2016 Fiction Contest, Third Prize Winner: Curiosity

Martín Puga

cranes

I’m staring at the blind girl. She’s having breakfast two or three tables away from me. I’ve been staring at her for so long my omelet’s already cold. I’ve been like this for a while now, but I keep on holding my stare because I know she can’t stare back.

This is not the first time I see her. She goes here. She’s one of the few blind people in school. In fact, I’ve seen her around on several occasions, most of them when she was just walking around. She’s had me thinking before. All these doubts get stored in the back of my head for days. I heard somewhere that blind people have their other senses amplified. It must be true. Once I kind of walked her to her class, except she didn’t know because I was behind her. I just wanted to know how she carries herself to places. She does it well. Slow pace, but steady. Right now, she’s eating alone at her table and so am I, but I still won’t approach her. I need some time to clear my mind before I do, because finding her here and thinking of this has got me feeling uneasy.

I can’t help but hold my stare in the same direction, wondering if she knows what she looks like. She’s thin. Very thin and small. Her fragile appearance makes me believe she is a lot younger than me, but I might be wrong, for she walks with the poise and determination typical of an older person. I can’t see her eyes properly for I’m not close enough, but I do see her hair. It’s long and black, and it frames her face with two long locks.

I wonder now if she knows what everything looks like. Does she know what anything looks like? Not knowing must be painful. Like the red large coat she always wears even when it’s sunny. She wears it every time; it’s a large cape that goes to her feet. When it rains, though, the coat turns carmine. She takes her time to take it off, shake the excess water and leave it to rest on the back of her chair.

The same coat is all over the floor now, occupying space on the floor around her. I should stand up and pick it up for her, but someone else is just doing it for me. Thank goodness nobody tripped on it. Now, she is putting her fork to her mouth, which is curved into a smirk. She doesn’t seem that oblivious of what’s happening around her. I smile at the thought, but I know she can’t see me smiling.

I look down at my omelet, back to reality. I don’t want to eat this anymore, I’m sick to my stomach. I played blind as a kid. I would close my eyes and go down stairs and halls back and forth, certain that for the duration of the game I could feel what’s like to be blind. My little game wouldn’t last for more than five minutes. Now I know that even if I keep my eyes closed for longer, I couldn’t be farther from reality. I wish being blind was as simple as avoiding obstacles in your way. It makes me sick, the thought of not being able to see, but it makes me sicker that I’ll never know how it actually feels not to see.

I haven’t stopped staring; my eyes will fall off. With a sudden rush of empathy and curiosity I have decided to flush this train of thought out of me. It has to be today. My hands sweat but my mind hurts and that is worse. I beg my feet to cooperate, to get me closer to her.
I finally get up with fork and plate in hand, and approach her table in long strides until I’m close and sure enough that she can hear me asking if I can join her for breakfast.

* * *

And I’m glad I did. Her name is Sala. She is the same age as I am and she is doing Psychology with a minor in Creative Writing. We found out soon after we met that we actually take a class together –how did I not see her?!- and since then we try to sit next to each other. I don’t want her to think I approached her out of pity or to pry at first, even though that is more or less the actual story. To my luck, that is not the case anymore. I actually like the time we spend together. Most of the time we just talk to each other. We sit around and talk, sometimes for hours.

She’s shown me these little paper cranes she’s been making since she was a kid. From a flat purple case no bigger than her open palm, she draws small pieces of colored square paper, there’s everything from bright magenta to khaki and grey. I watch in amazement the ease of how her hands feel the edges of the squares and match them to other creases and edges. Her fingers work systematically. It’s a machine both efficient and beautiful. Soon we have three cranes, purple, orange and green. When I ask why she replies they’re good for keeping her hands busy.

We walk a lot too, me by her side. She sometimes asks me to let go of her arm when we are walking to class. I try hard to stay calm as I watch her from a distance, as she maneuvers herself through the halls with her walking stick. People around step aside at her sight, but I think to myself that I would be much calmer if she got that guide dog she’s been meaning to get for months now.

She lives on the tenth floor of the residence hall building, and I sometimes walk her past the entrance and into the elevator to make sure she presses the right button. I know she doesn’t need me to, but I guess she lets me because it makes me feel like I’m helping. Some other times, I stay late in her room and read her some of the stuff I write. Not the stuff about her. Other stuff. She does not say anything about it but she seems to like it.

Today we went for a walk around the city. I brought her to a pretty little coffee shop that I had been wanting to go to. We sat there and talked because that’s what we do the most. By now I guess she must be getting tired of our endless chitchat, but she noticed we were somewhere new and appreciated the change of ambiance. After an hour or so she brought up the topic of how she became blind. I feel weird as I listen, like if this were a highly anticipated present that took long to come, but that I no longer want to open. I don’t interrupt, and when she’s done I ask no further questions.

I look at her and look around. There’s plenty to see here. This being blind thing, it pisses me off. If only she could see it too. Being premature, her retinas got damaged beyond repair from the moment of birth. A kid so curious to see the world, she got punished forever for wanting to see it a bit too early. I push this thought away as I look at how she’s been smiling throughout her story. She has told me before that though she gets lonely sometimes and has it a bit harder than the rest of us do, it is the only way she knows how to live.

We rest our hands on the table, silent. For once we have run out of topics to talk about. I stare at her eyes, they look like there’s clouds on the inside.
I can tell something is running through her mind, but I don’t ask. She takes a piece of square paper out from her case and sets it on the table. Before she starts she slides her hands over it twice, no wrinkles; now her fingers begin their dance and they don’t stop until it’s finished. Slow and steady. She puts the bird on the table, so intact I think it’ll fly away any moment.
“They’re not that hard to make,” she says.
She adds that she’ll teach me how to make one soon if I stick around.

I’m so glad I left the table that day. She makes me smile and I’m pretty sure this time she can see it.