One summer’s day, I forgot to put my lenses in. My window was open, an insect flew inside and I killed it without knowing what species it was. This event has little, if anything, to do with the remarkable situation I find myself in now. A situation I’ll tell you about in detail – while I still can.
He had been living in the care home on the other side of the canal for just two months. On grey days, when the curtains remained open because the sun wouldn’t fade any books or pictures, I was able to watch him shamelessly. His morning routine, his dressing routine (finding a button by touch, which would allow him to identify a shirt and then do it up). I can only say I was intrigued by him and that I wanted to meet him.
I was on my way to the dry cleaner to fetch my spring coat. It was mid-May (the days were rarely grey by that point) and on the street I spotted, in the distance, a familiar shirt. Cobalt blue, big buttons. It was him, of course. The blind man from the window.
The man was just returning from the town centre. He had a plastic bag in his hand. For a moment, I hesitated. The dry cleaner’s shop was actually in the centre, and the man was walking in the wrong direction, but I quickly thought: so what? You don’t argue with divine plans.
I kept at least five paces away. I didn’t want to seem too eager – or look suspicious. But I wasn’t wearing heels that day, so the man had no idea.
At the front door of the care home, I saw him struggling with his key. He wasn’t actually struggling at all, he found the lock straightaway, but I had to believe my assistance was required, so that I could pluck up the courage to approach him.
‘Can I help you?’
He turned around. Up close, he looked different than I’d imagined. More pragmatic, older. I could see the grains of sleep in the corners of his eyes. Maybe he never touched his eyes, would rather have nothing to do with his sockets. But it wasn’t my place to speculate.
‘No, thanks. I can manage.’
‘Are you sure?’
For a moment, that seemed to be the end of it. Then he turned to me.
‘Is there maybe something I could help you with?’
Yes, there was indeed. I told him I was his neighbour, from across the canal, and that I was curious about his home. Could I come in and take a look around?
With his permission, I followed him up the stairs. The doorman looked at me, expectantly. I tried to take the man’s plastic bag so that at least I looked a little helpful, but he was striding ahead too quickly for me.
There was nothing out of the ordinary about the apartment. I don’t know what I’d been expecting, maybe that everything would be bulging with braille, but his living room looked just like mine. We both had a predominantly grey interior, a coffee table with a shelf beneath. Even our floor lamps (chrome, Danish design) were similar.
‘Do you have any other questions?,’ the man asked.
‘Yes,’ I began, ‘but it’s a bit rude. I don’t know if you’ll like it.’
‘You’re already in my house. It can’t get much worse.’
He laughed at his own joke. It was a loud laugh, and it startled me. Luckily, he couldn’t see that, though.
‘What does it feel like to be blind?’
‘What does it feel like?’
‘Yes, how does it feel?’
‘Um,’ said the man, putting his plastic bag down on the coffee table. ‘I can’t convey that in words. You have to experience it for yourself to know.’
‘I’ve been in a darkroom before, if that’s what you mean. And I’ve worn a blindfold.’
‘No, no, all of that is temporary. Real blindness is forever. It’s not something you do on a whim.’
‘I’m not the kind of person who acts on a whim.’
‘What do you want me to do?’
The man turned away from me and reached his hand inside the plastic bag, which was still on the coffee table. When his hand re-emerged, it was holding a small bunch of bananas. Casually, the man pulled off one of the bananas and began peeling it. He took a bite before speaking again.
‘I’ve got some methanol under the sink. A mixture of spirits, for when I make fondue. A small cup should be enough.’
‘A cup of methanol? And you want me to drink it?’
‘No. I want to ask you to put it in your eyes. Very carefully, with a pipette.
As if you’re putting eyedrops in.’
‘I can do that. I’ve got lens solution at home, and it works a bit like that. I wear contact lenses, you see.’
‘You do for now.’ He took another bite of his banana.
‘And what if I don’t do it?’
‘Then you’re a coward. A self-deceiver, or someone who dares to fantasise about all kinds of things but ducks out when it gets too real.’
‘Are you accusing me of fantasising?’
‘I can smell you.’
A flashback to my time at middle school, when I didn’t know the difference between pantyliners and sanitary pads and my classmates were merciless. In spite of my shame, I pulled myself together.
‘A cup of methanol, a pipette. Is that all I need?’
The man nodded.
‘The first phase takes a few days. At least. You need time to do it safely. You have to bear that in mind. The process will take about six months. And it won’t be entirely painless.’
‘And then I’ll know what you feel?’
‘And then you’ll know what I feel.’
For just a moment, I hesitated.
I’m sitting at my window again. It’s autumn now, and my curtains are open, even though the sun is shining brightly. Soon the bleached spines of the books will no longer be my concern. Such peace of mind.
When I was young, I made a promise to myself that I would never turn down a challenge. Not even when I was scared. When I’m frightened, my rule of thumb is to count to three and, at ‘three,’ to do it without hesitation.
It only burned a little, and his hands smelled of me.