It was the tapping that first drew my attention. Rhythmic and soft yet somehow drowning out the noise of the city. I finished my sip of coffee and watched as the two walked past, then stared at my empty cup and pondered. I’d seen them before, them and others like them, taking an afternoon tour of the downtown. The busy streets and crowded sidewalks provided the perfect classroom atmosphere. Which was appropriate, because that’s exactly what their walk was. Class.
I tossed my cup into the iron receptacle—PUSH, it said, as if pulling were an option—and followed them, past the theater and the courthouse and all the way down to the antiques shop with the armless mannequin pouting in the window. They were given a wide and somewhat guilty berth by those who passed, pedestrians who averted their eyes as if to even the score.
They paused at the next intersection and so did I, though from that perfect distance of being able to hear and yet remain unknown. The young man’s cane had ceased its tapping and was now transformed into a flimsy but suitable leaning post.
“What do you hear?” the teacher asked.
The answer was “Four cars to the right coming fast. One car ahead idling. Three cars are behind me, one backing up and the other two parking. There’s a boy coming out of a store, and he’s crying.”
The teacher’s voice was low and calm with timbre that seemed to italicize the last word of every sentence—“Good job”, “That’s it.”
The boy rocked slightly at the words, dancing in darkness. His eyes held the appearance of a long-ago blink that never quite finished, freezing the area between his cheeks and nose into a semi-permanent grin.
“What are the cars around you doing?” came the question.
He leaned forward and listened. “Nothing. They’re doing nothing.”
“Okay then, let’s go.”
I followed them across just as the neon stick figure by the stoplight blinked. The three of us continued on through town, two teachers and one student trailing just behind.
“You can see,” came the instruction. “You don’t need your eyes to see. You can see through your cane and your mind, through your senses. All you need to do is reach out and feel. All you need to do is turn yourself inside out.”
I nodded to no one.
“Tell me what’s happening around you.”
“There’s a restaurant just ahead to the right,” he said. “Mexican. The trashcan we just passed needs to be emptied. There’s a cat on the sidewalk. And the lady who just walked by is in a hurry to meet her boyfriend.”
I wondered at that last bit of information. His companion, too. “Why do you say that?” she asked.
“She was running in heels,” the boy said. “And she has too much perfume on. Why else?”
The three of us smiled.
We snaked out way through three more streets while the play-by-play continued. A shopkeeper was aggravated at the bit of dirt he couldn’t sweep away; two squirrels were arguing on the limb of a tree; two women were sharing a joke.
The three of us paused once more at the river near the parking garage. No reason was apparent to me other than the fact that the boy just wanted to enjoy the sound of the rushing water. Which, I decided, was the very best reason of all. They left a few minutes later to climb the steps to their car. I remained behind, pondering.
It was without a doubt the greatest walk I’d ever taken. The notion was an ironic one given the locale; I’d much rather walk over ground rather than pavement. And yet even upon the tallest mountains and deepest forests I had never perceived so much. There was indeed one blind person among our small group, and it was me.
And I wondered this—how much more could we all see if we walked as if blind, relying less on our eyes and more on everything else.
If we reached out and felt.
If we dared the courage to walk through this world inside out.