‘Feck it, there’s always time for a couple of nuggets… once in a while,’ she stresses. I sense a sausage shaped queue of people forming either side of me. My hands reach a warm counter. ‘Can I have some super size nuggets?’ mum asks. All of a sudden the train, the operation on my sight, the slightly bent edge on my stick, the little wobble in my leg, the canned laughter… none of it matters. Not a bit. Just hearing my mum order larger than life chicken nuggets makes me see a lot more than I have recently. I swear I can see her smiling.